Movie Reviews

Number 21 – “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” (1991)

 

 

This is a Godzilla movie that I’m always on the fence about – On the one hand, it might just be the most stupid, ludicrous, poorly written mess in the entire Godzilla series. Yet, when this movie is good, it is the best of the entire Heisei series. The problem is that those scenes are harder to come by than a good scene with Miki Saegusa.

“Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” is the third entry in the Heisei series and almost acts as a soft reboot to the series. In the previous two entries, Godzilla had been scaled to roughly 80 meters tall, but Toho realized that this was just too short and wanted to make Godzilla even bigger, scaling him up to 100 meters. This also marked the beginning of Toho reinventing other classic kaijus outside of Godzilla, with the first being his most classic enemy, King Ghidorah, the three-headed golden dragon.

Toho took this opportunity to change Godzilla’s size once again and also used it to show Godzilla’s origin. I’m not exactly sure who was asking to see what Godzilla was like before he was hit by an atomic bomb, but here it is, for all of its good and bad points.

The film begins with a UFO circling around Japan. The Japanese government tracks its strange path and learns that it passed right over the location of Godzilla, resting deep in the ocean. Eventually, the UFO lands in a field and the military is quick to surround it. But much to everyone’s surprise, three humans emerge from the UFO and wish to talk to the Japanese prime minister.

The three tell the government about themselves – they’re actually from the future, the 23rd century to be exact, and the UFO is their time machine. They explain that, in the 23rd century, most of the world has been utterly destroyed by Godzilla, who will only grow stronger with time as he absorbs more nuclear radiation. They have come back in time to prevent Godzilla from ever being created and thus ensuring humanity won’t be destroyed by Godzilla.

We learn earlier in the film that a Japanese platoon was stranded on a seemingly deserted island called Lagos, surrounded by American battleships near the end of World War II. They had just about given up hope, when suddenly they were saved by a dinosaur, who killed all the American ground troops before retreating due to injuries. After hearing reports about the event from some of the surviving Japanese troop members, some reporters are able to piece together that this dinosaur was still on Lagos island when an atomic bomb was dropped on a nearby island and the resulting radiation mutated the dinosaur into Godzilla.

 

 

The Futurians, as those three from the UFO are called, plan on going back to 1945 and move the dinosaur away from Lagos island so that it doesn’t get hit with radiation. No dinosaur on Lagos, no Godzilla.

But our first plot hole reveals itself at this point, and it’s a pretty big one – If the Futurians had planned all along to go back to 1945 and erase Godzilla from history, then why did they stop in 1991 first? Why tell the Japanese government about their plans at this point when their only intention was to get rid of Godzilla before he was born? Why not just go straight from the 23rd century to 1945? It’s not like the Futurians needed anything in 1991 that they couldn’t get any where else.

They try to write it off like the Futurians needed to stop in 1991 by bringing along three passengers from the modern day, a novel writer who would eventually write about Godzilla’s extensive history, a dinosaur expert, and our dear friend Miki Seagusa, because…they had to find a way to work her into the movie. The problem with this is these three are just passengers. They don’t do anything while on Lagos in 1945 other than watch this dinosaur stomp on some American soldiers and then make some Gamera roars when it gets shot by the battleships (I’m not kidding, this pre-Godzilla has Gamera’s roars). They serve no purpose other than to look at WW2 in awe.

Anyway, the Futurians succeed in their plan, as they remove Godzilla from the island and return to the present to learn Godzilla no longer exists. Except that, as far as we can tell, very little has changed about the world they live in. You’d think something like Godzilla, the menace of Japan for over 30 years, being erased from history would change things. Maybe Japan would have picked a different prime minister, one who might be more focused on the Cold War or industrial development instead of handling Godzilla. But nope, everything’ is the same except Godzilla is gone. Oddly enough, everyone still knows exactly who Godzilla is and what he did.

 

 

I’m starting to think this form of time travel is stupid.

But the moment everyone returns to the present, the Futurians show their true colors. When they departed Lagos island, one of them dropped off three tiny future animals known as Dorats, empathic creatures that can be controlled by a computer. As it turns out, they wanted the Dorats to be hit by the atomic bomb instead of the dinosaur, which results in an entirely new monster being created, one that they can control, King Ghidorah.

So I have a question – The film implies that King Ghidorah is pretty useless unless someone is controlling him with a computer, which the Futurians don’t start using until 1991. So does that mean King Ghidorah was just sitting on Lagos island from 1954 until 1991 doing nothing? And no one ever noticed the giant three-headed golden dragon just sitting on Lagos until the Futurians activated him?

In any case, the Futurians unleash King Ghidorah on Japan, saying that they will destroy all of Japan except for Tokyo and then rebuild it as they see fit. The military is about as effective at stopping King Ghidorah as they were with fighting Godzilla, except now their enemy can fly. And with Godzilla being erased from history, there is nothing on Earth that can defeat King Ghidorah.

But one of the Futurians, a Japanese woman named Emmy (Anna Nakagawa), turns on the other two when they start destroying her homeland. She tells the novel writer the truth – Japan in the 23rd century basically owns the world. Every major technological advancement came from Japan, causing the country to become the major metropolis of the world. Japan also outright buys entire continents, including Australia and Africa, and uses their advanced technology to defeat Godzilla. There is no war, no pollution and nothing nuclear-powered.

Which means the Futurians are just a bunch of rogue thieves who got their hands on a time machine and want to change history so that Japan isn’t the powerhouse of the world…even though the future sounds pretty sweet from Emmy’s description. She never tells us why the Futurians were so upset with the 23rd century and why they wanted to change it, so let us just chalk that up to another plot hole.

With Emmy’s help, our characters try to find a solution to stop King Ghidorah and the Futurians, with their best plan being to find the dinosaur that becomes Godzilla and hit him with lots of radiation to create a new Godzilla.

 

 

This leads to a complicated series of events involving a private industrial company buying their own nuclear submarine that ignores international waters and orders and then stumbles across Godzilla in the Bering Sea. Godzilla attacks and destroys the submarine and absorbs all of its radiation, growing even larger and more violent than before.

Now that the plot recap is out of the way, I can finally say that this story is stupid. Granted, stories about time travel are beyond complicated, but if films like “Back to the Future” can make it seem plausible and tell it in a way that anyone can understand, then I’d expect something a little less absurd from this movie. It can sometimes be funny with how crazy and nonsensical things can get at times, especially when Terminator-like robots start chasing after Emmy just to bring her back to the time machine. Still, it took the film over an hour and 20 minutes for Godzilla to finally show up so that could also be a pacing problem.

Once Godzilla shows back up in Japan, the Futurians immediately send in King Ghidorah to kill him, resulting in our first fight between the two.

 

 

This is where the film starts getting good, if not great. These fight scenes are some of the best in the entire Heisei series, with the opening fight between Godzilla and King Ghidorah showcasing some great background and setting effects. Their fight takes place on a large grassy field and every once of the monsters’ blasts tears up the field and often shows the type of smoke you’d see with a forest fire. Even though the two monsters mostly use beams throughout their fight, it shows that their attacks do carry immense weight and damage, especially when you see little amounts of damage to King Ghidorah’s wings.

The problem with this opening fight though is the pacing and the need to cram in as many human scenes in the middle of the fight. The scenes with Godzilla and King Ghidorah are always cut short when we cut back over to Emmy and friends infiltrating the time machine to blow up the computer controlling KIng Ghidorah. We hardly ever get a moment to just enjoy the fight on its own when there’s so many other things going on. It turns what would be an amazing five-or-six minute fight, including Godzilla lifting up King Ghidorah by his tails and slamming him to the ground, into a 15-minute sequence. Lame.

Eventually, they are successful in destroying the computer that controls King Ghidorah and Godzilla destroys the time machine with the two evil Futurians inside before they can return to their own time. King Ghidorah tries to escape but Godzilla blasts off one of his heads and a giant hole in his wing, causing King Ghidorah to fall into the ocean. But the Japanese quickly realize that, because of this new more evil Godzilla, they may have created a far more dangerous and more powerful monster than King Ghidorah.

 

 

One thing that annoys the crap out of me about “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” is that the film insists that Godzilla is a good monster who would never hurt Japan. They get this from the dinosaur on Lagos only attacking the American forces and not the Japanese, implying that Godzilla has a soft spot for the Japanese. Except that this is the same Godzilla that already ravaged Japan in the previous two movies. Godzilla’s behavior is hardly any different in this movie from those other two, so they have no reason to act surprised when he attacks Japan after King Ghidorah is gone. If this were the Godzilla from the 1970s when he was a hero to Japan, then I could buy that, but this particular Godzilla has always been portrayed as evil.

Emmy and her friends think of a new plan to deal with Godzilla, coming to the conclusion that King Ghidorah probably isn’t dead at the bottom of the ocean and could be repaired to fight Godzilla again. Emmy returns to the 23rd century to use their technology to rebuild King Ghidorah, but not without admitting her feelings for the novel writer.

In the present, Godzilla arrives in Tokyo and starts to destroy the city. In the middle of his rampage, he spots one of the soldiers he saved back on Lagos and actually seems to recognize him…before blasting him with an atomic ray.

But in the middle of Godzilla’s attack, we get the crowning moment of the movie – In an explosion of electricity and technology, King Ghidorah emerges out of no where, with new metal wings and a metal third head, bringing forth the new monster Mecha-King Ghidorah. Set to Akira Ifukube’s awesome King Ghidorah theme, Emmy arrives piloting the rejuvenated monster to do battle with Godzilla in the heart of downtown Tokyo.

 

 

This is one of the best monster fights in the entire Godzilla series. The effects are always impressive and carry the weight of two huge monsters fighting in the middle of a metropolis, especially when the massive buildings around them start collapsing in on them. Akira Ifukube’s music is at its full strength here, providing an even greater impact to the destruction and battle. The pacing is perfect, with nothing to interrupt the fight this time and every action feeling genuine. There is never a boring moment in this fight also, with each one gaining the upper hand at one point or another, especially when Emmy starts using restraints on Godzilla.

For all the problems I have with this movie, the ending fight between Godzilla and Mecha-King Ghidorah makes it all worth it.

In the end, Emmy forces Godzilla back into the ocean, but at the cost of Mecha-King Ghidorah. As she prepares to head back to the 23rd century again, we learn one last thing about her – Emmy is actually related to the novel writer…the writer that she seemed to have a crush on. I guess this film ran out of things to say or do, so it chose to end on the thought of incest!

While “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” has more than its share of problem, I cannot bring myself to say I hate it or that it is a bad movie. There are genuinely good scenes here, in particular anytime Godzilla and King Ghidorah fight. While it takes forever to get to those scenes, and even then the film suffers from pacing problems, the effects and music really shine through. The story can sometimes be enjoyable bad, if only for the crazy time travel elements and the stupid plot holes. Watch this one with some beer and some good friends and you’ll have a great time.

 

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