When you see a movie titled Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, how can you not have insane expectations?! It’s an “all-out attack” for crying out loud. And the set-up of this film, being a direct sequel to the original Godzilla movie (more on that in a bit) certainly promises for some serious kaiju smackdown: Godzilla faces three of his most famous opponents for the fate of all of Japan. Unfortunately, I think the filmmakers’ concept was slightly bigger than what their budget ultimately allowed for.
The first thing to realize about Giant Monsters is that it effectively takes the Godzilla franchise and wipes the slate clean. Within the first 15 minutes or so, it sidesteps everything that’s happened within the Godzilla franchise since the first movie — as far as this movie is concerned, all of the bajillion other Godzilla movies never happened. In and of itself, that doesn’t matter too much — most Godzilla movies were pretty self-contained and contradictory with each other to begin with — and it does allow the filmmakers to bring some interesting elements into the story.
It’s been nearly 50 years since Godzilla demolished Japan, and as far as most people are concerned, the big green guy is just an urban legend. New York thought they were attacked by Godzilla a few years back, but it turns out the Americans were mistaken (which is a nice little dig at Roland Emmerich’s 1998 movie). Still, some in the military are concerned about a future attack, and when an American nuclear submarine is attacked and left with what looks like giant claw marks, it looks like their concern might be warranted.
Soon, strange earthquakes and catastrophes begin happening up all over Japan. Monsters are popping up everywhere, and soon, even the skeptics are convinced Godzilla is coming back for a second helping. This first part of the film is surprisingly engaging, and I actually found myself somewhat on the edge of my seat (a first in my kaiju viewing) as the film jumped all over Japan, building up the mystery of just what exactly is behind all of the destruction.
Following the trail of disasters, and attempting to piece it all together, is Yuri Tachibana (Chiharu Nîyama), a gutsy reporter for BS Digital Q, a tabloid TV station. Although she works for a network that makes up fantastic news stories, Tachibana really wants to be a legitimate reporter and she sees this developing story as her one shot at the primetime.
Sure enough, Godzilla soon makes his grand appearance, and immediately starts levelling every single cardboard set he comes in contact with. And to make matters worse, there are other monsters on their way too. But as Tachibana continues her investigation, she discovers something incredible. These other monsters are actually Japan’s defenders, and they’re awakening from their long slumber to face Godzilla’s threat.
That’s right, the big green guy is a villain once again. Over the years, Godzilla had evolved into a sort of cult hero, defending the Land of the Rising Sun from numerous enemies including smog monsters and alien invaders. But in keeping with the original film, he’s once again a bad guy, and he’s once again a metaphor for war and violence.
The original Godzilla movie was, in some ways, an attempt by the Japanese to come to terms with the horrors of atomic warfare, since they’re the only people to experience such a thing firsthand. With Giant Monsters, Godzilla is once again a spectre of war. With the help of some pseudo-scientific/pseudo-mystical mumbo-jumbo that is cobbled together faster than you can say “Mechagodzilla,” Yuri realizes that Godzilla is actually a collection of all of the souls that suffered from Japan’s aggression during World War 2. And because the Japanese people have chosen to forget their past sins, Godzilla has risen to jog their memories once again.
The only thing standing between Japan and annihilation are its Guardian Monsters: King Ghidorah (a 3-headed, lightning-breathing dragon), Mothra (a giant moth — go figure), and Baragon (which resembles a cross between a rhinoceros, a gecko, and a chihuahua — no wonder he’s so surly). Oh yeah, and there’s also the Godzilla fodder, err, I mean Japanese military. I actually found this an intriguing concept — men in rubber suits duking it out as a metaphor for Japan’s guilt battling with its national heritage and pride. Of course, the movie can’t delve into it too seriously — after all, the main characters are men in giant rubber suits — but I was interested to see where it was going.
Up until this point, the movie had been pretty much ace, building up some suspense and even throwing in some really twisted humor (such as when Godzilla takes out a hospital with his tail — trust me on this one). Sadly, the movie quickly ends up going nowhere, and completely undermines itself in the third act when the climactic showdowns start taking place. And much of the reason is because the film starts to look really bad, and not in a good way. As anyone knows, much of the fun in watching a Godzilla movie comes from the cheesiness of it all — the obviously fake sets, the fact that you’re watching guys in big rubber suits. But Giant Monsters ruins it with some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in awhile.
Granted, this movie came out in 2001, and so technology has progressed quite a bit since then. But for crying out loud, this is Godzilla we’re talking about — Japan’s biggest pop culture icon (next to Hello Kitty, perhaps). You think they’d do the guy a bit more justice, but sadly no. By the time Godzilla settles in for the final bout with a CGI King Ghidorah, I just wanted it to be over. Furthermore, the bad CGI enhanced the badness of everything else. Soon, even the cheap sets and bad acting — some of the most enjoyable things about a Godzilla movie — started grating on me.
Adding to that was the fact that the Guardian Monsters were pretty much worthless as far as divine guardians go. More often than not, they ended up getting tossed into buildings and causing even more damage than if they’d just stayed home. Put bluntly, there was very little of the smackdown that I was hoping for.
I don’t really know why I’m analyzing a Godzilla movie this much. If you’re a Godzilla fan, you’ve probably already seen this film. And if you’re not a fan, then there’s nothing about this movie that will make you one. I don’t know, maybe the big guy just needs a rest. There is one more Godzilla movie currently in the works, tentatively titled Godzilla: Final Wars and directed by Ryuhei “I directed Versus and I’m totally riding on that fact because all of my subsequent films have sucked” Kitamura. After that, the big guy is going on vacation. Considering how much Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack ran out of steam by the conclusion — most of the creativity must have gone into that title — that’s probably for the best.