Monday, 18 May 2015

Godzilla 2000 (1999)

The first two thirds of a kaiju film has one function: to set up the final climactic battle.  That may seem like a simple enough mission statement, but the challenge these movies face is that their audience knows this, and that can make it hard to get them to engage.  It's a bit like asking someone to watch a game of baseball from the start, after telling them that the scores will be tied at the top of the ninth.  They're not going to care overmuch about the first eight innings in a situation like that.

The best kaiju films (Pacific Rim, the three Gamera films from the 1990s) manage to overcome this by making the 'setup' period of the film satisfying and engaging on its own terms.  More often though, you get what happens in Godzilla 2000: the first 65 minutes fulfill their narrative function - they set up who Big G's enemy will be, and why we should want Godzilla to win - but they don't actually stand on their own merits.

With this film, the failure stems from three main weaknesses.  The first is the human characters being annoying: we've got a bratty child (she's presumably meant to be adorably feisty, but she's so not), and a whiny photojournalist whose only expression for most of the first hour is a pout.  There's also bratty kid's dad, who is more or less the 'hero' from the human side of things.  He's kind of like the Godzilla equivalent of a stormchaser, which does not sound like the sort of thing you should turn into a daddy/daughter bonding session, no matter how irritating she is.

The second weakness is in the increased use of CGI and overlays, rather than model and rubber suit work.  Suffice it to say that Toho's skills in these "new" FX types are significantly weaker than in those traditionally associated with Godzilla.

The final weakness is in the 'action', such as it is, of the first hour.  We have some Looney Tunes-esque scenes of Godzilla causing destruction early on, and leaving bewildered but unharmed humans in the rubble behind him: seriously, they just need animated birds flying 'round their heads and they'd fit right into a Warner Bros cartoon.  Then we have a 'battle' behind Big G and the human military, which mostly consists of them shooting Godzilla with missiles while he stands there and roars from time to time.  Exciting, it is not.

This is something of a shame because the final battle, when it comes, is actually a pretty good one.  The new monster looks cool (and undergoes several minor transformations during the battle that keep things fresh), and the climactic piece of action is well thought out.

If you like kaiju films, then the final battle is worth checking out (though I recommend you turn if off as soon as Godzilla actually wins - there's a silly coda afterword that you're better off skipping), but I wouldn't bother sitting down to slog through the whole thing.

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