This time I didn’t bother going all the way to Shinjuku for the latest Godzilla movie—it’s been a long week, and it was just a lot easier to go to the nearest Toho Cinema and relax with the latest monster action. But while last year I took the time to go to Shinjuku, and there was some pretty elaborate fanfare such as the big Godzilla head over the Shinjuku station, this year the advertising train felt like it never really left the station.
When I got to the cinema, even though Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle is a new release, there were no full-size posters anywhere, let alone cardboard stands or oversized super posters. Deadpool 2 seemed to be receiving the biggest advertising push, with the whole advertising enchilada (or chimichanga?) put forth for him. The only poster for the film was a little picture embedded as part of a collage of releases, and an advertisement on a screen for the member’s card (you can get a card with a Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle theme).
Basically, it felt to me as if Toho was just dumping the film unceremoniously into theaters. While Godzilla merch was definitely for sale, the variety was considerably less than last year, and the movie theater was scarcely populated on opening night at the most convenient showing.
As I took my seat with my oolong tea and small popcorn, I can’t say I was extremely excited. I felt subdued, though curious. And I did enjoy the little commercial for the cinema rewards card, in which characters from the movie excitedly talk about how you can use the card and accumulate six points (one for each movie viewing), then the seventh one is free! “We need to tell Mechagodzilla this!” I think I enjoyed that little commercial more than the movie itself—though the movie had its charms as well.
Let me give some general impressions. I am going to try to avoid spoilers in this part of the article, but as with anything, if you want to go in completely with virgin ears, free from the opinions and views of others, you would do well to skip this article anyway.
What I liked:
Early on in the movie, as Haruo and other survivors meet the natives, I enjoyed some of the world building and design work, accompanied by moody music and various nods to the Godzilla fandom. While not the most elaborate or detailed or developed world-building (it feels a little shallow, really), it still brought a little life to the movie.
The Vulture. One of my complaints about the first movie was that the robot designs felt lifeless and really lacked character. The Vulture design, however, looks pretty snazzy, with blazing energy wings, swift movements, and killer sound design as his energetic buzz sizzled through the theater. The Vulture was a big highlight for me.
Some of the twists in the plot are surprising, though not always in a good way. Still, I like that the movie tries to pull a few twists, and we don’t have just another ordinary monster flick that goes through the same exact motions as every previous film. It’s hard to say much more without going into spoilers.
What I didn’t like:
The character development. The movie tries hard to develop Haruo and make him into something more than just a one-note character. However, the character writing is extremely weak, pushing Haruo through the motions without anywhere near enough time for him to meaningfully work through his doubts and fears or deepen his relationship with Yuuko. (That kiss in the trailer never feels earned, and by the end of the film the sudden “romance” feels exceedingly forced in order to clumsily beat some emotions into the audience. It didn’t work for me.)
The animation style. As I mentioned in my impressions for the first movie, I am just not a fan of this kind of CGI-anime. While the Vulture really has some cool scenes, and Godzilla Earth also looks pretty awe-inspiring on occasion, I just hate the way the human characters look as they move, their kind of smeary-smudged CGI faces, and the depressing cheapness of it all. Japanese animation can look breathtaking and gorgeous. This stuff doesn’t reach that bar. In fact, when the Polygon Pictures logo appeared, the guy sitting nearest me let out a big sigh, and I couldn’t help but agree with that sentiment.
The lack of monster action. This may be a small spoiler, but Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle has, if anything, LESS monster action than the previous film. Once again we have very long stretches of the movie with almost no monster action, but lots and lots of talking, strategizing, speculating about evolution and so on. Don’t expect a riveting action movie.
Overly familiar. Despite some big surprises, despite the fact that the movie doesn’t quite follow the usual formula, it still feels stale, with the novel setting and action somehow feeling old hat even when it’s something different. But to say much more would probably get into spoiler territory.
Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle is a movie that left me with a wry grin as I imagined the inevitable fan backlash the movie will inevitably generate. While I can defend the first film for trying new things, this one felt like spinning meals throwing muck at the fans and is pretty disappointing overall. Maybe when I watch the English version I will enjoy it more, as there were some pretty important aspects of the plot which baffled me. However, even as I grumble and spit, I can’t deny that on some level I still enjoyed the movie for the simple delight of sitting through a new, sometimes daring take on one of my favorite film franchises—and one which I thought, in the end, might become the most hated Godzilla film since the 1998 American adaptation.
That means lots of SPOILERS!
You’ve been warned!
Are you still reading????
Alright, safe? You sure you want to keep reading? I am not holding back, man. Alright, here goes nothing.
First, again, let me go over the stuff I liked. This won’t take long, but there are a few bits and pieces worth mentioning. The first act of the movie had me the most interested. Haruo wakes up under the care of mIana (that’s a capital “I” in the middle, not an “L”—I am copying how the name is written in my movie pamphlet), and we get to see parts of what look like wooden homes built around the cliffs with perilously tall ladders leading up the sides of cliffs. While not particularly original or even that interesting in design, I still enjoyed the sequence for the feeling of exoticism and danger and isolation. Later we also are treated to a memorable sequence in which Yuuko is attacked by worm-like toothy monsters (possibly baby Servum) and animated vines. This seems like a shout out to the Vampire Plant from Mothra (1961) and possibly the leeches from King Kong (2005), given some superficial similarity in design. The houtua (フツア in the pamphlet, and not capitalized when written in English) have some tricks up their sleeves and basically save some human hinder by using arrows tipped with a mysterious metal that kills the Servum real good. While the skirmish with the Servum is quite brief, I enjoyed this sequence (other than the utterly dumb bit where Yuuko really stupidly wanders pretty far away from the rest of the group so she can get menaced by the local unfriendly flora/fauna) as it introduced a new monster and showed the houtua to be pretty bad butt. Oh, and the Servum eat the smaller worm monsters, which was kind of interesting, too.
And overall I enjoyed the depiction of the houtua, even if I felt that their world and culture felt undeveloped. The characters of mIana and mAina (whose character designs were done by Yusuke Kozaki according to the pamphlet, from an idea by Gen Urobuchi) are obviously stand-ins for the Shobijin, as they are shown to be able to communicate telepathically with the humans in a sequence at what appears to be a kind of religious staging area, and then later develop the ability to speak Japanese—of course speaking in unison. The characters also reference an egg of some sort, but so far I haven’t been able to pinpoint if they were talking about Mothra or not. Still, it’s fun to guess. For what it’s worth, just so as to directly address this, obviously Mothra does not actually make an appearance.
The other aspect of the story I loved was the Vulture design and execution. The design of the Vulture (by Eiji Kawata) comes from a modified exosuit—and while I thought the exosuits were kind of boring in the previous film, the upgrades make them much more striking, with what appear to be plasma jets spraying from the wings and a few scenes where the Vultures dart through the air being especially impactful. I just loved how they buzzed and burned through the air with the reverberating sound effects.
There are also some big surprises later on in the story, though I did not fully understand what was going on. Basically, the bilusaludo (again, not capitalized in the pamphlet, so I am not capitalizing here) betray Yuuko and Haruo in the final fight, which leads to some fairly compelling action in the conclusion. But we will get to that in a minute.
Because that stuff is kind of tied in to the parts of the film I thought were the most disappointing.
One—the monster sequences are few and far between, even moreso than the first film. At least the first film had glimpses of a bunch of monsters at the beginning, the first encounter with Godzilla Filius, the fight with the Servum, and the climactic fight with Godzilla Filius AND the Servum, followed by the emergence and desolation caused by Godzilla Earth. In this film, we have brief glimpses of Godzilla Earth early on, the very brief attack of the worms and Servum, another VERY brief attack later by Servum near Mechagodzilla City, a fight sequence with Godzilla Earth that frankly feels very similar to the previous movie, and then a long sequence in which Godzilla is incapacitated, followed by a very brief sequence in which Godzilla awakens/breaks free and basically doesn’t do jack. It’s really disappointing.
And if you are wondering how the fight is similar to the previous movie (maybe you are picturing Mechagodzilla flying around and distracting Godzilla Earth while they shoot him with EMPs), let me clarify. For all intents and purposes, Mechagodzilla is not in this movie. There is a city called Mechagodzilla City which I think was at least partially made from Mechagodzilla leftover parts, but I can’t speak in detail about that because I may have misunderstood the dialogue. I can only remember the briefest of glimpses of the somewhat insectoid interpretation of the robot itself from the poster. We never see a full body that I can recall (maybe in the background somewhere?), and we certainly never see it moving or attacking Godzilla. I kept expecting the giant robot to make an appearance, but it never does. This despite all the merchandise, the action figures, and the teaser poster that prominently feature the striking new Mechagodzilla design.
Just to be clear: Ready Player One (2018) has a new Mechagodzilla design that we actually see in action. Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018) does not. We see more of the giant robot in Ready Player One than we do in Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle. I am really quite dumbfounded by this decision, and the exclusion of Mechagodzilla I think is going to really tick off a LOT of fans. It seriously disappointed me.
Couple that with a big action sequence inn the end wherein we see what amounts to the SAME STRATEGY to defeat Godzilla Earth that we saw take down Godzilla Filius, and we end up with a bit of a snoozer, folks. Here’s what goes down: our heroes lure Godzilla Earth to Mechagodzilla City (or it seems the Big G just randomly starts lumbering towards the city when it becomes convenient for him to do so). When Godzilla arrives at a specified point, he gets dropped into a huge canyon—this time an artificial one. Luckily Mechagodzilla City just happens to have a massive metal canyon that can fit Godzilla Earth—and thus the incredible size of the latest Godzilla is actually downplayed in this movie because he ends up unbelievably trapped in an bilusaludo-made snare, and the canyon starts filling with nanometal, which freezes and immobilizes Godzilla. So instead of being trapped by falling rock, this time he is trapped by nanometal. Once again they shoot him with an EMP harpoon to trigger the self-destruct.
And this time it doesn’t work. Godzilla begins heating up to over 1000 degrees instead, and the incredible heat creates a huge sphere of heat. Yuuko, Haruo, and the others cannot attack, and Godzilla can’t get out of the nanometal. At this point, the bilusaludo trigger some kind of thingee and their bodies are coated in nanometal. Yuuko and Haruo’s bodies are also coated in the nanometal, against their will (apparently the bilusaludo believe this is the only way to defeat Godzilla, but I was not sure how their attack plan was supposed to work). Anyway, Haruo is able to reject the nanometal skin, which falls apart (presumably because of something that happened earlier in the movie, wherein his skin was covered in red sparkles when he wakes up in the care of mIana), but the nanometal skin ends up apparently killing Yuuko, and Haruo is enraged—so much so that instead of going along with the bilusaludo’s plan to kill Godzilla, Haruo uses the Vulture to attack the main control base of Mechagodzilla City, killing the bilusaludos and somehow freeing Godzilla. The last scene before the credits is Haruo weeping over Yuuko’s fallen body.
Haruo’s character arc, fueled by Yuuko’s death (after a really brief and, to me, unconvincing romance) seemed forced to me, and I personally couldn’t care about their relationship. Still, I was a bit sad to see Yuuko go—and her death is fairly brutal as she is seen to suffer painfully from the effects of the nanometal, which apparently infiltrates under her skin as well as after her death liquid nanometal seeps from under one of her eyelids. All of this is gruesome and there is some emotional punch, but I need to see the English translation (or improve my Japanese a bit more) so I can really understand the bilusaludos’ plan and fully get what is going on.
But at the conclusion of the film, everything feels dreadfully familiar. We end with a similar fight sequence from the last film, with the apparent deaths of many of our main characters… just like the last film. We end with the emergence of Godzilla Earth from slumber/immobility. We end with Haruo emotionally distraught and yelling/crying into the camera. And then we get a post credits zing again after an end roll featuring another song by Xai that frankly is pretty similar in feel to her last Godzilla song. This time the zing is a flashback to a previous scene where Metphies reveals that his home planet was destroyed by another super monster—this one being Ghidorah.
At which point we get the teaser image of the title and poster for the next film, roughly translated as “Godzilla: Planet Eater” or “Godzilla: Star Eater.”
But given that we really didn’t get Mechagodzilla in this film, it’s hard for me to get excited about Gen Urobuchi’s take on KG. Given that he appears as three energy snakes on the poster, I can’t help but worry we will get something as equally boring as “Mechagodzilla City”—maybe an energy cloud ala Galactus from the second Fantastic Four film.
When I left the theater, I had a kind of wry grin as I imagined the fan reaction. I wanted to talk to the meager audience around me. One guy just sat there as everyone else filed out, apparently stunned by what he had just seen. At this point I still don’t understand everything about the plot, but I can’t help but be rather disappointed. Nevertheless… props for originality?