Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996)

Class: User
Author: Godzillawolf
Score: (5/5)
December 30th, 2010 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

In all honesty, the Showa Gamera was an alright monster, but his films paled in comparison to Godzilla's. While Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995) blew the old Gamera out of the water (along with many of the Heisei Godzilla films, if I might be so bold), it was hard to believe the giant turtle could continue on with this newfound stamina. But he did, and in all honesty, Gamera simply surpasses Godzilla in the Heisei Era. While the Millennium films for both series would invert this dynamic, I can honestly call the Gamera Trilogy a triumph of kaiju films. Gamera 2: The Advent of Legion is no exception; it is a masterpiece of a kaiju cinema with which I can find no faults. It's the best of the trilogy.

Not long after the climactic battle between Gamera and Super Gyaos, things begin to return to normal around Japan; that is, until an approaching meteor shower is detected. While the meteors don't cause a great deal of damage, the largest specimen crashes to Earth near Sapporo. Almost instantly, strange events begin to occur, and the meteor is nowhere to be found! A bright green light appears in the sky above the impact site, and this anomalous aurora gives off an electromagnetic wave that shorts out technology as oxygen levels rise. Soon, sources of silicon throughout Sapporo begin to go missing and finally, a subway falls prey to an assault by hordes of insect-like creatures, which are quickly identified as alien life forms from the meteor.

Suddenly, a massive flower erupts in Sapporo. Midori Honami, a science instructor, discovers that the plant is essentially a huge launch pad to hurl the plant's seed into space and, with it, another colony of these creatures. If this were to occur, the detonation would be equal to that of a nuclear blast, capable of leveling Sapporo. The military launches an attack on the creatures, but cannot safely destroy the plant without destroying the city. Just as it is about to detonate, Gamera arrives and sucks up all the oxygen from the flower, using it to let loose a massive plasma fireball that obliterates the botanical offender. As he moves in to destroy the rest of the plant, the entire swarm emerges and attacks Gamera, covering him from head to toe and viciously tearing into his flesh. It is here they earn their moniker from Mark 5:9 of the Bible; these creatures are named after the infamous demoniac, Legion. Gamera is forced into retreat by the swarm of ravenous space aliens, and green blood covers the city as he desperately flees toward the ocean to recover.

As the aftermath of the event is examined, the Earth begins to quake and the gigantic Legion queen erupts from the ground and takes flight, with jets in swift pursuit. Though she is shot down, all that can be found of the queen Legion is her wing. Another flower soon sprouts in Sendai and Gamera arrives to destroy this one as well, only to suddenly find himself knocked out of the sky. The Legion queen tears herself out of the Earth, alive and well, and brutally assaults Gamera. Forced to hold the mammoth space monster back to protect a rescue helicopter, Gamera can barely do anything against the colossus. Even once the helicopter is safely out of the way, Gamera is still overpowered by Legion and suffers a severe wound. Sensing her flower is about to detonate, Legion dives underground and retreats. Gamera bravely approaches the Legion pod and topples it, but doesn't have the time destroy the living bomb before it detonates, decimating Sendai completely. Gamera has seemingly sacrificed himself in the process of trying to save Sendai.

With two pods thwarted and unable to launch, Legion assaults Tokyo in full force. With the military helpless before Legion's awesome power, mankind's only hope is to somehow resurrect Gamera. But even if Gamera is restored, will he be able to topple this alien tyrant or is Earth doomed to become one huge Legion nest?

The story is phenomenal. Legion's arrival and the purpose of the pod tie into each other quite well. While we never find out where Legion specifically came from, what we know of her modus operandi renders the point moot. Gamera arriving to kill Legion makes perfect sense as well, as he was spawned to defend the Earth from any threat. As for the human side of the story, in a way, there isn't an entirely separate subplot; it's pretty much the same as the main story. Given how well this works out, it becomes quite clear that a parallel narrative isn't a prerequisite for kaiju movies, as the characters still get plenty of development. Though there is a very mild side story with the military, it fits well and makes sense. In the original film, Gamera was viewed as an equal (or perhaps even greater) threat as the Gyaos by mankind. Here it has carried over and Gamera, while clearly not as big a threat as Legion, still remains untrusted by humanity. After much convincing, the military decides to band together to assist Gamera in fighting back the Legion horde.

The human characters are all excellently handled, Colonel Watarase is something I honestly love in a kaiju film, an effective and open-minded military character. Not only is he the first to accept Gamera as an ally instead of an enemy, he's willing to accept that an alien may have arrived on Earth. Toshiyuki Nagashima's acting is excellent too. Considering we see a similar character in GMK (2001), it seems as though Shusuke Kaneko has a specialty for crafting this brand of unique character. Midori Honami (Miki Mizuno) is another worthy addition to the character roster. Despite being a scientist, she is also open-minded and caring. Asagi Kusanagi (Ayako Fujitani) is also a triumph, and portrays an innocence to her character, while showing an unwavering trust in Gamera.

Another thing to point out is a sprinkling of comical lines throughout the movie, which breaks up the otherwise ominous and threatening undertone. Not only does this give the film a bit of atmospheric lightening and prevent things from becoming too serious (which can easily be to the detriment of a kaiju film), it adds to the realism, as people, even in the darkest of times, have a habit of joking around in order to ease the mood. This is taken to an extreme with an alternate dub track on the DVD, with a certain humor that many are sure to enjoy.

As for the monsters, Gamera is even better in this film than the last one, looking fierce and realistic. His plasma fireballs and flight are both excellent visuals and truly awe-inspiring. However, nothing compares to the awesome effect of his Mana Beam, which is one of the most amazing kaiju attacks ever accomplished on the big screen. Had it not found explanation, such an attack would have come off as a virtual deus ex machina; however, the explanation for why he only used it in dire straights makes perfect sense and actually provides an excellent setup for the third film. This sudden power, which would normally be a poor choice cinematically, actually averts the stale cliché and works to solidify the trilogy's excellence. Also worth noting is the scene were Gamera defends the helicopter from Legion. He refuses to budge, even as Legion's horn tears into his flesh, until the humans are safe; a statement about his character. The symbiotic Legion are another great visual, and they're extremely menacing, as well as alien-looking. They truly inspire some real "jump moments" throughout the film. The scene were they swarm all over Gamera is absolutely disturbing and outright scary, possibly even moreso for me as the idea of being eaten alive by swarming insects is one of the most disturbing thoughts in the world.

As for the queen Legion, she is one of the most impressive suits ever designed. Standing a head taller than Gamera and nearly twice his size, she is a juggernaut of a monster and looks absolutely fearsome. Despite her mass, her flight scenes are very well done and look realistic. In fact, the explanation of how the species moves around through hollow bodies powered by air pressure adds credibility to the possibility that such an enormous monster could take to the sky. While she is damaged by human weapons (like most monsters in the Gamera series), it doesn't make her seem fragile. The only two parts of her body to be affected in this manner are her wings and upper legs, which are thin and small. The fact that she withstood being shot down from a high altitude and returned in Sendai with very little damage shows her main body is indeed extremely strong. As for her non-physical abilities, they prove to be stunning visuals. Her energy beam is amazing, the build up and firing are amazingly cool, not to mention devastatingly powerful. One blast is capable of blowing a hole clean through Gamera's shoulder and shell, even most Godzilla monsters aren't nearly this formidable. Her energy field is also an outstanding effect; this adds to her power as she is capable of completely negating Gamera's devastating plasma fireballs without suffering any damage in the process. Possibly one of the most stunning moments in the film occurs after her horn is severed, when Legion's eyes light up blood red. She proceeds to let loose her energy whips. Not only does this show the extent of Legion's emotions, it is also unveils a ferocious dimension to her character. The energy whips are extremely powerful and deadly, as well as a stunning visual. Finally, it's worth noting that Legion is the first monster in the Heisei series to effectively pierce Gamera's shell. While Iris would prove capable of such a feat in the upcoming film, the ease with which Legion makes this unthinkable injury occur shows her awesome might. In all honestly, I personally believe Legion is the most powerful of the Heisei series monsters.

Another interesting fact about Legion is this, she doesn't come across as an evil entity right off the bat. While the Showa era space monsters were clearly evil and villainous in their motives, Legion doesn't come across this way. She's essentially the ‘Gamera' for her own species, their guardian to ensure survival. This shows in the final battle when the Legion swarm is destroyed, the Legion queen is clearly infuriated at the slaughter of her offspring; in fact, as strange as it sounds, one almost feels sorry for her, as she does indeed care for her children like any mother would. That's something I like about the Heisei series of Gamera films, none of the monsters come off as completely evil and malicious, they all have an instinctive motive that brings some level of humanity to them. Despite being the main villain, Legion is a character, and in some ways, sympathetic to a degree.

As for Kow Otani's musical score, it's fantastic. The theme that plays as Gamera marches to try and stop the second flower is dramatic and reflects the gravity of the situation. On the other hand, Legion's theme is very sci-fi-esque, but at the same time, ominous to the core. Her intimidating presence is amplified.

One more thing worth mentioning is a number of impressive visuals that really grip the viewer by the lapel. One example is the scene were Gamera emerges from the ocean into the air. It's beautiful and very dramatic. Legion's first appearance is also very powerful and startling, both for the symbiotic Legion and the queen Legion. The scene of the Tokyo Tower, still in ruins from the previous film, is stark and ominous, showing a brutal difference between this film and Godzilla films. In the latter franchise, collateral damage rarely carries over to the next film. Another amazing visual is the scene of Gamera's ‘corpse' in the ruins of Sendai, a sorrowful and solemn sight. On the opposite end is the amazing and striking revival of Gamera, and later his use of the Mana Beam, both are outstanding and carried off amazingly well.

When all the figures are added up, Gamera 2: The Advent of Legion is one of the best kaiju films ever made and I absolutely loved every second. I can find no fault with this movie; even devices that would normally manifest themselves negatively are cleverly crafted in such a way to add to the movie and the trilogy as a whole. This is truly a masterpiece of a kaiju film, and I definitely recommend it. Even if you wince at Showa Gamera, let me assure you, the new trilogy takes things to a completely elevated level.