After the disappointing Godzilla Millennium (1999), Big G roared back onto cinema screens in this flawed, but entertaining comic book extravaganza. Unlike the Heisei era (80s-90s), the Millennium series rejected all pretence at continuity in favour of reinventing core ingredients for each new film. Here, in an alternate reality, the lizard king rules supreme as citizens flee Tokyo and make Osaka the new capital of Japan. In 1996, the city stands poised for a breakthrough in discovering a clean energy source, until Godzilla stomps their plasma generator into dust. Thirty years later, G-Graspers - the anti-Godzilla task force - wage a disastrous battle against their prehistoric foe. These guys go toe to toe with Big G wielding hand-held missile launchers, so it’s not surprising they lose. The sole survivor, feisty Kiriko Tsujimori (Misato Tanaka) swears vengeance.
Fast forward five years and Kiriko turns up at an electronics shop run by disgraced boy genius Hajime Kudo (Shosuke Tanihara). Kudo rejoins his mentor Professor Yoshizawa (Yuriko Hoshi) to develop a top secret weapon that creates artificial black holes. The idea is these portals manifest briefly enough to suck Godzilla into another dimension. Nobody worries about potential damage to Osaka because, hey, this is a Godzilla movie. Pester Isaac Asimov if its plausibility you’re after, science boy! A test run goes off without a hitch, save for the experiment being witnessed by a wide-eyed little boy whom Kiriko swears to secrecy. However, nobody notices a tiny bug sneak into the black hole. It remerges, transmogrified and multiplied, into a mutant swarm dubbed Megaguirus. These insect monsters ravage Osaka, until our fire-breathing anti-hero arrives to defend his turf. The swarm melds into a towering, supersonic, super-bug. Osaka is caught in the crossfire between battling monsters, while Kiriko and Kudo struggle to salvage their super-weapon.
Godzilla x Megaguirus only partially delivers as a slam-bang monster epic. On the plus side, Masaaki Tezuka drops the grainy visuals and mock pomposity of Takao Ogawara’s films (Much loved by most G-fans, so maybe it’s a matter of personal taste) and delivers vibrant, comic book colours more befitting Japan’s sci-fi heritage. Despite a lacklustre mid-section, the wrestling rubber monsters (punctuated by brief spurts of eye-catching CG, such as Godzilla engulfed by swarming insects), streaking jet craft and exploding buildings keep the viewer engaged. Special effects are top-notch, but it was Tezuka himself, not his technicians, who conceived the most inspired set-piece: Kiriko clinging to Godzilla’s dorsal fins as he swims across the sea. That scene is worthy of the Godzilla epics of old.
A lack of likeable characters has undone many G-films from the last twenty years. Kiriko is too stern and one-dimensional, leaving lead actress Misato Tanaka little to do except stomp and pout. Shosuke Tanihara shows more promise as slacker science whiz Kudo, even though he and the other geeks waste too much time obsessing over the cute soldier girl. The biggest problem is Godzilla himself. (Not the new suit which, though unpopular with G-fans, is an eye-catching, spiky design.) Ever since Godzilla 1985 (1984) the character has been caught in a conundrum. His core audience of adoring children are in no doubt Godzilla is a hero, cheering him on as he battles another mutant menace. However, sci-fi fans seem to prefer the darker, nastier Godzilla. The end result is neither fish nor fowl, either a hero who never receives his due or a villain who never gets his comeuppance, dramatically unsatisfying. Here is one argument for the “heroic Godzilla”: his presence circumvents these problems, leaving directors to concentrate on telling a fresh story.