Kaiju Appreciations; Dagahra

Managed to get another appreciation video up. This one is for Dagahra, the villainous sea dragon of Rebirth of Mothra II, the second film of the Mothra trilogy from the late 1990s.

Dagahra’s story is that he was created by an ancient civilization called Nilai Kinai to clean up the pollution they had put into the oceans. But instead Dagahra went mad and began producing ‘Barems’, toxic starfish-like creatures that consumed the oceans in an effort to destroy everything that polluted the seas. He was subdued, but is awakened in the modern day by human pollution, where he clashes with Leo, the son of Mothra (who is the main star of the three films).

(As a side note, in my head I like to imagine that the Mothra trilogy is in fact in continuity with the Heisei Godzilla films, so that Leo’s mother is the same Mothra that fought Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Mothra. Consequently, I like to imagine that Battra is his father)

Now, when I did my Kamacuras appreciation I said that I didn’t think there was such a thing as a Toho kaiju without personality, but…well, Dagahra might just be an exception. He’s really not very interesting, despite a cool design; just another rampaging monster for Leo to fight in a series of extremely repetitive and largely dull battles that mostly consist of them shooting animated beams at each other with little effect. The idea of him having gone mad in the past from being corrupted by the very task he was created to perform is sort of interesting (and served as the basis for my song choice), but nothing is really done with it. It’s just an excuse for him to be there.

Honestly, the second Mothra film is pretty bad: possibly the worst kaiju film Toho produced in the 90s (the first one isn’t very good either, but at least has some emotional charge with the death of Mothra as she gives her life for her son and has a pretty cool villain in Death Ghidorah: a twisted clone of King Ghidorah). The child stars are extremely annoying (though I found out the girl actually went on to a pretty successful career) and the anti-pollution message is as subtle and artfully done as a meteor. The pseudo-Indiana Jones action that fills out the non-monster scenes is pretty awful, and it doesn’t help that Dagahra’s backstory is an almost exact copy of the Gyaos from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, which is one of the better kaiju films of that era, not to mention being simultaneously very similar to Battra’s from Godzilla vs. Mothra, both of whom are much more interesting characters (hence why Battra has become a staple of the Godzilla roster while most people forget Dagahra even exists).

For the song I went with The Hate in Me, initially just because I’d been meaning to use that for someone and I figured it was fitting enough to work (I really just wanted to get Dagahra over with; his video was a real chore due to how repetitive the monster scenes in that film tend to be). But in retrospect I’m pretty pleased with it: taking his backstory into account it feels like he’s calling out both Leo and the Nilai Kinai people for creating him and then not letting him do his job as he understands it. The line “There’s no apology for your hypocrisy” feels to me as though he’s calling Leo out for simultaneously pretending to defend the Earth while protecting the very people who destroy it. Likewise “You made me what I am.”

Overall, despite the struggles, I’m pretty pleased with how this one turned out. Enjoy!

(Late) Early Thoughts on ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’

As I mentioned a couple Friday Flotsams ago, I got out to see Godzilla vs. Kong: first time back in a theater for a long time. I have to delve into full spoilers in order to discuss my thoughts, so fair warning now. If you haven’t seen it an have any interest in doing so, I’ll just say that I liked it a lot, despite it being utterly ridiculous and abounding in stupidity. I am also very glad I got to see it without any (or many) spoilers, for reasons that will become apparent.

That out of the way:

The plot is that some years after the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla suddenly begins making raids on coastal cities, targeting facilities of the ‘Apex’ corporation: a cybernetics company. With Godzilla seemingly turning hostile, public opinion swerves against him.

Meanwhile, Skull Island has become completely consumed by the surrounding storm, rendering it uninhabitable and wiping out most of the native life, including the people except for one little girl (I have to say: having been irritated by the utopian colonial-penance figures in Kong: Skull Island I was rather darkly amused to learn they had all been killed off by natural forces). Kong himself is kept alive inside an enormous containment dome that preserves part of the jungle, though he’s growing restless and has become too large for the environment to sustain him.

(This film takes its predecessor’s trend of creating absurdly enormous and expensive devices and cranks it up beyond infinity, by the way. Who the heck approve funding for the miles-wide biodome with holographic technology to preserve the giant ape on an isolated, extremely hostile island? “Well, we can either give every American a complete income tax refund for the next few years or keep the giant gorilla alive.” “Let’s do that one”).

Kong’s chief researcher recognizes that Kong can’t survive here, but fears that if they try to move him it will provoke Godzilla, who won’t tolerate another Alpha kaiju in his territory.

Through some manipulation by the Apex corporation (which has its own agenda), an apparent old flame of hers convinces her to bring Kong to Antarctica, where there’s an entrance to the hollow earth (there’s some ridiculous nonsense about ‘bio-memories’ where creatures naturally want to return to where their species originated. I mean, even by the goofy standards of the science in the Monsterverse, that’s another level. Though, in the film’s defense, it doesn’t work in the event).

In any case, Kong is sedated, loaded onto a barge, and shipped to Antarctica, putting him on a collision course with an already-angered Godzilla.

Meanwhile, Maddy Russell from King of the Monsters, accompanied by her loser friend and a goofy conspiracy-theorist has taken up the investigation of Apex, convinced that Godzilla must have a reason for what he does and determined to prove it.

So, the film is utterly ridiculous, even for a kaiju flick (and to be honest, I prefer them to be more restrained than this: the Heisei films of the 90s are about the sweet spot for me when it comes to tone).

Now, to me the most important thing about this film was that the monsters would be played with respect and, well, frankly, how they ended the fight. And I’m please to say that in both cases I thought the film passed with flying colors (Godzilla is still a little too heroic for my tastes, but he’s otherwise pretty perfectly in character).

The battles give full scope to both monsters’ power and capabilities (well, Godzilla has a harder time tagging Kong with his ray than he probably should, but you can see why that was necessary). Kong is agile and clever, using tools and tricks to his advantage, while Godzilla is overwhelmingly powerful and durable, with a potential trump card in his atomic ray. When they fight on the ocean, Godzilla thoroughly dominates due to being a semi-aquatic creature. When they fight in the city, Kong has more of an advantage due to the abundant cover and high-ground (Kong’s talent for climbing buildings is used to a frankly ridiculous extent here, as I’m highly skeptical these buildings could support his new weight. But again, it fits the tone of the film and it’s what we want to see). He also picks up an axe from the center of the earth that allows him to even the playing field a bit against Godzilla’s ray.

In short, the film allows its title bout to play out more or less according to the nature of the characters. Which is to say: Godzilla not only wins, but wins decisively, taking both rounds with Kong, while the best Kong can do is knock him down for a bit. To top everything off, Godzilla finishes the second bout in a manner that suggests he had actually been holding back for most of the film. Once he goes all-out, Godzilla utterly dominates Kong. Oh, Kong puts up a good fight, but at the end of the day Godzilla is simply a much more powerful being than he is and much credit to the filmmakers for being honest enough to see that a fight between them can really only end one way.

I also really like how the fight ends: Godzilla savagely mauls Kong, puts his foot on his chest, and roars in his face. He makes it clear in no uncertain terms that he could kill Kong easily in that moment. But then…he doesn’t. Whether out of respect or simply because he perceives that Kong is no longer a threat, Godzilla spares him and leaves him to live or die on his own. That’s a great touch, re-asserting the fundamental nobility and dignity of the Godzilla character and ending their battle on a satisfying note. Not to mention that it makes their subsequent alliance that much more believable.

(I can’t resist noting that this means that Godzilla shows more mercy and humanity than Batman. But that’s another story).

So, I found the film’s take on the titular match up to be, by and large, extremely satisfying. It actually reminded me of something like a full-length Death Battle episode, where the goal seems to be just to show off all that the respective combatants can do and how they stack up against each other. Again, things like Kong climbing on buildings (there’s a bit where he waits on top of a skyscraper to ambush Godzilla: posed just as he was in the original film), Godzilla using his nature as a sea monster to full advantage, Kong using crude weapons, trying to pull Godzilla’s jaws apart, and so on. There was really no effort whatever to make any of this realistic. The goal seems to have been to make it ‘what you would imagine’ the fight to be, the kind of cartoonish, comic-book style action suggested by the question “Who would win: King Kong or Godzilla?” (Freddy vs. Jason did something similar, though to a less extreme degree). It’s probably not to everyone’s tastes, but I enjoyed the heck out of it.

As for the rest of the film…ah, mixed bag.

In the first place, I rather liked ‘Team Kong’: the researcher, her maybe-ex-boyfriend, and the little girl. The fact that the latter only speaks in sign language was a nice touch (the fact that Kong now speaks it is…well, interesting. Certainly not out of the question for the character). I especially appreciate that the boyfriend, though he gets sneered at for being nervous around Kong (and why? How is that in any way an unreasonable reaction?), he subsequently gets many opportunities to show his courage and be heroic, protecting the woman and child, and actually gets acknowledged and appreciated for it. Thank you movie for that!

‘Team Godzilla’, on the other hand, is mostly just annoying. We have the smart, on-the-ball teenage girl, her overweight nerdy male friend, and the goofy conspiracy theorist. Pretty standard contemporary dynamic. Why couldn’t we have the male friend be on a level with her? Why couldn’t the adult be actually mature and level-headed? Why couldn’t you have had some kind of balance of the three, or baring that, just drop one or more to make everyone heroic and useful (Team Kong had that courtesy), or at bare minimum, not annoying? To be fair, nerdy friend does get to save the day in the end with a moment of inspiration, but gets no appreciation or growth from it. Kyle Chandler’s character is likewise completely wasted in the ‘not now, kiddo’ role. Why not have father and daughter both working on the problem and dump conspiracy theorist and loser friend? That way we’d have an actual, you know, relationship on our hands.

Also, the Apex facilities have ridiculously incompetent security, but I suppose that’s to be expected.

The human villains aren’t much to write home about either. Evil corporate guy has a plan to eliminate and replace Godzilla, his haughty ‘corporate chick’ daughter serves as the heavy on Team Kong while being ridiculously stupid at several points, and then there’s the henchman / pilot. The latter is inexplicably named ‘Ren Serizawa’, suggesting a connection with Ken Watanabe’s character of the past films. This never effects anything or even comes up, making me wonder why they bothered.

It’s not much of a spoiler at this point to say that Apex is making Mechagodzilla. But there is a bit of a twist: they’re using one of King Ghidorah’s heads as the control basis so that they can piggy-back off of his telepathy.

Now I love this idea: blending two of Godzilla’s biggest and most important opponents and giving his archnemesis another shot at him to close out the trilogy. In fact, I like the idea so much that I wish they had given Mechagodzilla his own film to fully explore the implications. I mean, a man is mentally linked up with King Ghidorah: there is a tremendous amount of stuff you can do with that idea (as a matter of fact, this idea seems to have been drawn from one of Marc Ceresini’s novels, which did explore the implications. In the book the pilot of Mecha-Ghidorah was a teenage girl, who becomes increasingly twisted by her contact with the King of Terror. At one point her guardian recounts coming home to find her eating a bird she’d killed. As I say, this is an idea that you really need time to explore).

This also reminds me of how much I wish they had dropped the stupid ‘Orca’ device from the previous film and just brought back the telepathy angle of the Heisei films. They could have made the Millie-Bobby Brown character this series’ version of Miki Saegusa. That would have covered about five or six plot holes right there. But I digress.

Anyway, though I wish the Mechagodzilla stuff had been given more time, what they have is pretty good, giving full-scope to his overwhelming power even with his limited screentime. We get the traditional beam-lock with Godzilla, as well as several new weapons, like a drill-tipped tail. I can’t say I care for the new design that much, however: it’s too busy and lacks the cold, smooth, metallic look of previous incarnations that stood out so well against its living counterpart. I also wish that Godzilla had been allowed to participate more in finishing him off, but I suppose they wanted to throw Kong a bone after losing the title fight. It also works given that it was Kong’s persistence that left Godzilla too worn-out to properly challenge Mechagodzilla in the first place, making it something of a penitential act on Kong’s part to finish the job.

The ‘energy source’ plot was great in concept: of course for something like Mechagodzilla the biggest problem would be finding a way to power him (in the 1992 film they specified that they were using a nuclear reactor). Employing Kong to find a secret source of power is also directly taken from the plot of King Kong Escapes, which is all kinds of awesome (I should say that the filmmakers include many homages and nods to classic Toho; they clearly did their research). However, when they actually find it, they sort of…email the energy? Huh? I get they wanted to move things along, but they should have bitten the bullet and just had someone ferry it back to the surface (it would have meant differing corporate chick’s comeuppance, but then they could have gotten it without her being suicidally stupid).

Speaking of which, the additions to Kong’s character were…interesting. At the very least, they show a willingness on the part of the filmmakers to get creative and to try to add something to such a venerable figure. The trip to the hollow earth was a glorious piece of pulp sci-fi nonsense, a chance to go creatively crazy with landscapes above and below and a shifting gravity field, as well as, of course, your standard horrible monsters for Kong to fight (flying snake things: certainly an appropriate denizen for the center of the earth).

On that note, the movie takes a kind of ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ approach to creativity, drawing from classic Toho films, pulp adventures, previous Kong films, and others for a hodgepodge of sci-fi ideas. We have giant monsters, giant robots, telepathic aliens, a globe-spanning underground fast-delivery system, a prehistoric world at the center of the earth, conspiracies, gravitational anomalies, and on and on. I love the freedom and exuberance that the filmmakers show in just throwing all this stuff at the screen.

That said, I’m not sure about the suggestion of a Kong culture that once existed in the center of the Earth, or of an actual war between Kongs and Godzillas (frankly, I don’t particularly like the idea of Godzilla being a species in the first place: he ought to be a unique or almost unique being, mutated out of whatever genus he had once occupied into what he is now. Again, the Heisei films gave what I thought was the best origin story for him). It seems a little too much. Though the bit where Kong takes his seat on a giant throne, an actual king at last, was pretty cool.

Godzilla being able to blast down in the center of the Earth with his ray was frankly the most ridiculously stupid thing in the film. Actually, my main complaint about his portrayal here is that he uses his ray way too much and for too long at a stretch: a one point he keeps it going for minutes on end while trying to tag Kong. That kind of undermines it as a weapon, and I think he should have a pretty clear limit on how long he can fire it for, so that when he does use it for an extended period, it’s more impactful for the fact that he’s clearly making a special effort (e.g. when he shoots the meteor at the end of Godzilla: Final Wars). They over do his plates lighting up as well: I don’t really like him using it as a threat display. I prefer to know that once they start to glow, it means the ray is coming. But that’s more a problem from the previous film.

Again, though, I was overall very satisfied. The most important thing wasn’t necessarily that the plot was well-thought out or that the monster’s abilities were perfectly portrayed. It was that the characters were treated with respect and allowed to be themselves. And they pretty much nailed that: Godzilla and Kong are both the dangerous, noble, ferocious kings they ought to be. Their dynamic, with Godzilla being the unstoppable, world-defying juggernaut tasked with battling existential threats and Kong the scrappy, defiant, but ultimately out-classed independent party just seeking a place to survive, was perfect.

That is really the chief difference between them, thematically: Kong is about nature being conquered by man. For all his power, he ultimately can’t compete with human civilization and so falls. Here, in a more modern twist, man is alternately trying to preserve and protect Kong and exploit him for their own ends. In any case, Kong is ultimately vulnerable to man. Godzilla, on the other hand, is nature that cannot be conquered: he is the consequence of that supposed conquest. As Boethius put it, anything that escapes from the order assigned to it only falls back into a different order. If man disrupts the order of nature, a more fundamental order, one that he cannot disrupt, is called into play. Godzilla is the embodiment of this deeper nature: the unexpected, disastrous, and uncontrollable consequences of disruption.

So, thematically, you could put it that when man kills Kong, he creates Godzilla (which is sort of what happened with the original films, as Godzilla was partly inspired by King Kong).

Of course, this is another reason the fight can only end one way. For all his power, Kong is fundamentally vulnerable to man. Godzilla isn’t. The question facing the humans in one case is ‘what do we do with Kong?’ whereas in the other it’s ‘can we do anything against Godzilla?’ This is what makes each one interesting, and also what dictates the outcome of their encounter.

In any case, I really enjoyed Godzilla vs. Kong. It was a completely insane, ridiculous, and delightful romp with some of my all-time favorite characters, and for once the filmmakers actually paid what felt like genuine respect to the classics that came before them rather than adopting a faux-superior stance. It could have been a lot better (e.g. fixing the ‘team Godzilla’ storyline), but its high points are so immensely satisfying that I don’t really mind too much. I think that, for all their flaws, I will be glad to have the entire Legendary trilogy on my DVD shelf as a tribute to my most beloved film franchise of them all.

Friday Flotsam: Mostly Random

1. Something has intruded on my personal life, which I’m still learning to deal with. It’s knocked my attention (already unbalanced) for a real loop, so this’ll be kind of haphazard. It’s a personal matter, but just know that…well, I don’t know what things will be like going forward.

2. I saw Godzilla vs. Kong last weekend, and intended to write up something about it, but the aforementioned something has rather gotten in the way of sitting down to it.

The short, spoiler-free version is that I enjoyed it a lot. There are a lot of stupid bits and the human story, especially on Team Godzilla’s side, needed a lot of work, but the two stars were given full and wonderful scope and the fights were very satisfying. I’ll probably do a post detailing fuller, more spoiler-filled thoughts sometime in the future.

3. My own ‘ideal’ for the Monsterverse moving forward would actually be to end it here and take a break for a few years, then come back with a full-on MCU-style ‘verse’, with solo films for Godzilla, Mothra, Gamera, and Ultraman before bringing them all together for a massive team up film. Save Ghidorah for the team-up, maybe start Godzilla on Biollante or Hedorah (whom I really would like to see done with modern special effects), Mothra on Battra, Gamera on Gyaos (who can always come back, since she’s a species more than an individual), and Ultraman on Bemular/The One (saving the Baltan for later).

Either that or, even more ideally, a Spectacular Spider-Man / Batman: The Animated Series animated show to serve as a kind of synthesis of the entire mythos (e.g. having the Red Bamboo as the arc villains of the first season and building up to King Ghidorah, etc.). Never going to happen unless / until my schemes of world domination take off, but I can dream.

4. Coming down from writing about the Snyderverse. Something that i noticed in looking back over the films (via clips, etc) was how unimaginative and blunt Superman is with his powers. I mentioned this in the rundown, but it irks me a lot. The writers seem to have no notion of either having any kind of fun with his abilities or even just using them in a half-way restrained and sensible manner. It’s like the only things he can think to do are “hit things really hard” or “laser them into oblivion.” No squeezing gun barrels shut or finger-flicking people to the ground for this Superman: gotta just smash everything.

By the way, the many creative ways that Superman uses his different powers is another source of the immense amount of fun you can get out of him. Like, in the animated series there’s a bit where he shaves by reflecting his heat-vision off of a mirror. Or in Lois & Clark, where Clark lies there absentmindedly juggling a basketball with nothing but his breath before sending it into a trashcan in the same way. Superman’s supposed to be a pure fantasy figure in many ways: a ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ character. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just fly to China to get authentic Chinese takeout? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could type 5000 words a minute? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could refurbish your whole apartment in about five minutes?

Come to think of it, this is a major reason why I liked Godzilla vs. Kong so much: it’s fun. Not just ‘so stupid it’s enjoyable’, but it actually tries hard to give the audience a good time, to adopt that ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ mentality. “Wouldn’t it be cool if Kong had a giant ax? Wouldn’t it be cool if Godzilla just sliced right through a battleship? Wouldn’t it be cool if they duked it out on an aircraft carrier?”

I’m reminded of a line from the extremely profane and kind of unpleasant, but oft-amusing video-game critic/comedian Yahtzee: “Remember fun? That thing video games were supposed to be before they became an ‘experience’?” That comes to my mind a lot these days.

5. As a post-Lenten treat, I recently re-listened to my audiobook version of Emma. You know, one of the things I love about Jane Austen is just how comfortable she is: that 18th-19th century England sense of being a well-established, ordered society where, if you keep out of trouble, nothing too terrible can be expected to happen: no invading armies, no desperate criminals, no prospect of total societal collapse; a society that can be counted on to be there and to function the way it’s supposed to.

I have often wished heartily that I could retire to an English country village about the late 18th, early 19th century, just for the quiet and the retirement. I’m the kind of person who really doesn’t want much happening around him. Quiet, secluded country living: that’s my goal.

Godzilla vs. Kong Trailer

The number of films coming out that I’m actually considering paying money to see might be counted on one hand. These are mostly because they are continuations of stories I’m already invested in somehow, or because they seem to be the very odd exceptions to the usual rules of trash Hollywood that somehow slipped through the cracks.

Godzilla vs. Kong is one of those, entirely because I’m a massive Godzilla fan.

I’ll be honest: I don’t think it’ll be good (and it’s liable to be the last new film I ever bother to see as a new film), but I do hope that it will at least provide some satisfying kaiju moments. That’s really how I think of these things at this point: a two-and-a-half-hour fan-art slideshow.

In any case, the trailer finally dropped, confirming that this film is in fact still coming out despite the lackluster box office of every previous film in the Legendary ‘Monsterverse’ series (for the record: I liked Godzilla quite a lot, thought King of the Monsters was extremely stupid in unnecessary ways, but at least paid most of the monsters their due, and found Skull Island alternately delightful and annoying).

First thought: must every trailer for every action movie open with an explosion and that ominous hum?

So, Kong’s on a barge in chains. That’s a good note to start on: very fitting for Kong.

Kong is friends with a little girl. Eh, that seems off to me. Kong’s story is ‘beauty and the beast,’ not ‘innocence and the beast’. That’s a very different tone and I don’t care for the change. Even Skull Island got that right with Bored Larson (the ‘innocence’ connection more fits with Gamera than Kong).

The story seems to be the Godzilla has suddenly started attacking people for an unknown reason, casting him as the heavy in this film. I will say, I’m glad that they’re pulling back from the overtly heroic role they had him playing in the previous two films. Godzilla in my mind needs to have that air of danger and wildness to him: he’s noble and can be heroic, but he should never seem safe. The essence of his character is to be the embodiment of things that man cannot control: the unexpected consequences that can’t be shoved back into the box. He is a reminder that mankind is not an absolute ruler of the world, but subject to higher laws that we cannot evade or overrule. So I’m all on board with him actually attacking people this time around. The dialogue implies there’s some larger threat at work that will serve as a common enemy to both Kong and Godzilla, which I’m also onboard with (I remember reading a fan-fiction version of Kong vs. Godzilla many years ago where Gigan was the villain. It’s probably too much to hope for that here, but it’s not impossible I suppose. Though I can’t help thinking Kong wouldn’t last long against him).

As for what actually goes on in the trailer, well, Kong seems to be getting the better of things much more than I like to see (is it me, or do filmmakers have trouble showing balanced fights these days?). The action is way over the top to the point of being ridiculous (Godzilla and Kong both actually stand on a ship and fight? Yeah, that’s not happening). I like Kong making crude weapons for himself, but that shot at the end of Kong leaping at Godzilla and ‘catching’ his ray on the ax…well, one, the ax should melt, and two, all Godzilla has to do is adjust his aim a little bit, so…yikes. Not a good sign.

I really don’t like the music either. Rap (or whatever this is) doesn’t fit kaiju at all in my mind. It’s too American and it’s too undignified. The kaiju are warriors, not thugs (well, a character like Gigan might work with rap), especially Godzilla and Kong. Plus, come on: every action trailer has this kind of music in it. Kong and Godzilla want lush, heavy orchestral scores, or maybe metal guitar riffs, not generic gangster tunes.

My biggest worry going in, however, is that I strongly suspect they’re going to give the fight to Kong on the grounds that he’s the underdog. The issue I have with this is very much the same as in Batman v Superman (well, one of many, many issues I have with that film): strong as the meta-fictional rivalry is, the logic of the characters themselves dictates that the fight can only end one way. But instead of following that out, we give it to the ‘favored’ character, thereby cheapening them both and blatantly showing the writer’s hand.

Yes, Kong won in the original King Kong vs. Godzilla. But the thing with that is that Godzilla was still a pretty new character at that point and a solid villain, while Kong was a well-established and fairly beloved figure. The Godzilla ‘rules’ hadn’t been quite worked out yet, and even then it was a close fight that ended on an ambiguous note. That’s not the case anymore: Godzilla is at least as well-established as Kong, and his ‘rules’ have become pretty well set. It’s similar to the difference between Fleischer Superman and modern Superman. And those rules dictate that he should win any fight with Kong hands down.

(Another reason I like Freddy vs. Jason: the writers followed through on this and gave the fight – as far as it went – to the logical winner, even though he was the less prestigious character).

But that still remains to be seen. All signs seem to point to the filmmakers giving it to Kong, but maybe they’ll surprise me.

In any case, I’ll be seeing it, but I’m not recommending it to anyone not already interested. It looks like a big, stupid blockbuster employing characters I love, and my hope is that they at least pay them their due respects.

Initial Thoughts on ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’

So, just got back from seeing Godzilla: King of the Monsters. I’ve you’ve followed my blog, you probably know that I am a massive, life-long Godzilla fan, so I was eagerly looking forward to this long-awaited sequel to 2014’s Godzilla (which I liked quite a bit).

So, how’s this film stack up? Well, my immediate reaction is that I really, really liked it! I have a few reservations (which we’ll get to), but for the most part it’s pretty much just what I would want from a modern, big-budget version of the Godzilla mythos. It’s much faster and more action-packed than it’s predecessor, but without sacrificing the sense of awe and grandeur that ought to go along with Godzilla. There are plenty of moments where the characters just stand and stare (some of Mothra’s scenes are particularly good in this regard, and they really do capture the sense of otherworldly beauty that she ought to have).

Of course, one of the big things I wanted to see was how they would handle King Ghidorah, who has been oddly ill-served by most previous films. Well, they give him his due here; he’s not quite as overwhelmingly powerful and evil as I would have liked (e.g. if I were writing the film, Godzilla would have gotten absolutely run into the ground in their first fight), but he’s able to match and even outmatch the Big G while credibly posing an existential threat to the planet, which is as it should be. Don’t really like him walking on his wing tips, but that’s really my only criticism about the design (and they do establish that he’s “not from around here”).

Mothra is also very well played; I like how they present her as having a symbiotic relationship with Godzilla (though one character seems to take their ‘relationship’ as something else), so that she never falls under Ghidorah’s sway, which would have been all kinds of wrong. I wish she had gotten more screen time and more chance to really show what she can do, but she was almost spot on, and hearing an orchestral version of the Mothra Song from theater speakers was fantastic.

Rodan I actually think got a bit of a short shrift, character wise. I always conceive of him as a fiercely independent creature, to the point of being more antagonistic and uncontrollable than Godzilla himself: he can be mind controlled, like most monsters, but I don’t really like the idea of him as a follower. In terms of his presentation, however, he is very impressive; they make good use of his sheer speed and agility in the air, as well as his raw strength.

As for the human plot, it was actually pretty good; the characters divide into three camps. There are the villains who are ecoterrorists intending to use the monsters to wipe out humanity so that the earth can be restored to a more ‘natural’ state, the people who want the monsters to all be destroyed lest they kill more people, and the ‘Monarch’ organization in between, which argues for balance and co-existence. I appreciate that, despite the film’s strong environmentalist message, it actually takes the approach that the Earth is more self-correcting than we give it credit for, and that those who would see humanity removed from the equation not only are monstrous in their ideology, but don’t actually understand the environment they think they’re saving and will only make things worse.

All this is very fitting material for a Godzilla film, which have always been about man’s interactions with nature and the unexpected consequences of violating the natural order. Likewise, things like the hollow Earth myth and ancient lost cities, as well and linking the monsters to the creatures of mythology fit perfectly. The filmmakers very clearly know the Godzilla franchise and love it; there are many, many little nods and allusions, as well as plot points taken directly from the earlier films, and even non-film sources like the Marc Ceresini books. Rodan being found in a volcano and Ghidorah being initially dubbed ‘Monster Zero’ are only a couple examples (some others I can’t go into without spoilers).

The film also continues the strong theme of family from the last film: the characters trying to rebuild the family unit that was destroyed, in this case, by Godzilla himself. Though in this case, it might be beyond saving. There was actually a bit of genuine wisdom in the film, where Dr. Serizawa tells one of the leads that we don’t always understand why something bad happens, and that if we accept that we can grow stronger from adversity, rather than being torn apart (I don’t recall the exact wording, but it struck me as very Job-like).

The matter-of-fact religiosity of the previous film, alas, is mostly gone, though there are one or two nice little moments, mostly amounting to presenting Ghidorah is a demonic light, such as when one of the bad guys, seeing King Ghidorah exclaims “Mother of God!” to which the answer comes “She had nothing to do with this.” There’s also a striking image of Ghidorah, amid the flames of a volcano, being set against a cross, as though he’s challenging Christ Himself. On the other hand, frequent allusions to the idea that the monsters were the ‘original gods’ of mankind are rather ridiculous (there is a qualitative difference between a simply dangerous or powerful creature, however massive, and a creature regarded with numinous awe). Likewise, the attempts to emphasize the animality of the monsters doesn’t really work for me; I prefer it when there is a strange ambivalence about just what they are in the hierarchy of creation.

On that note, one thing I miss in these latter films was the supernatural element in the earlier Godzilla films. The classic movies thought nothing of including fairies, magic, and mystic energy side-by-side with science-fiction concepts, which both gave them a very distinctive flavor and fit in with the underlying idea that humanity really doesn’t know very much about the world and violates ancient taboos at its peril. Also, the ‘alpha signal’ device, and the idea that Ghidorah can command creatures all around the planet is highly dubious, especially since so much of the film rests on it. I can go with it, but it’s questionable at best.

Then there’s the Oxygen Destroyer, which was, frankly, a disappointment. See, the Oxygen Destroyer is a huge deal in the original films; it appears precisely twice over the whole history of the franchise, and both times it’s a major, major issue; the one weapon that can certainly kill Godzilla, but which also threatens to be far worse than he is. The questions it raises, and the horrific nature of the weapon itself, are big parts of the story and philosophy of the films. Here, it is introduced and set off within the space of maybe two minutes and is never brought up again except in passing. That’s a big waste.

Finally, there’s a matter of Godzilla himself. Now, overall he’s portrayed very well; I completely buy that this is Godzilla, and his power and ferocity are on full display. But the thing is (and this applies to the first film as well), I think that by playing him so overtly heroic, they’ve lost something. One of the things that makes the original series so compelling to me is that Godzilla starts off as a villainous, or at least antagonistic figure. He hates humanity for what they’ve done and continue to do to him. Yet he is ultimately a noble creature, and his arc comes when that nobility leads him to protect the very people he so hates, in the process gradually softening and becoming more heroic as the two sides come to terms with each other. It’s a fairly unique storyline, which appears to have grown up more or less by accident, and I think it’s a fascinating drama. But that isn’t what we have with these new films. Here, Godzilla is characterized much more like Gamera, which isn’t unacceptable, but it is a little disappointing for me (it also means that bringing Gamera into this series would basically be redundant, as the contrast between their characters has been removed).

Those caveats really don’t take away from my sheer enjoyment of this film; they throw so much at us, and the action scenes are so big and so spectacular, and the monsters themselves so well-realized that I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end, not to mention the sheer joy of hearing Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla Theme in all its glory accompanying the action. I’m definitely looking forward to what they’ll do in the next one. Long live the King indeed!

Presenting my ‘Must See’ List for 2019

A whole lot of trailers dropped this week, but for my part, I only really cared about two.

First, obviously, is Avengers: Endgame

Yeah, this looks pretty fantastic. They’re not showing much yet; this trailer is mostly about letting the audience know that yes, the Avengers are going to keep fighting. Love the logo reassembling at the end. I’d also like to point out that the opening scene of the trailer to this movie, with Tony Stark recording a message for Pepper, is more honestly human than most films these days are in their entirety. Also, the fact that the big moment in the trailer involves Ant-Man just warms my heart. I really hope he gets to play a crucial role in this film.

As I was saying at a friend’s blog, the thing I most want from this movie is for Thanos to receive a ‘Nightmare-on-Elm-Street’-style comeuppance, where he gets to see his mad vision being undone and know that all his sacrifices and all his crimes were for nothing. If they get that right, I’ll allow almost anything else.

The other is the second Godzilla: King of the Monsters trailer.

Wow!

Lots more kaiju action, and it’s clear they’re still holding back most of it. We get clear views of all four monsters this time around, and a lot of King Ghidorah. I said last time that he was the one I was most hoping they’d get right, and from this it looks like they’re absolutely nailing it. I want a Ghidorah who can pound Godzilla into the dirt, and whom the three greatest monsters on Earth – Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan – will be hard pressed to bring down, and that’s pretty much what we seem to be getting. The two scenes of Godzilla and Ghidorah facing off are practically a dream come true (though I might wish they had been done in daylight).

Meanwhile, we get a full-view of Mothra this time. She’s definitely been given quite the makeover and resembles her ‘Mothra Leo’ form. I probably would have gone for more traditional designs, but that’s just me; they’re clearly keeping the important points. I like that they’re definitely playing her up as a heroic figure, which is proper.

Similarly, Rodan seems to be exactly in character as well; not strictly evil, but terrifyingly destructive and even more indifferent to mankind than Godzilla. We’re supposed to have a fight between Rodan and Godzilla at one point, but I’m also kind of hoping for one between Mothra and Rodan, since that’s something we’ve never seen before (Rodan and Mothra’s imago form have only shared one film – Final Wars – and they never interacted). Plus, if you have two flying kaiju, it only seems to make sense to make them fight.

I do have to wonder what’s with the scene of something bursting out of the ground. I presume it’s Godzilla, but why is he underground? I suppose we’ll find out (unless they just wanted to go above and beyond the call of duty by giving Anguirus or Baragon a cameo).

So, yeah, I think this looks fantastic. Again, there’s real respect being shown for these characters and this franchise, and in today’s world that’s something to be thankful for.

By the way, look closely at the clouds in the early scene of the devastated Washington.

(And I just found out; apparently, this film will feature Akira Ifukube’s immortal ‘Godzilla March’. Nothing else needs to be said.)

So, basically these two films are at the undisputed summit of my list of things to see next year.

 

Trivia Break: Queen of the Monsters

I’d like to introduce you to actress Mie Hama. She’s a rather interesting person: born during World War II to blue collar parents, her home was destroyed in a bombing raid and she grew up poor. By the age of sixteen, she was working as a fare collector on the bus, and it was there that Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka found her and decided she might make a fine actress.

Mie Hama

Something must’ve caught his attention. Can’t quite put my finger on it…

Anyway, Miss Hama went on to become one of the most popular actresses of the Golden Age of Japanese cinema, and even to have some success outside it (more on that later). But at the height of her career she quit acting to get married and start a family, wanting only a “normal life.” She had four children and later became a popular TV and radio host, authoress, and advocate for traditional Japanese farming.

Now, Miss Hama has a peculiar distinction in the film world. As far as I know (and all things considered, I think I would know), she is the only actress to date who has been menaced by both King Kong and Godzilla, AND romanced by James Bond.

How’s that for a resume?

(To be fair, Akiko Wakabayashi also co-starred in You Only Live Twice – and plays a rather larger role – as well as having a role in King Kong vs. Godzilla, but she never interacts with either of the monsters).

Akiko Wakabayashi. Seems only fair to put her photo up as well.

Miss Hama was one of the stars of 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, during the course of which the train she is riding is wrecked Godzilla, who then briefly (and presumably inadvertently) pursues her into a ravine, where she’s rescued by her boyfriend.

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Hama vs. Godzilla

Later, as she tries to evacuate Tokyo before the approaching King Kong, she boards another train, which unfortunately runs directly across the path of the giant ape, who does what he does. Somewhat fortunately for her, Kong notices her and takes a liking, meaning that she gets to serve as this film’s version of Fay Wray (Kong climbs the Diet Building in this one). Kong is then knocked out by gas bombs and she is rescued before the great ape is airlifted to his showdown with Godzilla.

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Hama vs. King Kong

Some five years after tangling with the two greatest monsters of cinema, Miss Hama was picked to co-star alongside Sean Connery (and fellow King Kong vs. Godzilla alum Akiko Wakabayashi) in You Only Live Twice, the fifth James Bond film. She plays the role of Kissy Suzuki, a Japanese agent assigned to pose as Bond’s wife while he’s undercover as a 6’2″ Japanese fisherman (granted, not the most convincing development in the history of the franchise). Kissy doesn’t really have a lot of screen time (she isn’t even introduced until an hour and a quarter into the two-hour film), but she manages to put what time she has to good use by steadfastly, and amusingly, resisting Bond’s attentions until the very end (“We’re supposed to be married!” “Think again, please; you gave false name to priest.”) and providing some solid back-up for Bond during their reconnaissance of Blofeld’s base. That, and spending about 90% of her time in a bikini.

Hama vs. Bond

Miss Hama later told stories of how difficult the experience of being a ‘Bond Girl’ was. Though she was a popular actress in Japan, she was still a fairly normal, down-to-earth person and so found herself overwhelmed by the publicity and pressure of the big Hollywood production. But, she said, Sean Connery – who also had a working class background – was very kind and chivalrous to her, constantly checking to make sure she was okay and looking out for her during the long shoot. Later she commented that her chief regret about the film was that she was too shy to try to get to know him better.

That same year, she tangled with Kong again as the villainous femme fatale Madam Piranha in the delightfully silly US-Japanese co-production King Kong Escapes (which is basically what happens when a King Kong film and a James Bond movie are put through the brundlefly machine together). This time around she’s a bad girl: a spy from an unknown foreign power in league with the villainous ‘Doctor Who,’ who intends to conquer the world with a mechanical copy of Kong (so, yes; it’s a pseudo-Bond film where King Kong battles Doctor Who, a Bond Girl, and MechaKong. Japan, ladies and gentlemen!).

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Be honest; would you accept a drink from this woman?

So, there you have it; the girl who tangled with King Kong, Godzilla, AND James Bond and lived to tell about it. Now that’s a strong woman!

No, this post was not just an excuse to share pictures of a beautiful woman. Not *just*…

Indestructible

The irreplaceable Caroline Furlong of A Song of Joy shares music videos featuring two ear-catching song both titled ‘Indestructible.’ One of the songs I’m well familiar with and used it as the theme of one of my favorite Godzilla characters: the indomitable Anguirus, which I now present for your consideration. Enjoy!

(Apologies for poor video quality: this was before I’d ironed out the video-capture process)