It's a film which has some clear directing which makes it hard for viewers to misread the director's personal beliefs, nice bits of dialogue between the fine cast that fleshes them out enough for this type of film, sharp composition and framing, colorful set designs, etc. I don't want to write up a review in this thread but the only faults the movie has are a contrived obstacle after the battle with Mothra and Godzilla, a cheap island set, continuity and editing errors. I doubt anybody could argue these faults or something more make it a bad film.
Not gonna respond to each of these points in detail, especially since I don't disagree with all of them. But I will point out that 1. the dialogue is awfully heavy-handed in Mothra vs Godzilla and, in fact, the series as a totality. I'd have to see what dialogue in MVG you actually think is good. 2. Making it "hard for viewers to misread the director's personal beliefs" is not necessarily a sign of strength and, by the standards of modernity, is actually usually a weakness. Ambiguity is pretty important if something wants to be taken seriously as an art. Overt or didactic art is outdated, and by outdated, I don't mean 1960s outdated. I mean 1600s...
Yeah it included some blockbusters in the late 90's, that doesn't mean much for any of the films the label acquired years after the fact.
But those aren't the only bad movies in the Criterion Collection. They are the most egregious examples, of course, but there is quite a bit of dreck in there. Criterion Collection is a product. It profits off of apparently bestowing prestige upon people's favorite movies, and they release nice discs with cool extra features to sell to the fans. You know those leatherbound, gold-leaf embellished books that people buy? It looks nice on the shelf and feels special, but the truth is, not all of them are actually good books; the company just needs a lot of books in the collection in order to sell you a $1,000 set. Criterion has, more or less, the same business model.
Honda made his ideal of a social contract among all peoples the central theme, illustrated by the character's actions throughout... the heroes' impassioned plea between sounds as if Honda himself is speaking... the flow between Honda's drama and the special effects is mostly effortless
I have a real problem with this. First of all, to mention the obvious... The ideal of a social contract among all peoples is "Honda's"? Way to throw several centuries of both Western and Eastern philosophy right under the bus. Nevertheless, even granting that Honda wanted to explore the social contract as a theme, what did he actually have to say about it? Anything unique, novel, subversive, interesting? The social contract is a fairly well-developed theme; making a movie about it without anything new to say isn't impressive, and I can't recall anything even mildly illuminating being culled from that theme in the movie.
It's like if someone said "Michael Bay made his ideal of good vs. evil as a timeless struggle the central theme". Maybe, but if he did nothing whatsoever other than use that as a stock subtext for an otherwise crummy, derivative POS, he doesn't deserve any real credit for it.*
*I am not comparing MVG to the deplorable Michael Bay, whose films aren't even enjoyable as mindless entertainment. Just using the analogy to point out that borrowing an old theme is done by everyone, even the worst in the business, and doesn't prove any kind of artistic merit.
I think you're selling it short a bit, there's some fine photography in it, Ifukube's score is a good listen on it's own and the dialogue and directing Honda did beyond the visual allusions sell the themes pretty well.
There is some fine photography in it and the score is above-average (though I personally love it, of course), but sans the nuclear metaphors, that wouldn't be enough to make it a film worthy of artistic respect; enough to keep it out of the B-movie aisle, perhaps.
Overall, I like GVM - a lot - because I'm a Godzilla fan. But I'm not going to spend my time trying to convince myself it's fine art - or even art at all.
I do look forward to reading the book you recommended. Perhaps their analysis will change my mind, though I doubt it.