Thursday, April 27, 2017

In short: The Return of Godzilla (1984)

Original title: ゴジラ (Gojira)

The write-up is based on the Japanese cut of the film that at least spares us the indignities of Raymond Burr and evil Soviets.

Only 1954’s original movie happened, so this 1984 Godzilla can have it easier to attempt to get back to the decidedly darker and less silly tone of the Ur-Godzilla. Somehow, Godzilla reawakens and attacks Japan, looking to suck that sweet, sweet nuclear energy out of nuclear reactors (suggesting to today’s eyes a very different film about an excellent way of cleaning up nuclear wastes). People in suits discuss stuff very earnestly, US and Soviet Ambassadors shout at the Japanese Prime Minister, a nuclear missile goes rogue, and Godzilla does some stuff too, sometimes. Until he is lured into a volcano, the end.

While it probably must have sounded like a good idea at the time to lead the premier kaiju back to its roots of allegorical monstrosity, Koji Hashimoto’s film – unlike Shin Godzilla that choses a comparable path but succeeds wildly but more on that movie at a later date - really doesn’t do much with the opportunities that new approach should have opened. This Godzilla could be too easily replaced with any kind of natural catastrophe, his living metaphor status being hammered home by the film again and again in the most graceless manner possible. Nuance and ambiguity are kept by the wayside at all times. The producers seem satisfied with leaving the film’s supposed central threat less than the portent of doom it was probably supposed to be, delivering something that’s metaphor first and foremost. And metaphors only seldom make good movie monsters - as much as some people might still fear metaphors since school days – when not tempered into something that actually works as a real thing in the imaginary world of the movie they inhabit.

Hashimoto, the script, and long time Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka (whose idea this whole mess was anyway), do quite obviously prefer the cold war subplot anyhow, but having Godzilla as a metaphor for nuclear destruction sharing space with the threat of actual nuclear destruction in the same film feels like a film with a crisis of identity more so than anything else.

The whole affair is further dragged down by Hashimoto’s leaden direction, lacking spark, character and drive, as well as by a plodding pace that manages to stretch out the events of a thirty minute movie to triple that length, by the deeply mediocre Tokyo-smashing, and by a human cast that is bland and boring to a degree unexpected even for the kaiju genre where human non-entities are just a fact of (movie) life.

So, even though The Return of Godzilla’s status as the particularly unloved stepchild of the Godzilla films has critically improved over the course of the last decade or so, I really can’t find much to like about it, even if I ignore that Godzilla’s facial expressions in it remind me a lot of grumpy cat.

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