Thursday, March 4, 2010

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Stopping two pyromaniacs in rubber suits from trashing your model train set requires twice the faulty science.

Everyone seems to be talking about sequels nowadays. Movies are spawning 4 or 5 sequels, coming out a year apart, in a never ending string of franchises and poor, rushed film-making. This isn't a new trend though. Godzilla Raids Again is probably the most rushed, cash-in, sequel ever made. Released less than a year after the first movie's success, the film is a really poor follow up to the pleasant surprise that Godzilla turned out to be. The film, while it introduces some of the hallmarks of the later entries in the series, struggles in almost every area that the first film succedes in. Character, pacing and simple creativeness all seem to be thrown out the window in favor of a quick and dirty follow-up.

You might be asking yourself, what exactly is Godzilla Raids Again. If you've never heard of it, that's probably because it was never released in America under that title. The film, which was released in a bastardized, dubbed form in America under the name Gigantis the Fire Monster, is the second film in the Godzilla series, a direct sequel to the first film. On a remote island, two pilots discover a new Godzilla doing battle with a 200 foot tall hedgehog. The new creature, and my favorite Godzilla monster, Angurius harbors a prehistoric grudge for Godzilla, probably over some dino-bitch Godzilla stole from him. The monsters give Osaka the same treatment that Toyko gets in the first film, but this time it's filmed in fast-forward. Their wrestling match and the subsequent resolution of our plot require two times the questionable science, including some mind-boggling physics and some revisionist paleontology, and more bottle rockets than you can shake a fist at. The movie did well at the box office, but was, unsurprisingly, shunned by critics and fans of the series.

The main reason for this shunning is probably the lack of creativity with the second film. In a lot of ways, it's a simple re-hash of the first film, except that this time there are two monsters. The new monster is, surprise, pretty much the same creature as Godzilla except that he was created from a different fictional dinosaur. Angurius, although I have professed my love for him many times, is an unremarkable accompaniment for Godzilla and both monsters lack any form of distinct personalty. In the first movie, this could be ignored because of the fact that Godzilla was just a simple force of destruction. In this movie, the extra monster creates a layer of complexity that wasn't present the first time around. Neither monster ends up being all that interesting and their show down in Osaka is boring as a result. This issue gets remedies in later films as the monsters become characters instead of simple, mindless creatures. This, coupled with the movies poor pacing and unremarkable characters makes it, unfortunately, boring to watch.

The pacing in the Godzilla Raids Again is really odd. The showdown between Angurius and Godzilla, which is certainly fun to watch, takes place in the middle of the movie. Once that conflict is resolved, all we're left with is underwhelming characters and a surprisingly uncreative solution to the Godzilla issue. The characters are really the big problem here. Most of them can be seen as inferior versions of the original cast and the one real compelling character, Takashi Shimura's Yamane, only appears briefly before disappearing entirely. With our boring personalities, we also have some odd, misplaced humor, and some convoluted character relationships that bog us down even more. All this leads to a fairly interesting first half and a painfully dull conclusion. While the solution in the first film is laughably silly, it at least carries some emotional weight and creates for interesting character dilemmas. In Godzilla Raids Again, we get a equally silly solution, but without any real conflict or drama. The solution in Godzilla Raids Again is silly in a different way than the first film. Rather than being a result of absurd science, it's just a matter of simple physics and and common sense. How exactly do you bury a 200 foot tall monster who breathes fire under ice?

While I have a lot of negative things to say about Godzilla Raids Again, it's still an important part of the Godzilla cannon. It's the first movie that features a monster fight and it's problems lead directly to the changes in the series that make the later movies worth watching. It's also still fun to watch because it's just so silly. Godzilla didn't reappear for seven years, but his return in, the glorious, King Kong vs. Godzilla is a film I loved as a kid. In fact, it's the first Godzilla movie I cried in. While that movie waits another week, I will remember Godzilla Raids Again as the Godzilla movie that shouldn't have been made and one I won't ever bother to watch again.


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