Thursday, March 18, 2010

Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964)

The answer the Godzilla question was always caterpillar jizz.

In a lot of respects, Godzilla vs. Mothra is as lame as you would expect it to be. Godzilla is a fire breathing, irradiated dinosaur from the bottom of the ocean and Mothra is, well, a large moth. Even though the two monsters don't make for the most exciting fights, the non-monster aspects of Godzilla vs. Mothra are, by far, the best since the original film. The themes in the movie are quite similar to those in King Kong vs. Godzilla, but they are better executed and more interesting here. What helps this movie stand out is a sense of wonder and fantasy that the other movies lack and a simple, to the point, agenda that isn't muddled by too much plot and character development.

A Typhoon washes a giant egg ashore in Japan and the local people do what any reasonable group of people would do with an egg the size of a building; they sell it. The people who buy it, obviously the evil, cold-hearted, money grubbing capitalists, refuse to give the egg back to it's true owners, the people of Infant Island, represented by singing, Japanese leprechauns, and the monster Mothra. Just as the leprechauns are returning home to Infant Island to turn their back on the human race, Godzilla busts out of the ground and starts wrecking shit. It's up to two journalists and a scientist to get Mothra's assistance against Godzilla or Japan will be crushed by the drunken, stumbling monster for the fourth time. This is another cross-over film for Godzilla, Mothra had appeared in her own Toho film a few years earlier and it signals the last time that Godzilla would be the villain of a movie until 1984. The film performed well at the box office and it commonly regarded as one of the better Godzilla films of the era.

While almost every Godzilla movie doubles as some sort of political satire, most of them are laughable at best. Unlike the criticism of corporations in King Kong vs. Godzilla, which was extremely poorly executed, the political agenda of Godzilla vs. Mothra is surprisingly decent. While it's still heavy handed, it's treated more seriously and it pays off. It's actually helpful that the characters are archetypes rather than fully formed individuals because the movie doesn't need to spend time developing characters that are under 200 feet tall. By pushing the characters aside a little bit, the movie gets to spend time world building and creating effective atmosphere and plot. This is the first Godzilla movie that feels like it belongs to an unique universe or in a series of movies. Part of this is due to the fact that Mothra is a fully formed character, already having been the subject of another film and another part of it is the fact that Godzilla finally seems to fit into a world full of monsters rather than just showing up once in awhile to break stuff. The world these monsters inhabit is an interesting one too. The cult of Mothra and the tiny twins that speak for her are really interesting and a breath of fresh air in a series that seemed to be stagnant only four movies in. The elements feel like something out of a fantasy movie and, because of this, the movie has a charm to it that the previous movies lacked.

Don't let my praise of the movie fool you. Godzilla vs. Mothra is still a pretty silly movie. The fights between Mothra and Godzilla aren't all that exciting and the movie is full of cliches. Mothra doesn't really have any exceptional powers and it makes for boring action. Even her most powerful weapon, the poison dust, is kind of an unexciting finisher. On the plot front, the movie drops in cliches at really strange times. Why we learn that a bunch of school children are stranded on the island where Godzilla is going will never be clear. We don't need any extra drama when a giant, fire-breathing dinosaur is on the loose. The film also features a wildly anti-climatic ending. It's basically five minutes of big caterpillars spraying goo on Godzilla. I don't find that exciting for the same reason I don't find bukake arousing. The fact that the movie falls off in the end is one of the big reasons it fails in the long run.

Lots of things make Godzilla vs. Mothra an entertaining and, overall, decent entry in the Godzilla series. It's a little light on action, but it's not bogged down by too much unnecessary character development. The films in the series have been slowly, but surely, getting better and I'm excited to enter a whole new frontier with Godzilla as the hero rather than the villain. It's also nice to know that I've seen Godzilla fight one of the lamer monsters on the list and it didn't make the film an unwatchable mess. Godzilla vs. Mothra is a film that is great for Godzilla fans, but it doesn't make a great entry point in the series. You won't be wowed by the action or the plot here, so it's a bad place for someone to begin. For fans, it's actually one of the better movies because it just feels so different from what's normally offered from the series.


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