I’ve been a fan of the big cheese since I was quite young. I recall seeing Godzilla vs Megalon at the Capri Cinema in Cairns when I was maybe twelve years old — as a double feature, supported by the entirely regrettable The Christmas Martian, a film so terrible it remains an in-joke between me and the friend I saw it with back in the day. (And when a movie is THAT much worse than Godzilla vs Megalon, notoriously one of the most whacked-out efforts of the Showa period, you must believe me: it’s an atrocity.)
Over the years, mostly in company of my kids, I’ve seen just about every Godzilla flick there is. I’ve even seen a range of the weirder side-movies like Frankenstein vs Baragon, and King Kong Escapes. It’s an ongoing thing between me and the middle kid: we’re tormenting each other by finding ever more obscure (and horrid) Godzilla-verse movies to watch. (Not Gamera stuff though. You gotta draw the line somewhere, right?)
Up to this point, the best of the films has always been — for me — the original Godzilla. (The Japanese cut, not the one with Raymond Burr inserted into it as a confused American newsman.) Not because of its actual quality, which is dire, but simply because of what they were attempting to do, and what they achieved in so doing. That film has spawned… well, a massive, worldwide cultural phenomenon. And despite the fact that it was all about a guy in a wobbly rubber suit stomping the crap out of a mass of intricately built model scenery — it had heart, and it was genuinely about something. It was sincere, and that was cool.
My favourite film, though, was Godzilla: Final Wars — a completely batshit film that managed to drag in just about every monster that ever came into shot in any of the Showa period Godzilla flicks. (Not giant Frankenstein though. Thankfully) G:FW was just so cheerfully over the top that I couldn’t help adoring it. I’ve seen it several times, and I still giggle at it.
However: as of today, my second favourite Godzilla film is the new Godzilla vs King Kong. My top hat is formally doffed to the film-makers. Much as I liked the recent Shin Godzilla, which recreated the original Godzilla for a modern era with all the seriousness and all the politics the original film implied, I’m afraid Shin Godzilla missed what is, for me, the core of these films: gigantic monsters beating the living fuck out of each other and smashing up the scenery.
Honestly? GvKK is perfectly lovely. There are human stories involved, but they dovetail with the monster action and actually play functional roles in the development and resolution of the monster-mash stuff. The scenery is appropriately smashed, bashed and trashed. New elements are introduced — the ‘Hollow Earth’ thing — but that’s actually good: it gives this new era of ‘Titans’ (what this series of movies calls the kaiju) a place to come from and go to. It provides a reason why these gigantic monsters can disappear off the radar between movies, and it offers up an adequate excuse for future monstrosities, if there’s call for more movies.
In between, there’s lots of call-backs to the original films and the lore that surrounded them. It’s done with genuine respect, and I appreciate that. The only thing I really miss? Wobbly rubber suits and hand-built scenery. The CGI kaiju look goddam fantastic, and the big ol’ battle in Hong Kong genuinely looks the goods. This is what the original Godzilla people would have done if they could, of a certainty — and if I’m nostalgically attached to wobbly rubber suits and hand-crafted effects… well, that’s how it is.
If you’re not a fan of the kaiju stuff, this film will be another big, smashy spectacle for you. But you’ll appreciate the fact that the various storylines dovetail, and there are continuity callbacks to previous films in this particular sequence. You’ll likely enjoy the humour and the spectacle, and who knows? Maybe you’ll want to see more.
But if you are a fan? Oh, the film’s excellent. Like I said, it’s full of callbacks and references and respect for the old stuff — but it actually offers up a coherent set of storylines and it feels like a proper movie as well as a kaiju epic. I’d say more, but I really don’t wanna deliver a bunch of spoilers. There’s an awful lot of enjoyment for the long-term Godzilla fan in spotting the homages, references, callbacks, and borrowings, and as many of those are integral to the storyline, this is as far as I go.
Except to say this: I’m still smiling, hours later.