Friday, November 03, 2023

Happy Godzilla Day 2023: Godzilla 2000 (2000)

Godzilla 2000 (2000) initiated the most recent Toto phase or movie “era” for the giant atomic Kaiju: The Millennium span.  

Just as the Heisei Era rewrote the Show Era so as only to include Godzilla (1954), the Millennium Era seems to pick and choose its continuity from just a handful of historical titles, including the aforementioned Godzilla,  Mothra (1961) and, oddly enough, War of the Gargantuas (1966).

Godzilla himself is remembered in this continuity primarily for his terrible destruction of Tokyo in the 1950s.  But as the later movies of this era themselves point out, that beast was actually a different Godzillasaurus; not the one that now visits (and periodically wrecks…) Japan.  

In fact, the bones of the original 1954 Godzilla are retrieved from the harbor in this timeline, and utilized in the creation of a new Mecha-Godzilla called Kiryu, which guards Japan from danger.  At one point, Kiryu -- erected around the original Godzilla’s spine -- even experiences memories of the long-dead organism.e

Arriving post-Twister (1996), Godzilla 2000 earns some artistic credibility for devising a nifty new metaphor regarding its titular character.  Here, Godzilla is, essentially, the equivalent of a tornado, a natural force that seems to appear at random and wreak havoc.  This is actually a pretty good metaphor, because though Godzilla is alive and storms are not, both are, in some sense, innocent of malice.  Godzilla does what he must to survive, and react to his environs, but he is not in any sense evil.  Like a storm, he is destructive as a consequence of what he “is,” not a human motive like hatred or avarice
And like a storm, Godzilla makes a very specific land-fall, and proves dangerous to Japan one region at a time.  When he comes ashore, it’s like a twister is nearing.

Accordingly, the movie’s protagonist is actually a tornado watcher or hunter equivalent, only he calls his outfit (replete with Godzilla-detection equipment) “The Godzilla Prediction Network.” This character, Yuri Shinoda, clashes in the film with a more official and fully-funded outfit, Crisis Control Intelligence

At one point in the action, Yuri elaborates on the differences between the two outfits.  The GPN wishes to study Godzilla, so he can learn more about him. By contrast, CCI is interested only in Godzilla’s destruction.  In a funny (and  perhaps even deep…) way, all Godzilla movies are really about man and his particular failings or foibles.  Man’s response to Godzilla --a force of nature, and not a thing to be hated – is at the heart of this film’s dramatic tension.  

I especially appreciated early section of Godzilla 2000 for its diagramming of this metaphor.  Here Yuri, his son, and a photographer follow Godzilla “signals” in the GPN’s technologically-kitted-up vehicle, hoping to intercept the monster at land-fall.  Again recalling Twister, there are some exciting moments in this opening act as Yuri’s car shadows Godzilla.  

Then, Godzilla -- like the aforementioned twister -- strikes, and everyone’s life is suddenly in danger. At one point, the car comes to the edge of a cliff, and also face to face with Godzilla, and it’s a nice action set-piece. When Godzilla gives chase wiping out a tunnel in the process, the scene generates some tension.

Godzilla 2000 also reveals some new information about Godzilla’s biological nature. He is able to recover from his often-bloody battles so quickly because he possesses “Regenerator G-1” cells, which constantly replace dying cells.  In other words, he’s almost always in the process of healing himself.  This sure explains a lot about his survival rate.  

Also, Godzilla 2000 suggests that Godzilla gravitates towards nuclear power plants as opportunities for “nutrition” essentially.  He eats the energy at the plants, and given the fact that we have seen him attack such facilities before (in Godzilla:1985, to name one example), this is a revelation that makes sense.  There’s also the suggestion in the film -- through a line of dialogue that reads “it’s incredible…it’s like he’s trying to destroy our energy sources” – that Godzilla is deliberately destroying Japan’s nuclear power plants, for fear that there will be a disaster at them.  He may be attacking man, but as an avatar for nature, he is preserving nature.

Godzilla’s nemesis in Godzilla 2000 is a very different one than many of the others featured in the long-standing franchise.  First, the CCI raises a meteor from the sea.  Inside it is a million-year old flying saucer, which begins to reach out and explore its new world.  After absorbing -- in an electronic spider-web -- much information about its new environs from human computer systems and data-bases, it gives birth to an egg…to a new version of itself.

This version is at first beautiful, like an alien jellyfish.  But it mutates quickly upon exposure to our atmosphere and becomes the huge-handed Orga, a kind of shelled, gray leviathan.  Orga is made, at least partially, from its absorption of Godzilla’s Regenerator G-1 cells, which means that Godzilla can’t kill it.  Instead, it constantly heals.

In one of my favorite death blows of the entire franchise, however, Godzilla figures out a way to burn out Orga’s healing process. He sticks his face and entire head down Orga’s gaping, flower-like maw and – face inserted in his nemesis’s throat --- burns out his innards with his atomic breath.  That is just…wonderful.

After defeating Orga, Godzilla goes after the unscrupulous leader of the CCI, who has been hounding him the whole movie long. It’s a little strange (and indeed, unsettling) to see Godzilla take out his vengeance on one particular human, but this act of revenge speaks volumes about the “monster’s intelligence.  Godzilla can apparently recognize individual humans as such and also restrain himself enough in terms of his strength, to hurt only his intended victim.  That’s a very interesting development for the character. 

For me, the biggest drawback about Godzilla 2000 is simply its decision not to continue the story told by Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995).  I would have liked very much to see Godzilla’s son, all grown up, follow in his father’s historic footsteps.  Since the Millennium Era establishes that there is more than one Godzillasaurus visitng Japan in recent history, there’s no reason that Little Godzilla, at this point, couldn’t simply be known as Godzilla.  

There’s actually a lot of good stuff worth keeping n the Heisei Period, like the robot or mecha, M.O.G.U.E.R.A. and the Millennium Era spends a lot of time re-building the same kind of story, only this time with another robot, Kiryu. It’s like re-inventing the wheel, and not strictly necessary, in my opinion. 

But then again, I’m a fan who likes to see all adventures set in one universe, not multiple universes.  I like the idea of Godzilla’s past adventures being known, and playing a factor in his current one.  That’s a different approach from what the Millennium Era offers.

Still, so far so good, Godzilla 2000 is a great way for the franchise to begin the 21st century.  

The final battle between Orga and Godzilla -- right in the middle of an urban downtown area -- is really well-orchestrated Not merely for Godzilla’s stunning death blow, but for the nature of Orga’s counter-attacks, which include the ability to fire powerful shock waves that bring Godzilla to his knees.

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