“Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla” – A.J. Hakari

Toho reached their fair share of silly points with the Godzilla series, but Godzilla vs. Megalon was the last straw. It was a film that brought their great green cash cow to a ridiculous new low, kiddifying the hell out of a franchise slowly obtaining a cult status overseas. A movie was needed to maintain the monster’s lighthearted new visage while retaining a few shades of badassery, and thus, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla was born. Here we have a flick tailored for the kid at heart, packed with all sorts of flashy images and things that make a mighty big kaboom. Is it almost unfathomably goofy at times? Absolutely, but the Big G has rarely pulled it off as well as he has here.

After the discovery of a strange mural in Okinawa, a number of bad omens strike Japan. Earthquakes plague the country, ominous clouds churn about in the sky, and to top it all off, Godzilla has returned to throw the mother of all hissy fits. But there’s something a little off about the big guy, something that’s soon revealed following a fight with little Anguirus. As it turns out, it’s not Godzilla at all but rather Mechagodzilla, a robotic version of everyone’s favorite giant lizard designed by monkeys from outer space (just roll with it) to take over the world. The real Godzilla comes out of hiding to tangle with this high-tech foe, but a brutal beatdown forces both parties to retreat to their corners for a breather. But just when it looks as if the aliens have gained the upper hand, hope comes along in the form of King Caesar, an ancient monster summoned to help lay the smackdown on the intergalactic imposter.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is either one of the coolest or most puerile entries in the franchise. Any way you slice it, it’s one nutty film, though for the most part, it’s entertainingly so. Once a symbol of the horrors of nuclear war, Godzilla has since metamorphosed into Japan’s own private superhero, with the filmmakers adapting accordingly. He’s actually awarded quite a bit of personality here, approaching his first battle against Mechagodzilla with a sort of swagger befitting the likes of Clubber Lang. If Godzilla looks a little shabby and worse for the wear, that’s because the filmmakers cast him as the underdog in this cinematic brawl. Director Jun Fukuda and crew put most of their efforts towards showing what a bad mamma jamma Mechagodzilla is, and boy, do they ever succeed. Tricked out with a slick look and an arsenal to put entire militaries to shame, Mechagodzilla is more than suitable enough to take on his scaly counterpart. In fact, I’d say Mechagodzilla is my favorite of Godzilla’s opponents, if only because they give him so many damned cool gadgets without making it feel like the deck is stacked in his favor.

The kid-friendly spirit that had tainted so many prior pictures is kept largely at bay in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, though there are times when it does rear its corny little head. The story is a pretty preposterous mess, replete with all sorts of nonsense about Japanese royalty, mystical statues, and, of course, monkey men from space. It’s far too complex than what a Godzilla film needs, and it painfully drags things out as it progresses, but it provides enough of a cheesy spirit for the flick to get by on. But the film’s biggest letdown easily has to be another new contender, King Caesar (pronounced “see-zahr”). This guy is given so much build-up over the course of the movie, from a pivotal subplot to his own theme song, you’re ready to see the monster to end all monsters. Instead, what you get is a cross between a dragon and my dad’s Lhasa Apso, a pretty pathetic beast whose only ability is to be more limber than past kaiju. Needless to say, the impact is underwhelming, especially when he spends most of his screen time getting beaten to a pulp by Mechagodzilla (yet still retaining his fearsome reputation with the characters — go figure).

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is usually regarded as one of the best in its series. Though it was too sluggish for me to fully appreciate, I’d say this status is well-earned in the eyes of kaiju fans. With a diverting balance of bite and childishness, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla has no trouble keeping seasoned Godzilla buffs and franchise newcomers occupied.

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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