“Mothra vs. Godzilla” – A.J. Hakari

The lesser Godzillas were usually that way for one of two reasons. Either they were complete hatchet jobs, replete with rancid dubbing or confounding editing, or just plain boring as sin. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Mothra vs. Godzilla is a bad film, as it’s one of the more dignified entries of the series (or as dignified as it can be while rarely lapsing into absurdity). But it does have a habit of treading water in the latter category, often devoid of tension or, for that matter, any reason to care when the guys in the monster suits aren’t onscreen. Mothra vs. Godzilla is a relatively bland picture, perfectly functional but just dull enough to have viewers yearning for the unintentional laughter the franchise’s silliest hours wrought.

Something strange has made its way to Nishi Beach. Along with various wreckage in the aftermath of a typhoon, a massive egg has washed ashore, astounding passersby and getting some greedy executives to see yen flashing before their eyes. The tycoons quickly lay claim to the egg and set about building a massive amusement park around it, until its true guardians, a pair of tiny fairies (Emi and Yumi Ito), come calling. As it turns out, the egg belongs to Mothra, the benevolent flying monster currently living her last days on nearby Infant Island. Of course, the corporate bastards refuse to give up their cash cow, until a familiar threat re-enters the picture. Having recovered from his battle against King Kong, Godzilla is back in business and as ornery as ever, and with the well-being of numerous skyscrapers in jeopardy, it’s up to Mothra to stop the Big G’s latest smashing spree dead in its tracks.

Mothra vs. Godzilla is often cited as a fan favorite, and it’s not hard to see why. Positioned between the original’s solemn nature and its increasingly carefree successors, the flick provides a nice balance of series sensibilities. Neither patronizingly dopey nor overtly stuffy, the mood does a swell job of pleasing all palates without visibly bending over backwards to do so. If there’s one area where the film does seem to pick sides, it’s with the monster carnage, though such scenes remain cheekily entertaining. Keep in mind that Godzilla gets second billing in the title and as such is cast for one of the last times as an outright villain. However, he’s less of the Hannibal Lecter style of antagonist and more of the Joe Pesci/Daniel Stern variety, stumbling and fumbling across Japan as much as he spreads wanton violence. This leaves Mothra as the Macaulay Culkin of the piece, a sprightly underdog running unexpected circles around the atomic icon. I guess I’ve always underestimated Mothra, but after seeing her take on Godzilla in their climactic rumble, I have to say my affection for the Mark McGwire of butterflies has grown considerably.

That being said, just as with King Kong vs. Godzilla, there are a lot of long-winded shenanigans to sift through on the way to the big showdown. You wouldn’t think it would be hard for the filmmakers to come up with some decent plot threads to keep viewers occupied in between battles. To its credit, Mothra vs. Godzilla gets some mileage out of the great egg debate, with the sniveling execs more outrightly evil than Godzilla is. But this too grows stale and repetitious, and soon, the movie starts running out of excuses for putting off the titular tussle. There’s even a pro-environment/peace message that’s unleashed out of the blue, and while nowhere near as preachy as Godzilla vs. Hedorah, it’s still a fairly weak attempt to flesh out the human drama. Plus, as much fun as it is to see Mothra haul Godzilla around by his tail and flap up a storm, the final battle does feel a little prolonged, specifically once Mothra’s young enter the picture and fill a good five minutes of doing the same damned fighting move over and over.

I can’t say I completely enjoyed Mothra vs. Godzilla, but it’s as good a spot as any for series newcomers to jump right in without feeling gypped. There’s a fair amount of destruction to go around, the story is easy enough to swallow, and Mothra serves as the perfect foil for Godzilla, depicted at his best as the bad guy you love to hate. It’s not the best Godzilla sequel by a long shot, but Mothra vs. Godzilla has its entertaining moments and, overall, does pretty well by the big green galoot.

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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