Monster Bites - Atomic


Also known as The Return of Godzilla to avoid confusing it with the 1954 original, the first reboot of the series ignores all those madcap adventures involving Rodan and Jet Jaguar opting instead to be a direct sequel. Which means they skip over the big guy becoming a protector of the planet Earth, and choose to revert him back into a purely malevolent force of nature. This parred back approach might not seem like the best idea after all those stories aimed at pleasing family audiences, however this is certainly the strongest entry in the series since the '60s. It's also nice that the original cut is available on home video so we can discuss the intended version and forever avoid any sign of Raymond Burr and the Pepsi logo.

To signal the fact that Godzilla is once again a purely animalistic entity the story begins with a fishing boat being attacked by giant sea lice. The blood sucking parasites have grown in size by living on Godzilla's body and now board the ship to wreak havoc. It's a weird and ominous opening sequence with a few cheesy effects and a mysterious shot of something much larger emerging from the depths. So it's thoroughly enjoyable. The tone is quickly established, and despite a few soap opera style moments later on this horror style teaser is in line with a lot of what is about to happen. The film is generally a product of its time with a good blend of monster action scenes, Cold War dilemmas and romantic sub plots.

The atomic symbolism is back but it's rarely subtle as world leaders debate the arrival of a new incarnation of the infamous monster. Both the Soviet Union and the United States demand that Japan uses nuclear weapons on their own soil to destroy Godzilla, and despite some questionable dubbing the effect is pretty tense as the bureaucrats butt heads. It's interesting to look back and see all the similarities it has with Shin Godzilla including the board room scenes and the character names appearing on screen. Though I think this does it better. It's leaner and more briskly paced, and while perhaps it's more movie like in some cases it's often as compelling as it should be.

The struggle between the military forces and the scientific minds is still here too, allowing for some classic ego clashes. The two plans on each side are often equally silly, with new technology being tested to either disable or lure away the creature before it can destroy too much of Tokyo. The Japan Self Defence Forces utilize a new flying craft simply called 'Super X' that aims to fire chemicals into Godzilla's mouth to induce a coma. The goody name tag sounds like an arcade video game and the ship itself looks like flying saucer, what's not to like? The biology boffins on the other hand believe that they can simply distract the beast with sonic waves, concluding that Godzilla navigates using a magnetic field much like a migratory bird. In doing so they hope to trick him into an active volcano, which is much more humane.

Gojira himself looks pretty good for the most part, and in some scenes the design of the head changes so he can snarl or move his face in other ways. Some of the animatronic expressions are okay, but in some shots he just looks really drunk or like his eyes aren't look in the right direction. I always enjoy seeing an angry and mildly hungover looking Toho monster, and the destruction recalls his attitude in Mothra vs Godzilla. But overall this version is a mixed bag, and it sometimes looks too spongy or cartoonish. The design wouldn't be perfected until the subsequent films. As for the monster motivations they wrote this in time around I'm undecided. Having him need to attack nuclear power plants is interesting, as is the idea that he's essentially immortal. But at the same time giving him a food source and a nuclear powered heart is a bit much.

The destructions scenes are all great, and it's always fun to see the new and improved laser weapons roll out along with the same old fighter jets. Godzilla's contempt for the Super-X is particularly good in the scene where an EMP blast revives his strength, resulting in a skyscraper sized retaliation being launched against the ship. There are no other creatures to be fought this time around but the slow burning sense of impending doom is enjoyable enough by itself. There are one too many human characters unfortunately as we see a cartoonish looter enjoying the evacuation and cursing the approaching behemoth for some reason. The love story between a reporter and the sister of a ship wreck survivor I can allow, but some of this other stuff isn't necessary.

Things would get a lot sillier as the series progressed into the '90s and they brought in things like time travel and another version of Mechagodzilla. A lot of those instalments are very entertaining but they lack the kind of thematic ideas that only get included once every so often when the film makers feel like returning to their roots. This iteration includes just enough of the serious stuff alongside plenty of spectacle set pieces to keep things satisfying. It sits in a kind of world of its own, not quite in the main Heisei series that began four years later but still part of the overall story. Overall it's one of the best entries. Just avoid the version called Godzilla 1985 in which they again let a Hollywood studio make a series of stupid cuts and edits to the material.



Time to jump forward a bit and skim a few of the movies, just like the writers of this series like to do. Sometimes they follow the current sequel continuity or even pick and choose, and sometimes they ignore everything. But this sort of thing happens a lot in the Millennium series which makes it hard to get upset about. It's not like anyone is watching for detailed lore at this stage, they just want to see Godzilla fight a giant dragonfly. They even use the contemporary design as a stand in for the 1954 version for a flashback that's not even in real monochrome.

It's best not to worry about this sort of thing. There's a bunch of revisions to the timeline and an alternate history in which 'plasma' reactors replaced nuclear ones, but all it really means is that this is a new period where Godzilla kept coming back to wreak havoc over a long period of time as new technology advanced. The latest invention is a ridiculous orbital satellite weapon that can fire a man made black hole, what could possible go wrong? The fatal flaw in the plan was of course a random child discovering a monster egg in the woods after a test of the weapon. But he soon gets scared and dumps it in the sewer. What a rascal.

There's a bunch of silly melodrama surrounding a military force called the 'G-Grasper' unit, and a lot of absurd debate about the new creatures and how they are actually a known prehistoric species. Of course they are. In some trivia you can find it says that these are the same bugs from the 1956 film Rodan, but I don't see much resemblance. There are some fun monster attacks but the visual effects are all pretty bad when it's not the classic suit action. Ultimately you're here for all the atomic breath smack down, and it delivers just enough while giving each monster enough personality for it to work.