Toho Pictures decided that the 22nd Godzilla film would be the great monster’s swan song, although his retirement eventually proved to be a short one. Clever enough to tie the film to events from the original “Godzilla”, “Godzilla vs. Destroyer” features some good ideas and enough action to engage audiences. But while the movie would be an excellent bookend to the Godzilla films, it ultimately proves to be an unworthy swan song for a cultural icon.
Godzilla’s appearance in the film is immediate and dramatic, glowing bright red and shrieking in pain as he decimates Hong Kong. It seems the big guy is a living nuclear reactor, and one that is set for a meltdown that could be a calamity for the planet. Making matters worse is the discovery of a species of prehistoric crabs that eventually grow and merge into one gigantic creature. The creature is dubbed The Destroyer, since its transformation was the after-effects of the Oxygen Destroyer, the device that killed the original Godzilla in 1954. While Godzilla’s condition worsens, authorities lure him into a battle with The Destroyer in hopes of destroying the other creature before Godzilla melts.
The excuse Toho gave for benching Godzilla was that they had no new ideas left. That statement isn’t really true, because “Godzilla vs. Destroyer” is full of great ideas and should have been a knockout film that would have kaiju fans begging for more. But the concepts are either not very well executed or are just abandoned for no reason. The idea of re-creating the dreaded Oxygen Destroyer is brought up, then ignored. Central characters fade into the background midway through the film for no apparent reason and weaker characters take center stage. Some interesting philosophical questions are introduced, but never elaborated on and take a back seat to the monster melee. Several scenes in the film seem to have been lifted from “Jurassic Park”, “Aliens” and “Predator”, which further cheapen the film.
Another major problem is The Destroyer himself. First introduced as a school of tiny crabs that literally eat the flesh off fish, they promises to be a formidable enemy. But they soon merge to form several fake looking insect-like creatures and eventually one giant rubbery monstrosity. In its final incarnation, The Destroyer moves stiffly and looks incredibly fake when flying. Not a very threatening creature, and certainly not a worthy final foe for Godzilla.
On the flip side, Godzilla has never looked more dangerous. Steaming and glowing red, he’s fueled by agony and confusion at his condition. But while he’s at his most lethal, the filmmakers seem to restrain him, as if feeling audiences aren’t ready for a feral Godzilla. This is another detraction from the film; Godzilla is misery and agony walking, but he’s never allowed to truly express it. Let him rage and destroy! It’s certainly consistent with his nature.
Direction by Takao Okawara is adequate, but never manages to elevate the film to the event status it deserves to be. It’s like someone forgot to tell Okawara that this was meant to be the last Godzilla film. As a result, Okawara just puts the cast through their paces, never encouraging any standout performances, and probably hoping the monsters will carry the rest of the movie. Veteran writer Kazuki Omori has some fantastic ideas, but they never evolve enough to make “Godzilla vs. Destroyer” into the great film it should be. Omori even cheats Godzilla of his final victory by letting the Japanese Defense Forces deal the killing blow, a cardinal sin in this film. The denouement that shows that Godzilla’s legacy will continue is nice, but it lacks any real emotional impact and doesn’t inspire the hope it was obviously intended to.
“Godzilla vs. Destroyer” is a good Godzilla film. It does have entertaining moments and is a nice bookend to the series. But it should have been so much better, and it seems as if the producers concentrated more on the “death of Godzilla” marketing gimmick instead of making a good film. At least this year they’ll get a second chance, with the production of “Godzilla: Final Wars” — again billed as the final Godzilla film — already underway. Hopefully they’ll learn from past mistakes and give Godzilla the glorious exit he deserves.
Takao Okawara (director) / Kazuki Omori (screenplay)
CAST: Takuro Tatsumi …. Dr. Kensaku Ijuin
Yoko Ishino …. Yukari Yamane
Yasufumi Hayashi …. Kenichi Yamane