When most people think of Godzilla movies they think of the classic monster films of the 50s, 60s and early 70s. These “Showa-Era” films were even considered significant enough to warrant a spectacular boxed set by Criterion.
But Godzilla didn’t go away. Not by a long shot.
Aside from the pathetic American fiascos and a very solid reboot in 2016, SHIN GODZILLA, there’s a whole lot more Godzilla out there. The thing is, those films are neither the same level of storytelling nor the innocent fun of the Showa-Era films.
They are just…bad.
Which is why I felt the compulsion to write this post. Among the dreck there are some Godzilla movies among the thirteen Toho-produced Godzilla films between 1984 and 2004 that are still very much worth watching.
I should also mention to the Kaiju curious,that there are some Gamera films of the same era also well worth the effort to find. GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE is possibly the best Kaiju film of that entire period.
But back to the big guy. Godzilla had a few moments of real glory during that two decade span.
They never quite lived up to the Show-Era for technical detail. The buildings often looked like cheaply made cardboard models instead of the elaborate miniature masterpieces created by pioneering special effects god, Eiji Tsuburaya.
Yet, even taking that into account, there are some gems among the embarrassments.
For instance. There is GODZILLA VS DESTROYAH.
If some of this post looks a little familiar to any of you, it may be because my very first SHADOWS WRITER post ever was about this movie. But it’s worth talking about more in this context because I think it is one of the best Godzilla movies of any era. Period.
They killed him. Not for the first time and not for the last. In 1995, Toho announced that they would be ending the Godzilla film franchise and making one, last movie featuring Godzilla. He would die. For good.
Many of the main creators behind the Godzilla films returned for this one. Most notably, Ikira Ifukube, the man who composed the original theme song and score for the original GODZILLA/GOJIRA in 1954. He is quoted as saying “since I had been involved in Godzilla’s birth, it was fitting to be involved in his death.”
Destroyah was quite the cool monster. And the death scene is an overblown, operatic masterpiece.The King of Monsters dies slowly and tragically. Brutally rebuffed and vaporized by mankind as he lets out one, last, final roar.
After twenty-two films, spanning many decades, the Godzilla franchise had come to an end.
The movie went on to be the number one Japanese film at the box office for 1996. It also received critical praise for being the best Godzilla film in years.
Fans were outraged. A bronze statue of Godzilla, in the Hibiya section of Tokyo, became the center of protest for crowds demanding that the King return. They left letters, even coins and tobacco, all in an effort to force Toho to bring him back, alive and well, for more films.
The King was dead. Never to return.
At least, not until Toho decided they could make some more money off of him and brought him back, just four years later.
My second favorite Godzilla film of the lost decades is GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA.
The part-robot, part-biologically-related-to-the-orginal-Godzilla Kaiju has always been one of my favorites. Which is why it pained me so much to seem him so misused in filmmaking tragedies such as 1993’s GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II. He deserved better and finally got it in 2003.
The story features a female pilot who screws up on her first mission with him and is unable to save the lives of her comrades. She’s almost interesting and not a bad character as far as humans go in Kaiju movies.
However, what makes GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA so great is the Kaiju battles. It might be heresy to even suggest this, but the battles might actually be better than those in the original,1974 GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA.
There’s also some pretty nice city stomping and, thankfully, not any time wasted on martial-arts battling aliens like some of the other movies of the same period.
Although not as good as the previous two films that I have mentioned, 2000’s GODZILLA VS MEGAGUIRUS is a film every self-respecting Godzilla fan should also watch.
Tokyo floods. Godzilla is attacked by giant dragon flies. And Megaguirus also turns out to be quite the bad ass.
There’s some good stomping and the final showdown between Godzilla and the insect-like Megaguirus is nice and vicious.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s still no GODZILLA VS DESTROYAH. But what is?
Lastly, I’m going to mention a Godzilla movie that, overall, is actually not very good. Even for this period of low-budget, cranked-out Godzilla fare. Watching it can be tough going.
However, it’s worth seeing for one single reason. It features a who’s/who of Godzilla’s previous opponents.
I am, of course, talking about 2004’s GODZILLA: FINAL WARS.
Much like GODZILLA VS DESTROYAH, nine years earlier, this was to be the Godzilla film to end all Godzilla films. The franchise was through. Finished. Over. This time they really, really meant it….Until 2016 when SHIN GODZILLA rebooted the franchise, yet again.
In GODZILLA: FINAL WARS aliens find a way to control all the Kaiju on Earth and pit them against Godzilla. A plot very similar to that most classic of Showa-Era Godzilla movies, 1968’s DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.
Also, much like that classic film, there is a rogues gallery of great Kaiju opponents for Godzilla to face-off against. In fact you get all of the following: Monster X, Keizer Ghidorah, Zilla, Rodan, Mothra, Gigan, King Caesar, Anguirus, Minilla, Kumonga, Kamacuras, Manda, Hedorah and Ebirah.
The updated version of Gigan is particularly cool, as is Monster X.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is truly terrible.
Any time the humans or aliens have screen time is just cringe-worthy. And, this is the true tragedy, the battles involving all those great Kaiju are generally very short and not always that engaging.
It still makes use of practical special effects instead of CGI. It still feels like a “real” Godzilla film. It’s just not nearly good enough for a film to mark 50 years of the King and, at the time, thought to be the last film of one of the world’s greatest franchises.
All the same, just seeing Godzilla face off against all those great Kaiju makes the pain of watching the rest of the movie worth it. Barely.
So, there you have it. A few films from the decades of “bad” Godzilla movies that are still worth watching. Watch those recommended movies, SHIN GODZILLA and watch (or rewatch) all of the Showa-Era films and you will be well steeped in the magic of Kaiju and the power of the King.
Long Live Godzilla!
May your stomping be destructive and your Kaiju battles bring you much joy!