Movie Reviews

Number 15 – “Godzilla vs. Biollante” (1989)

 

 

I know that it may come across like I hate the Heisei series, especially since I put more than half of the second Godzilla series so low on my list and outright despise entries like “Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth,” but I’ll admit that when the Heisei series wanted to be good, it was often some of the best the entire Godzilla series had to offer. Like I said in my review of “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah,” the monster scenes in that film are spectacular especially the final fight between with Mecha-King Ghidorah.

What I find so interesting about the Heisei series that, from the beginning, Toho had everything in place to make a new Godzilla series that would be better than the Showa series. The studio was dedicated to telling deeper and more adult-oriented stories, supply bigger budgets and get the best possible special effects crews they could get. And for the first two-and-a-half movies of the Heisei series, they delivered on this. But somewhere along the line, the filmmakers got complacent and tired of the material. The passion and energy in the Godzilla films was gone, and replaced by a need to put butts in theater seats and sell toys. The reason films like “Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla” and “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” are so low on my countdown is because they are so by the numbers and lack the fun of watching a great monster movie.

But I will say there are two different sides to the Heisei series that showed its potential. The monster scenes in “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” were a part of that potential, but now we’ve got a entire film that amps it up, “Godzilla vs. Biollante.” This is the second film in the Heisei series and serves as a direct follow-up to the first film, “The Return of Godzilla” or sometimes simply “Godzilla” (1984) (though I’ll refer to it from now on as “The Return of Godzilla” since we already have three films in this series called “Godzilla”). This film builds off everything the first film started, with a darker tone, greater focus on realism and world building that showed how Godzilla affects the entire world instead of just Japan.

The film begins immediately after the events of “The Return of Godzilla” where the majority of Tokyo has been destroyed, but scientists were able to trap Godzilla inside of an active volcano. Rescue crews get to work on repairing the city, while a group of soldiers scourer Tokyo for live Godzilla cells. They find a few samples and it’s revealed they are working for an American corporation who wants to use Godzilla’s cells for their own needs. As they flee from Japanese soldiers, they run into a foreign assassin who kills them all and takes the cells for himself, heading back to his home country of Saradia, a fictional country meant to replace Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia. The assassin returns the cells to his government, who say they plan to combine the cells with wheat and turn their desert into a fertile wonderland of crops and food.

Saradia’s leading scientist is Dr. Shiragami (Koji Takahashi), a Japanese who fully believes in the power these cells have but doesn’t fully trust science to handle its pure strength. But just as he’s explaining this to a Saradian leader, the lab holding the Godzilla cells explodes due to a terrorist attack, killing Shiragami’s daughter Erika.

 

 

We cut to five years later and get our first introduction to the eye-rolling irritation of Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka). Dr. Shiragami has returned to Japan but has given up all science after the death of his daughter. Miki is here to see if she can use her psychic powers to communicate with plants…like you do. Shiragami believes that his daughter transferred her soul into a rose before she died so his new hobby is tending to his rose garden…like you do.

Meanwhile, other Japanese scientists have been trying to come up with new ways to combat Godzilla in case he ever emerges from the volcano. Their leading project in that area is known as Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria, which if used properly on Godzilla could immobilize him if not outright kill him. The problem with this project is that they need Godzilla cells to complete it and they only have a finite amount of them. This raises tensions between Japan, Saradia, and the American company that tried to steal the cells at the beginning of the movie, known as Bio-Major.

Shortly after this, volcanic activity increases at Mt. Mihara, where Godzilla is being held, and the Japanese defense force begins to fear the worst. They have Miki fly over the volcano in a helicopter to see if she can sense Godzilla, which sounds really stupid now that I’m typing that up, and she learns that Godzilla is moving again.

This provokes the Japanese government to go ahead with the Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria project and use the Godzilla cells they have to complete it. The scientists ask for Dr. Shiragami’s help, since he was an expert on gene-splicing. He turns them down but changes his mind later when an earthquake, caused by a volcanic explosion on Mt. Mihara, leads to his rose garden getting destroyed. Shiragami then uses the Godzilla cells that he’s been given access to and combines them with the remains of the rose his daughter’s soul was supposedly in to keep the rose from dying.

And suddenly Dr. Shiragami goes from a sympathetic scientist to mad scientist by thinking that nothing could go wrong by combining the cells of a plant and a radioactive fire-breathing lizard monster.

 

 

While Koji Takahashi does a wonderful job played Dr. Shiragami, my problem with the character is how hypocritical he is. He goes from adoring the work scientists do, to outright rejecting it, then performs the same experiments he used to do for selfish reasons, and will ultimately flip-flop several more times throughout the movie. It gives off the impression that this movie is anti-science, even though it leads to humanity to many great things over the course of this movie. As a result, the message of “Godzilla vs. Biollante” gets gummed up in the process.

Anyway, we get a hilarious scene with Miki and bunch of grade-school psychic kids who all had dreams about Godzilla emerging out of the volcano to destroy Japan, while the kids cheer loudly and hold up their Godzilla crayon drawings. It’s a short sequence, but it makes me laugh every time. They’re all so happy and cheerful about the destruction that’s coming! Also, still funny that psychics in the Godzilla universe are never explained.

Dr. Shiragami’s lab is attacked by some American assassins trying to retrieve the Godzilla cells, who in turned are attacked by the same Saradian assassin, SSS9, who in turn is attacked by a giant tentacle. SSS9 escapes without the cells, but the Americans are killed by the tentacle. The next morning, the authorities and Shiragami examine the wreckage and find a massive hole in the wall that leads to a nearby lake. A couple of days later, this creature has grown into a giant rose creature with massive tendrils and tentacles in the middle of the lake, which Shiragami names Biollante.

Jeez, it’s almost like the guy who talked about how bad it is to tempering in God’s domain was tampering in God’s domain by combining Godzilla’s cells with a plant!

With no other options, Bio-Major gives Japan an ultimatum. It turns out they’ve planted explosives all around Mt. Mihara and say they will detonate all of them and unleash Godzilla upon the world again unless they’re given all of the Godzilla cells and research on the ANEB. Japan has no other option but to agree to their demands and meets a neutral location to exchange the cells and the codes to disable the explosives.

But just as they deal goes down SSS9 is there to get in the way. He walks away with all of the cells, while the truck with the commands to the bombs is overturned and disabled. They’re unable to stop the detonation and the bombs go off, thus freeing Godzilla from his volcanic prison. This leads to a bad-ass sequence of Godzilla walking out of the volcano with fiery explosions all around him set to his theme music that is always a joy to see.

 

 

The Japanese defense force deploys their latest weapon, the Super-X2, to fight Godzilla. While this thing is no bigger than a jet plane it does have a reflecting mirror that can send Godzilla’s atomic ray back at him. This is a long and drawn-out fight between the two, with Godzilla getting trounced by his own atomic ray and taking a pounding from the Super-X2, though eventually the mirror cannot take Godzilla’s ray any more and starts to melt, causing it to retreat.

Just as Godzilla heads towards a nuclear plant to recharge, his course changes when he hears Biollante’s cries and heads straight for her. This leads to the first confrontation between the two monsters in a lake that feels wholly unique from any monster fight in the Godzilla series. Biollante attacks Godzilla with her tendrils by constricting him, dragging him underwater, spraying acid in his face, while the main portion of Biollante remains immobile and helpless. It is oddly enjoyable to watch Godzilla fight off hordes of tentacles and tendrils, especially when the special effects work here is top-notch, showing off how badly the two monsters are damaging each other.

Unfortunately for Biollante, one blast of Godzilla’s atomic breath to her main hub is enough to basically kill her…but not before she transforms into her next stage and then turns into pixie dust and goes up into space…so I’m not entirely sure who won that fight.

Anyway, Godzilla heads back into the sea after his fight with Biollante and the defense force uses Miki again to locate him. They figure he’s heading towards the closest nuclear plant in Tsuruga to they send in everything they have to fight him off before he gets to the mainland. The government also shuts down all airplane activity in Japan to keep SSS9 from getting out of the country with the Godzilla cells.

 

 

But it seems that Godzilla faked out the entire defense force when he appears in a completely different area of Japan than they expected, still heading towards a nuclear plant. I love the image of a computer screen showing hundreds if not thousands of ships and troops gathered in one bay, only for the camera to pan to the left and show that Godzilla is actually miles away.

This leads to one of the only cool scenes that involves Miki Saegusa. It turns out she is the only one who can do anything to combat Godzilla at the moment, so she goes out onto an ocean platform, actually gets Godzilla’s attention and has a psychic battle with him. Godzilla literally stops his rampage to stare down this little girl and have a battle of the minds with her. I honestly don’t know if Miki is insane or stupid (probably stupid), but if she had more scenes like this throughout the Heisei series I wouldn’t have a problem with her being in every film.

Of course, Miki having a psychic battle with Godzilla goes about as well as you think it would, and she collapses after a couple second of attacking him. She is successful in redirecting his attack though, as he now heads towards Osaka instead of Tsuruga. Again, hard to say who wins that fight but I’ll at least give Miki some points for standing up to Godzilla.

This gives the defense force another chance to fight off Godzilla, especially now that the scientists have finished making the ANEB. All they have to do is get it inside of Godzilla’s system and that should kill him. This leads to Godzilla’s attack on Osaka, which is bolstered for me because of Akira Ifukube’s music. Though he didn’t compose the music for this movie, Koichi Sugiyama and Yuki Saito do their best to update Ifukube’s music to make it feel just as grand as it did back in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

 

The defense force deploys the Super-X2 again, even though the mirror still isn’t working properly. They keep Godzilla distracted long enough for some ground troops with rocket launchers carrying the ANEB to get in position, though it does lead to the Super-X2 getting destroyed when they try to use the mirror and it fails. Luckily, the troops are successful at injecting several canisters of ANEB into Godzilla, with one being fired directly into his mouth. Afterwards, Godzilla heads into the mountains, undeterred from the ANEB.

At this point, our heroes successfully get the remaining Godzilla cells back from the Saradian people and return them back to the Japanese labs for safe keeping.

The defense force is perplexed why the ANEB hasn’t had any effect on Godzilla, even after several hours of being administered. They eventually come to the conclusion that Godzilla’s body temperature is so low that it has no affect on him. Their solution to this problem is they need to raise Godzilla’s body temperature. How? With the artificial lightning generators they’ve been developing, of course!

So in case you’ve been keeping score, so far we’ve had international assassins, terrorist attacks, scientists playing God by creating abominations of nature, souls being trapped inside of plants, psychics, bacteria that eats radiation, giant plant monsters being turned into fairy dust, and now weather-machines. And yet this movie still takes itself rather seriously. The strange thing though is that it works…most of the time.

 

 

Anyway, this leads to another great sequence where the military finally gets an all-out strike against Godzilla. Their attack is one of the more well-coordinated assaults by the military, using masers and tanks to keep Godzilla in the area of the lightning generators and having an entire grid of platforms ready for Godzilla to step on. I especially like that it is filmed in the rain, since we don’t see too many monster sequences with weather effects in this series. Not to mention, the music is once again an old Ifukube soundtrack and it is wonderfully triumphant.

In the middle of the attack, pixie dust starts raining from the sky and Biollante reemerges from the ground to attack Godzilla in her new evolved form. This stage of Biollante is massive, with a huge mouth that has hundreds of sharp teeth while still having dozens of tendrils and tentacles. The two monsters fight again in another well-shot sequence, with Biollante using a wide range of attacks on Godzilla while also fighting off his attacks. This scene takes advantage of Biollante’s size and variety at every opportunity, especially when the tendrils wrap around Godzilla and pierce his hand at one point.

The only problem with the fight is that it comes to an abrupt halt when the ANEB finally starts to kick in and Godzilla nearly passes out. He leaves in the middle of his fight with Biollante to retreat to the ocean before collapsing. It makes sense in terms of the story to finally have that stuff kick in, but this is the third fight in the movie that ends with no real victor.

 

 

With the day supposedly saved, we get some final parting words from Dr. Shiragami, who is being congratulated that the ANEB worked. As Biollante returns to space, he sees the image of his daughter in Biollante’s pixie dust, which leads to him giving a speech about how terrible man is for creating monsters like Godzilla and Biollante and that he believes he can lead a life of peace now…right before he gets shot and killed by SSS9.

A chase scene ensues that leads to one of the other scientists getting in a fight with SSS9, who is killed by one of the lightning generator plates. As the scientist returns to his girlfriend, they’re shocked to see Godzilla rise out of the ocean. They figure that the cold ocean water must have lowered his body temperature again so the ANEB stopped working. But Godzilla’s had a rough day, so he’s fine with returning to the ocean and calling this whole thing off.

“Godzilla vs. Biollante” is a enjoyable monster film, despite having far more silly or stupid moments than I remember. It took what “The Return of Godzilla” started and made it feel like the world was interested in Godzilla instead of only Japan, with the introduction of Saradian and Bio-Major, while also upping their military presence. There was a lot of great shots that showed the skies filled with defense force helicopters or several battleships in the ocean and that added to grand scale of this movie. It is also one of the better looking Godzilla films, especially with Godzilla’s attack on Osaka and the battles between the titular monsters.

 

 

My problem with the movie is its story. There was a huge focus on Bio-Major and Saradia, but after a while their desires became muddy and unfocused. It made sense when they were only after the Godzilla cells, each wanting it for their own needs, but neither of them had any reason to want the ANEB once it was created. This made a lot of scenes with the assassins and political pieces feel unnecessary as soon as Godzilla arrives.

There was also my problem with Dr. Shiragami’s constant flip-flopping on the benefits of science and gene-splicing. I want to say the overall message of “Godzilla vs. Biollante” is that all science is bad and gives scientists too much power…except that not all science is bad in this movie. It is because of discoveries like the ANEB and the lightning generators that humanity wins the day. Without any of that, everyone would have died to Godzilla. It would be better to say that scientists must be restrained by a higher moral and ethical code, but Shiragami doesn’t seem to learn that. As a result, this makes most of the scenes with Dr. Shiragami feel odd when he tries to preach about how terrible science is.

But overall, despite a few hiccups in the story, this is a solid movie. Even with the many silly things that happen, “Godzilla vs. Biollante” takes itself just seriously enough that you feel the weight and gravitas of each decision towards stopping Godzilla. The monster fights are unique and have some of the best cinematography of any Godzilla film. It is a worthy successor to “The Return of Godzilla” and one of the better Heisei films.

 

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