The thirtieth anniversary of Godzilla brought about a new area for the franchise, the Heisei series, which I think “fixed”, the unintentional problems of the Showa series. The Showa series is awesome don’t get me wrong, I love it for its odd ball cheese but as a series of films it failed in several important ways. The big problems with the original series as a whole are that there are almost no returning characters from movie to movie, there is little to no continuity, and the monster himself changed so drastically that by the end of the series he was basically a super hero friend of humanity rather than the menacing force of destruction at the beginning. The new series was rebooted with the sixteenth Godzilla movie, 1984’s The Return of Godzilla sought to fix all that. The Return of Godzilla is actually a direct sequel to the original film ignoring Godzilla Raids Again through Terror of MechaGodzilla (2-15). The film returned the series to the darker themes and mood the early films and returned Godzilla to his vicious villainous roots.
Basically this film picks up thirty years after the original with a fishing boat being attacked by something leaving most of the crew dead. After some cold war politics the and relations between Russia, Japan, and the U.S. are strained the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are put on alert and search for Godzilla. Another problem I didn’t realize I had with the Showa series was its lack of grounding. The explanations for the monsters (besides Godzilla) and the science behind the world was never that thorough which kind of worked in those movies to be honest because they were so off the wall. But this movie sets the tone for the rest of the Heisei series because there is a strong grounding in following the humans and the science in their effort to understand, destroy, and even communicate with Godzilla. A great example from this movie would be that the Japanese Self Defense force study Godzilla, when Godzilla is determined to feed off a nuclear power plant. When Godzilla attacks they observe him being distracted by a flock of birds, and leaves the facility almost as quickly as he arrived. The realization being that Godzilla reacts to the same signal as birds, and they decide to use this method to lure Godzilla away from Tokyo.
The tragic angle of the beast is handled wonderfully making a big point that the audience sees Godzilla as just as much of a victim as the people he kills in his attacks on the cities. The score is superb and the effects are different but interesting. The miniatures are miles ahead of the old movies yet they look dated by today’s standards. There are some amazing shots of Godzilla’s destruction but whenever they cut to the animatronic head used for close ups his eyes look a little goofy. There is no ultimate giant beast for Godzilla to defeat and it’s good to see the military be effective and the special effects of the newly introduced super X flying machine is very interesting. Godzilla is redesigned he looks and acts more animalistic then in past films, something I really appreciate. He has slightly charred flesh and some noticeable scars. The scene where Godzilla has a nighttime attack on Tokyo is fascinating and the final sequence is amazing too.
Something thought-provoking about these movies is that the more effective ones are used to demonstrate in a clever and entertaining way the social anxieties of the time. For instance Ishiro Honda used many of his Godzilla films to address mankind’s growing lack of respect for the planet. This film in particular seeks to address growing social concerns and growing cold war tensions. Think Rocky 4’s lack of subtlety and multiply that by a hundred. The characters are great and written gratifyingly, the new series of Godzilla films is particular good because it does focus on the same characters or at least all of them feature prominently the same group of scientists or soldiers. Overall this is not the best Godzilla movie but it does reboot the series in an appropriate direction.
Best Moment of Destruction: The Super X taking on Godzilla is impressive.