Put Him On Ice

Godzilla Raids Again

Between 1954 and 01975, Japan's favorite Kaiju, Godzilla, starred in 15 loosely-connected films (and that doesn't even count the U.S. re-edits of the films with extra/different footage). That's a pretty amazing run of movies, putting old G'zilla in the same category or long-running monsters like Jason (Friday the 13thOne of the most famous Slasher film franchises, the Friday the 13th series saw multiple twists and turn before finally settling on the formula everyone knows and loves: Jason Voorhees killing campers 'round Camp Crystal Lake.), Freddy (Nightmare on Elm StreetThe brain-child of director Wes Craven, A Nightmare on Elm Street was his answer to the glut of Slasher films that were populating the multiplex. His movie featured an immortal character, Freedy, with a powerset like none other, reshaping the expectations for Slasher movies to come.), and their ilk. Hell, one could argue that Godzilla is better at the game than all the rest of those monsters; while they flounder, trying to get another slasher franchise off the ground, Godzilla has continues to crank out movies across the various periods of Toho's history, getting rebooted and re-imagined to suit the tastes of each era.

But, to get that far, the monster first had to get relaunched after his initial outing, Gojira from 1954. The giant monster was killed at the end of the first film, and the filmmakers at Toho had to come up with a way to bring the monster back. Their solution, once again setting the template that later monsters would all use, was to just say, "oh, hey, there's another monster doing the same terrorizing and killing, so let's just also call it 'Godzilla'." That has the shades of the later reveal of Jason being the second killer in the Friday the 13th series (and there would have been a third that picked up Jason's mantle had that series gone another way late in its own run). Sometimes the easiest solution also provides the most direct way to get a franchise going.

In the film, it's revealed that the nuclear island that birthed the first Godzilla was actually a breeding ground for these prehistoric monsters. There's another Godzilla, living on the island, along with another type of ancient monster -- Anguirus, an irradiated version of an ankylosaurus. Both of them were awakened, and mutated, by the Japanese nuclear tests and, now, both of them seem to be drawn to Japan and its fishing fleet. What's the government to do with these giant monsters, especially when the weapons used to kill them the first time have been lost to the bottom of the sea?

The answer seems to be letting the two monsters fight each other and then hope, one way or another, to draw the other away from Japan and out to sea so the beast will go back where it came from. All it'll take it the pluck and determination of two pilots working for the fishing fleet (in their spotter planes), Shoichi Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizuimi) and Koji Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki), to help keep an eye out for Godzilla (and the monster's foe) and, if necessary, fly into the monster's face to distract it and draw it away. It's a potential suicide job, but then it's the least these heroes could do.

I gotta be honest: I know I don't like Godzilla films in general, but I have to think this film was a chore for audiences back then, even those primed for more giant monster action. This film is just a lot of people talking in board rooms and offices punctuated by only a few actual action pieces, and even when the action comes on it's either too short, or too long, without ever finding the energy needed to make for a thrilling movie. This is a film that feels like it was budgeted and put together quickly so Toho could capitalize on the unexpected success of Gojira and they had to desperately think of a way to shove something out the door, cheaply.

Probably the most inspired choice of the film is the writers' decision to simply throw their hands up in the air and say, "yep, there's a second Godzilla, and this one is now going to attack Japan." On the one hand that's not a very creative decision, but it also spares us a protracted discussion about how Godzilla could have possibly survived his very obvious death at the end of the first film. This way, that monster stays dead, there's no need to tie the film in knots trying to explain it, and we can just get to the meat of the whole thing.

Or, at least, we could if the film then didn't decide to go and tie itself up in knots explaining itself anyway. The worst section of the film is the very start when, after Godzilla II appears, the Japanese military has a board meeting to discuss what to do. And it's literally just that: a board meeting, complete with a presentation of what happened in the previous film with absolutely no audio. We get to sit there, with all the actors, in a dim room, watching stuff we've already seen, without any sound or music, just dead silence. It's the exact opposite of thrilling.

Eventually the film picks up some, as we join the fishing boats and the two pilots as they have to deal with Godzilla. Even then, though, there really isn't much action. We switch from talking about the dinosaur in a board room to talking about him in various offices (and, in one case, over a very drunken party), but there's not a lot of actual dynamic action. We're still fairly removed from lot of actors running around on stages dressed up to look like city streets, watching the monster come at them while they dodge cars and other obstacles. This is just people sitting in fake offices, or fake planes, pointing and saying, "Godzilla!" occasionally. The film needed more and just couldn't provide it.

Not that the monster action is all that great here, either. Godzilla is a fairly cheap costume here, still, but he's miles better than the Anguirus, an awkward (and very fake looking) quadrupedal costume that was probably a bitch to maneuver from the inside. Most of the fights are simple the two beasts bouncing off each other while people commentate that, "oh, they're doing so much damage," when the evidence for that is lacking. I know Anguirus goes on to feature in further films, I just have to hope that they do a better job with this monster there, especially since this version of the beast is killed halfway into the film and never seen again.

The one other thing this film gets right, in the long run, is that it doesn't straight up kill Godzilla again. Instead of destroying the beast, this time the Japanese Air Force buries the beast in ice, essentially freezing it. Had this been the last Godzilla film, that would have seemed like a solid death -- smothered in ice and killed -- but as we know (from the next film, King Kong vs. Godzilla), King G was only put on ice for a time, only to be released again later. That allows the next film to pick up with the Godzilla action much quicker, to the betterment of the pacing of that film (not that the third outing didn't still suck).

This film, though, shows a lot of awkwardness. It's a transitional film, as Toho tried to figure out how to make more than just a single Godzilla film and what that would truly mean. It'd take some time (and an infusion of overseas cash) to help grow this franchise properly (and maybe finally crank out a film that was anywhere close to watchable). This film shows a way forward, but on its own it's not really good enough to be considered anything resembling a classic.