Godzilla – City on the Edge of Battle (2018)

Directed by Hiroyuki Seshita, Kobun Shizuno

Written by Gen Urobuchi, Yusuke Kozaki

Produced by Yoshihiro Furusawa, Takashi Yoshizawa

Run Time: 100 minutes

GODZILLA: CITY ON THE EDGE OF BATTLE

PROLOGUE
OK then. The 2nd installment of the animated Toho/Netflix Godzilla trilogy is out, so it’s time to once again don my High Tech Anime Space Armor and push the play button. Last time it wasn’t so good, and I spiraled into several months of angry depression. Happily, there are significant improvements this time around. I can’t call this movie genuinely good, as it still has too many fundamental flaws. But I don’t hate it, and I’m grateful for that. Still, I guess the big question is, do the filmmakers “get” what a Godzilla movie should be? As earnest and ambitious as they are, I don’t think so. And I’ll briefly explain after a semi-short plot recap.

THE PLOT
We pick up where we left off after Part One. The pitiful remnant of humanity that survived Godzilla’s first attack, by fleeing on a Generation Space Ship, has returned to earth. Because of relativity it’s been about 20,000 years since they left – but Godzilla is still around, they are horrified to learn. So they send down a military force to the surface in order to defeat him and retake the planet. They do battle with the great beast, and destroy it, only to have a far larger Godzilla pop up out of the ground and scatter their forces.

Up in the orbiting Generation Ship, the captain and his crew have lost contact with the military force, and even worse, they now calculate that the new, huge Godzilla could use it’s fire-ray to shoot them out of orbit. Debating whether or not to stay and search for survivors on the surface, or flee the solar system, the captain decides to wait 48 hours before leaving earth. (This is just one promising set up that isn’t carried through.)

Down on the surface we meet Haruo. He’s the young brooding hysteric with the Messiah complex who got the Generation Ship back to earth and who led the charge to fight Godzilla. If you read my previous review you’ll know I found him pretty much unbearable. I’m happy to say he is greatly improved this time around. The Haruo in this movie has been chastened by military defeat, grown more aware of his own emotions, and has even developed some humility. In short, while I still can’t buy that everyone would pick such an inexperience kid as their leader, he is a much more sympathetic hero.

Coming to in the middle of a fog-shrouded forest, Haruo meets a mysterious young woman. Apparently, despite the poisonous air and plants made of steel that now cover the earth, some of earth’s human population still survives. The young woman dashes off into the mist, but after Haruo is reunited with the other survivors of the battle with Godzilla we meet her again. That’s because her tribe attacks and captures Haruo’s troop. Once in their cave city, they explain how their god battled Godzilla in the past, but was defeated. The god did, however, leave an egg. An egg we never see. Clearly this is Mothra, although the name is never mentioned. More on this later.

A ceremonial alter in the Mothra tribe’s cave city.

Well, after some semi-tense negotiations the woman and her twin sister (another Mothra reference), along with the tribe as a whole, agree to let the survivors go. Once outside we have some brief excitement as a flock of dragons attack. Several are mysteriously killed by something, and this something turns out to be a city hidden in a valley. It turns out this city evolved from the broken remnants of Mecha-Godzilla. And here I shall have to explain that along with the earthlings an alien race called the Bilusaludo also returned to earth on that Generation Ship still orbiting the earth.

You see, back some 20,000 years ago the Bilusaludo arrived on earth just as Godzilla was destroying it. Wanting to help humanity, they offered to build a giant robot to fight him. Unfortunately, Godzilla destroyed the robot before it was completed, so that was that. But now everyone discovers that the broken robot somehow “evolved” into a city made of “nano-metal.” That sounds way cool, but unfortunately the “city” is just a collection of huge domes, so it doesn’t look very interesting. And while various characters mention how the city and its nano-metal, which can move and grow, are “evil,” they have no more personality than a useful software program. (Another big mistake by the script.) Once the Bilusaludo among the military force take up residence, they control the city and start preparing it for another showdown with Godzilla.

The dark and boring interior of the Mecha-City

As they do that, I should mention that we have ANOTHER alien race among the survivors of old earth. They are the Exif, enigmatic mystics who wax poetic about things like Fate, Faith, Destiny, and God. The main Exif for us is a character called Metfies. In Part One his sinister manner telegraphed him as a manipulative villain, but here he seems to have been retrofitted into a trustworthy ally of mankind. Still slightly insufferable with his air of mystical superiority, but a stand-up guy all the same. This is a mixed blessing for me. On the one hand, Haruo’s blindness to the scorn and general creepiness emanating from Metfies in Part One drove me crazy. But Metfies was a potentially interesting villain. As an ally, he’s better company, but maybe less interesting. So I’m conflicted about this “reboot.”

This time around Metfies’s main job is to let Haruo know that some god-like beast destroyed his own home world. The name of that terrible monster is a dread secret, but Metfies tells Haruo anyways. And that name is …..drumroll…. Ghidorah! (OK, so now we know that both Mothra and Ghidorah will appear in Part Three.)

The next half-hour of the film is one long, leisurely bit of character development as our crew starts readying the Mecha-City for battle. There is almost no sense of threat through any of it. Earth now has poisonous air, but the air in the city is just fine. The wild vegetation is as sharp and strong as steel knives, but no one so much as cuts a finger. The ground crew is also back in communication with the generation ship, which stays in orbit. The threat of Godzilla shooting it down is completely forgotten as Godzilla conveniently sleeps through the first two-thirds of the movie. Ack.

Instead of kaiju action what we get is lots and lots of talk. Many interesting problems and aspects of contemporary earth, including the tribe of Mothra-worshippers, are discussed, explained, and forgotten about. There’s much earnest conversation about personal issues between Haruo and Yuko, the movie’s heroine. Various characters also spout various philosophical positions about the nature of humanity, and slowly, oh so slowly, a conflict of ideas comes into focus.

An angry Bilasaludo harangues the earthlings to wage all-out war on Godzilla

Whereas Haruo was a messianic hothead with fascist tendencies in Part One, he’s now a much more reasonable character. He’s decided he wants to preserve his crew’s humanity, even if it means avoiding a fight. The Bilusaludo, on the other hand, are all for doing whatever it takes to defeat Godzilla. Even if it means letting themselves be absorbed by the nano-metal. For in doing that they become one with the Mecha-city, which makes it better able to fight Godzilla. That sort of thing. The human characters, not willing to sacrifice their individuality draw back, and are then sneered at as “weak” by the fascistic Bilusaludo.

Godzilla encounters the nano-metal trap

Cutting to the chase, Godzilla finally wakes up and starts advancing on the city, where he walks right into a high-tech trap – which works! Godzilla is on the verge of being destroyed when Haruo decides the Bilusaludo and their nano-metal city are the bigger threat. The turning point for him is Yuko’s tragic encounter with some nano-metal. Enraged by the loss of his love, he blows up the Mecha-City command room. Freed from the trap, Godzilla proceeds to destroy the city while Haruo sobs over the seemingly dead body of Yuko.

So Endeth Part Two…

Sean Ledden (August 2018)

POST BATTLE DEBRIEFING

Despite the downer ending, Part Two doesn’t wallow in morbid gloom like Part One. Like its young hero, it has outgrown its fixation with all or die vengeance. Now it’s the Bilusaludo who cheerlead suicide missions, and they are repudiated. This is all to the good, and watching this movie didn’t drive me crazy the way Part One did. But alas, Part Two has a host of other problems that keep it from being actually good. Here they are:

Needless detail. The writers, perhaps inspired by the richly detailed fantasy worlds of works like Dune and Lord of the Rings, stuff the script with all kinds of fantasy elements, problems and dangers. But few of them play any dramatic role in the story. All they do is slow things down when the characters talk about them. Speaking of talking, let’s go on to the next problem.

Telling, not showing. Whether it’s the steel plants, the origin of the Mothra People, the functioning of the Mecha-City, or the question of God, everything is explicated by conversations between the characters. This could make for a fascinating graduate school course, but is death by a thousands cuts for a Giant Monster Fantasy Adventure. (Frowny face emoji.)

Part Two is mostly just a retread of Part One. Where most of One was spent in the gloomy interior of the Generation Ship, most of Two is spent in the nearly as gloomy interior of the Mecha-City. It’s a real puzzle why they didn’t make the City look more interesting. And it’s a major flaw. And just like in One, the climax in Two is a military operation against Godzilla. Sure, in Part Two the weapons include 3 cool sets of flying robo-armor. But, you know, meh.

Where are the kaiju? – Part One had a worldwide kaiju invasion, but refused to show it. All we got were a few snapshots in the prologue. Here we are told, yes TOLD, of an epic battle between Mothra and Godzilla that happened in the past. They don’t even show us the egg! Mecha-Godzilla too was introduced in Part One, but not shown. And here it has morphed into what looks like an industrial chemical processing plant. An industrial chemical processing plant with no will or personality. So again, meh. – Why does this series keep all the cool kaiju action off-screen?!?

A serious lack of Godzilla. Not only is he off-screen most of the time, when he does finally show up, he doesn’t present much personality. The design is pretty cool, but he’s reduced to a generic threat. The kind that justifies endless emotionally charged conversations between the characters. Another big problem is that the Mecha-City trap was effective against him. If this was a stand-alone movie, that would be OK, but it’s Part Two of a trilogy. Handing the villain a huge defeat in the middle of the story merely drains away the dramatic tension. I understand they wanted to give Haruo an agonizing moral dilemma, but that’s not enough of a justification. Oh, and another thing, the music is part of the problem. There’s no thrilling Godzilla theme, just a bunch of OK anime action music. It makes me long for the days of Ifukube.

The filmmakers don’t seem to realize that most people will tune into a Godzilla movie for the thrill of seeing him in action. He’s the star, and the human cast is there to set the stage for his big entrance. I want the human characters to be interesting and sympathetic enough so that I care whether or not they weather the storm. But I’m not there because I want to be dragged into discussions about their hopes and dreams and troubles and heartbreak. I can tune into Day of Our Lives for that sort of thing.

Nor do I want heavy-handed debate over the nature of God, Humanity and Reality. A giant monster movie doesn’t need any of this, because giant monsters are spectacular manifestations of divine power. They affirm, even at their most destructive, that the miraculous is real. Indeed, the Old Gods have returned! And through their awesome power they tell mankind it had better attend to, and respect the world around them. Pacific Rim hinted at this when it mentioned that Kaiju Cults had sprung up in the wake of their attacks. Unfortunately, it didn’t do anything interesting with the phenomenon. And Godzilla: City At The Edge Of Battle doesn’t even know this mystical truth exists. Sigh.

Well, I guess that’s about it for Part Two. I’ll tune into Part Three in the hopes that we get a good Godzilla-Mothra-Ghidorah fight. I just hope I don’t have to sit through too much philosophical soap-opera to get to it.

Read more about Godzilla – City on the Edge of Battle at

IMDB

6 comments to Godzilla – City on the Edge of Battle (2018)

  • Godzilla just hanging around for 20,000 years? Hope he had a chew-toy or something to keep him busy.

  • Yeah,this one was better than the first, but if there’s not a monster battle in the next one, I’m going to be very angry.

  • Guts3d

    This just makes me want to watch the classic ones all the more. Not a lot of talking in those ones! Lots of rubber suited action!

  • Oh, I dunno. GHIDORAH, the THREE HEADED MONSTER, had a good bit of talking with the Martian Princess and Detective. I don’t mind the Human component to the film; I just want it to be more sensible than the technobabble everyone in this film utters with such firm conviction you’d swear you were listening to an episode of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.

  • Sean

    Ghidorah is one of my favs. Sure there’s lots of talk around the princess, but here it’s handled right. First we have the mystery. Then we have the prophet of doom. And then we get a pay-off! And it’s all wrapped in a fun mid-century modern package with a James Bond vibe. Heaven!

  • Sean

    And quite true about the Next Generation level conviction of the technobabble. IF ONLY IT WENT SOMEWHERE!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>