“Rodan” – A.J. Hakari

When Ishiro Honda made Gojira in 1954, he saw a disaster movie with much deeper overtones than he had originally envisioned. But once Gojira proved to be a hit, I’m betting the next thing he saw was a way to milk the concept of a giant monster destroying major cities for all its worth. Thus, Rodan was born, one of the first kaiju films to arrive in the wake of Gojira’s success. But without the latter film’s sporadically chilling atmosphere and Hiroshima-reminiscent overtones, Rodan finds itself often struggling to justify its own existence.

Something strange is afoot at a coal mine based at Japan’s Mount Aso. In the aftermath of a small flood, two workers go missing, and when one turns up having been killed by some sort of sharp object, the second miner is immediately pegged for the crime. But their suspicions are quickly dashed when chief engineer Shigeru (Kenji Sahara) and his girlfriend (Yumi Shirakawa) encounter the real (not to mention bizarre) culprit: a massive, caterpillar-like creature that makes mincemeat out of all the poor suckers who cross its path. The authorities manage to quell the threat, only to find out that the danger is just beginning. In a matter of hours, Shigeru witnesses the hatching of Rodan, a gigantic dinosaur woken from a millennia-old slumber. Once released, Rodan quickly embarks on a campaign of terror spreading all across Asia, its fast speed and seeming invincibility leaving the military at a loss as to how to stop it once and for all.

It’s not uncommon these days to see big event movies saturate the screen with special effects while chucking the story out the window. But Rodan proves that such a tradition began decades before the likes of Independence Day and Transformers hit the scene. Now I know that kaiju films aren’t really famous for their plots; chances are good that when some cinephile pops one into their player, they’re looking for a cheesetastic good time. But while a good portion of them reward the viewer for trudging through about an hour’s worth of cringe-inducing dialogue with some sweet monster carnage, Rodan does so as if against its will. At times, it almost seems like it’s trying to ignore the fact that there aren’t one but two monstrous forces on the prowl (though the haphazard combination of the two sort of makes the flick feel like two different movies smashed together). For the most part, the film is content to trot out a sea of talking heads, guys in suits sitting around big tables yammering on in pseudo-sciencespeak instead of, y’know, stopping the flying beast that’s making Beijing its personal playground.

I can deal with the obligatory scene in which the military recounts the origins of the apocalyptic threat du jour, but Rodan takes things to a new, sinfully boring level. True, in traditional model-destroying fashion, Rodan’s climactic rampage is pretty cool, but the filmmakers make you sit through so much boring, half-hearted drama beforehand, you really don’t care by that point. There’s an aimless murder mystery that eats up far too much running time, Shigeru and his sweetie have all the chemistry of a pair of wet naps, and despite cheesiness being the flick’s main draw, there are times when things get a little too ridiculous. This is especially true during the death scenes, which either have people hilariously throwing themselves into harm’s way or just falling down (I guess we’ll have to take the movie’s word on them dying and all). It’s one thing for a movie’s flaws to shape it into something endearingly silly, but for Rodan, they make it look painfully cheap.

I still consider myself to be on a kindergarten level when it comes to kaiju cinema, so I’m confident that not all of them are like Rodan. I look forward to seeing monster mashes that are so bad, they’re good; Rodan, on the other hand, is just flat-out bad.

Rating: ★½☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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