I’ve been cranking out Monsters Conquer the World for a little over a year now, and I noticed two glaring omissions in my output so far: I have yet to cover a “Heisei” era movie, and more importantly, I haven’t yet covered a Mechagodzilla movie. Obviously Godzilla’s robot doppelganger is a big deal, but what the hell does the current emperor of Japan have to do with kaiju movies? I’ll answer that by picking apart 1993’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II! Which confusingly enough is not a direct sequel to Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, nor is it even the second film to feature Mechagodzilla, it’s the third.
Plus, it’s Godzilla’s official 40th anniversary movie (despite being off by a year)! We’ll blast through a primer on the Godzilla series in the late 80s and early 90s, talk about some of Toho’s crazy unused ideas for the movie, psychics, deliciously bad CGI, singing plants, butt-brains, and more, so strap in! Mechagodzilla is go for launch!
First, feel free to point your eyeballs at the Japanese trailer. It does a good job of teasing the movie’s various elements without giving everything away, plus it ends with a wacky stop-motion toy commercial.
Original monster maestro Akira Ifukube composed the score! You can check out the main theme here. It starts out moody and atmospheric, but gets awesomely bombastic and primal around the 2:15 mark. DEM DRUMS. I love Ifukube’s music, but I have to say it sometimes clashes with this movies’ slick 90s production values. When it works it’s a slam dunk, but when it doesn’t it comes across as a little odd.
Mechagodzilla II was directed by Takao Okawara. He also helmed Godzilla vs. Mothra: Battle for Earth, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Godzilla 2000, and… not much else. Koichi Kawakita handled the special effects, just as he did for the three Godzilla movies prior, and continued to do so up through Destoroyah and the first two painful Rebirth of Mothra movies.
So this is a “Heisei” era Godzilla movie. What does that mean? Well in the most literal sense it’s a Godzilla film released during the reign of Japan’s current emperor, John Heisei.
Just kidding, his name is actually Akihito and he probably isn’t a happy stock photo white guy with his arms crossed. Heisei is like a ceremonial title given to him and his reign. The point is he took over in 1989, so fans use Heisei as shorthand to describe the movies that came out from then up through the release of the 1998 U.S. Godzilla. There’s nothing official or set in stone about it, but it’s just a handy way to refer to the Godzilla movies that came out in the 80s through the mid-90s, especially because they have a lot of aesthetic and narrative qualities in common. Some of those qualities are good, some are bad, and some…
Similarly, the original run of Godzilla flicks gets referred to as Showa era movies, and everything post-1998 fall under the Millennium umbrella, named for Japan’s secret space emperor from the future, Tatsuya Millennium.
Just kidding again! Millennium was just a cool name picked because the “era” was kicked off by Godzilla 2000. Confused yet? I hope not, because to differentiate last year’s U.S. Godzilla and next year’s Japanese Shin Godzilla, some fans are proposing to refer to the U.S. movie and its forthcoming sequels as the Legendary series.
I personally don’t like to use the Showa/Heisei/Millennium monikers very often myself: they always struck me as a little jargon-y and exclusionary to non-super-fans. That said, it is really handy to have a single word label for each distinct era of Godzilla, especially since each era stretches across at least two decades.
So Mechagodzilla II is a Heisei movie. Here are what I consider the biggest common traits of the Heisei Godzilla movies:
- On-going Continuity While the earlier Showa movies had very little, loose continuity (basically just, “Hey monsters are a thing!”), Heisei movies have a much stricter continuity. Recurring human characters pop up, dead monsters stay dead, and references are made to events in previous films. It’s satisfying to have a persistent world with lasting consequences, but I think it sometimes paints them into a corner story-wise.
- Your Mileage May Vary-Special Effects Kawakita’s monster suits are very detailed, and their faces are articulated, making them very expressive. They just generally look bad-ass. The suits are also stiff as shit and can hardly move. As a consolation for the lack of mobility, there are tons of different energy beams that look cool and happen a lot. The miniature buildings and vehicles look good, though the Heisei series’ larger monsters mean we get less detailed miniatures. Also, there’s the occasional bit of charmingly terrible gimmick CGI.
- Consistent Tone The Heisei movies play it straight, but they don’t go full tilt into atomic horror like Gojira. They remind me of comics, superhero movies, and anime: they all have end-of-the-world level stakes, but (mostly) without the apocalyptic dread. It’s definitely a double-edged sword, as some of the lamer tropes from anime (particularly annoying stock characters) seep into a lot of Heisei movies. Godzilla himself remains consistent too: a wild, dangerous force of nature that is mostly neutral, benefiting mankind about as often as he threatens it. Wacky (but straight-faced) super-science and psychics pop up regularly, lending to the comic booky feel and pulling the movies further into sci-fantasy territory.
Mechagodzilla II exemplifies all these traits, and is a solid entry in the 80s-90s run of Godzilla movies. Let’s talk about it!
The movie opens in the aftermath of the delightfully insane Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Thanks to the salvaged remains of Mecha-King Ghidorah, the Japanese government will be able to construct “a robot to kill Godzilla.” A helpful title card informs us that this is happening right now, in “1992 A.D.”
So yeah, from frame one we get a big taste of Heisei’s trademark continuity. Modern-day humans quickly building a kaiju-sized super robot is a lot easier for me to buy when they already have half of one they can reverse-engineer instead of starting from scratch. The big question then is: why the hell did they build their monster-busting robot in the shape of Godzilla?
Of course it invokes the Rule of Cool, but I ask because the Mechagodzillas before and after had in-universe reasons for existing. O.G. Mechagodzilla was built by space aliens to take over the world and trick us into thinking heroic 70s Godzilla had turned on us. He had a Terminator-style skin suit and everything! When he takes a little battle damage you can catch a glimpse of his shiny metal ass!
Jump ahead a few decades and you have 2000s Mechagodzilla, who was built around the skeleton of the dead 1954 Godzilla, so naturally they take roughly the same shape. The humans in Mechagodzilla II have no reason to build him that way, and they didn’t even give it a funny little throw-away line. Something like “We’ll fight fire with fire,” or “Know thy enemy, eh?” would have been enough.
It’s probably not a shocker that a cybernetic 1:1 replica of Godzilla wasn’t the Japanese military’s first idea for an anti-kaiju superweapon. Previous Heisei movies featured the Super X and Super X II, both of them flying submarine-looking contraptions with special weapons designed in the hopes of being Godzillabusters. Thankfully and satisfyingly, they are not.
Mechagodzilla II features a similar super-plane, Garuda. For whatever reason, I never rooted against Garuda like I did the Super Xes. Maybe it’s because it’s designed and piloted by an endearing fuck-up instead of an irritating teen “genius” like Super X II is in Godzilla vs. Biollante.
Whatever the case, we meet our human protagonist Kazuma while he’s hard at work maintaining Garuda. It’s thankless, pointless work, because everybody’s understandably bonering out about Mechagodzilla. Kazuma tries and fails to impress his colleagues with his work, quickly establishing Kazuma as a hapless schlub. Despite being the anti-giant monster equivalent to the G in lasagna, Kazuma gets a sick promotion:
G-Force is the Heisei series’ persistent anti-Godzilla branch of the military, it’s also sometimes called the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center (UNGCC) so… G-Force it is! Kazuma’s entrance interview takes an immediate turn for the insane when he tells his hard-as-nails superior that his hobby is “pteranodons.” Wait what?
Not paleontology, not dinosaurs, one specific dinosaur. Somehow this doesn’t put Kazuma in the express lane for an emergency psych eval. He is instead subjected to a wacky training montage, because G-Force is a tough organization and somehow the designer of the most advanced fighter jet in human history is a doughy dumbass.
All joking aside, Kazuma flailing and flopping around like a dweeb actually makes him one of the most likable Heisei humans. Comedy is so reliant on culture and language that it’s just about impossible to translate, but even if the jokes don’t quite come across, the intent does. A fun dork is always going to be more entertaining than a bratty teen or some stiff and somber almost-corpse, so I appreciate the effort.
Things get a little more serious and exciting when we cut to a Japanese research team exploring a frigid little rock in the middle of the Bering Sea. Pretty quickly they find pteranodon bones, a giant broken egg, a giant intact egg, and oh yeah MOTHER-FUCKING RODAN.
Rodan swoops around, destroying their camp and making everyone shit bricks. As with most monsters in the Heisei movies, Rodan is awesomely detailed, and his mouth and eyes move and look fierce. The downside is that his body can barely move, so a lot of the creature’s movements (especially take-off and landing) look doofy. Also in the dub everybody calls him “Radon.”
Radon is the monster’s original Japanese name, so that’s neat and all, but it was changed back in the day for a reason, and it’s the same reason Gojira became Godzilla: it sounds cooler to English-speaking ears. I’m sticking with Rodan. Also odd: one of the scientists in the research team magically knows Rodan’s name. I say “magically” because one element of the Heisei series I forgot to mention earlier is that they only keep the original 1954 Gojira as canon: in this timeline the other movies never happened, so there’s no reason for this guy to recognize Rodan or know his name.
Swamp Dogg is of course much bigger than the egg would indicate, so the scientists speculate he was mutated by nuclear waste: the island is a notorious dumping ground for atomic sludge. All the excitement of new visitors and Rodan flipping a shit has the egg glowing bright red. Much like Minya’s psychic S.O.S. back in the day, the egg is telepathically calling Godzilla to the island.
Godzilla introduces himself by dramatically firing a beam at Rodan from under the sea. It’s a cool surprise entrance, but it also gives you an idea of how Heisei fights tend to go. Like Swamp Dogg, Godzilla looks bad as fuck but is extremely limited in his mobility. Their fight is still fun to watch, but there is much less rough and tumble claw-to-claw brawling than what you see in the 60s and 70s films. Rodan dive-bombs Godzilla, and G-fresh answers back with frantic nuke-blasts. Godzilla’s face is maybe the best effect in the movie: he can turn his head to scan the sky for Rodan, blink, snarl… it’s dope.
They know it’s dope too, because they make sure to give us occasional close-ups of the beast emoting throughout the Heisei series. It’s a technique that I’m kind of mixed on. It looks terrific and clues us in to what Godzilla’s feeling, but it breaks the immersion a bit: there are no in-universe clues to how anyone could get such impossibly, perfectly framed head-shots of the King of the Monsters.
But the fight! There’s a terrific composite shot of the scientists sneaking off to the chopper while Rodan and Godzilla slap the shit out of each other in the background. With the fight pushed to the background, you really get a sense of how (relatively) small Rodan is in this movie. You also see G-Man choke him so hard he starts to barf a little!
The nerdlingers manage to scamper off the island with the intact egg. It naturally makes national news, which means it also catches the eye of everyone’s favorite pteranodon hobbyist.
Kazuma barges into the egg lab and gets told repeatedly to fuck off by the presiding Dr. Asuza. Desperate for an excuse to hang around the egg Kazuma starts hitting on her, gets shut down, then steals a sample of the moss growing on the egg so he has a reason to come back. It sort of reminds me of an unintentionally creepy version of the scene in Ghostbusters where Bill Murray tries to schmooze with Sigourney Weaver at her apartment. That’s not a slam on Mechagodzilla II, it just can’t match that film’s considerable charm or hilarity. Ghostbusters is god-tier when it comes to dry humor, which is super difficult to translate in the first place.
Back in the G-Force cafeteria, Kazuma bumps into Miki Saegusa: a recurring Heisei character who works for G-Force… as a psychic.
I’m super mixed on the psychic stuff. Sometimes it works really well and serves as a way to find out what monsters are thinking and feeling. Miki is even able to interact with them on some vague level. When it works it reminds me of the 90s Gamera trilogy which incorporated a similar premise flawlessly. But other times it comes across like a hacky screenwriting shortcut or a ridiculous plot device that dissolves suspension of disbelief. It’s fine in this one, if a bit wacky.
And I mean wacky: Miki psychics Kazuma’s pilfered plant piece, says she hears music, and decides to take it to the psychic school she teaches at so her gaggle of grade school Akiras can listen to it too.
Miki and Kazuma return to the egg lab the next day to return the plant sample, and also play a recording of the plant’s “song.” Like plenty of other Toho kaiju (Mothra and King Ceasar for starters), the egg freaks out for the music. It lights up, blows up equipment, and finally hatches, making just the grossest, sloppiest splat noises. Then this thing pops out:
Presumably there’s a Rodan angel in monster-heaven looking down and doing a Maury Povich “not the father” dance. While it’s clearly not a Rodan that hatched, Miki and the scientists instantly (psychically?) determine it’s a Godzillasaur, which they claim is a herbivore. Godzillasaur? Sure, I’ll buy that. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah established that Godzillasaurs existed as recently as World War II (God I can’t wait to review that one). But a herbivore? Homeboy is a theropod with big fuckin’ fangs. But hey whatever, they start feeding him roses and petunias and shit out of vases and he seems fine.
One of the professors hypothesizes that Godzillasauruses are a brood parasite: animals that rely on others to raise their young, in this case by laying their egg in a Rodan nest. I love Godzilla, but he’s kind of a dick so it wouldn’t shock me if his species was inclined to pull shit like this. It’s a super fun detail grounded in real world science that makes the monsters seem a little more real and alive. But there’s no time for that! Godzilla has telepathic baby fever! He’s made landfall, and he’s currently stomping a mudhole in anything that tries to stand between him and his precious babby.
G-Force knows what that means!
As they scramble to launch Mechagodzilla, I am shocked to learn that goofy-ass Kazuma was supposed to help pilot it. Taking that into account, my theory now is that G-Force is run by full-tilt lunatics, which is also why they decided to build a robot in the shape of Godzilla. Despite taking orders from madmen, the pilots board Mechagodzilla by riding inside a rocket-cube down a hallway, gloriously rendered by the 1993-est CGI of all time.
The rest of the Mechagodzilla launch is a series of meticulously and lovingly crafted miniature-effects shots. Gigantic robot arms release the robot, move it into position, and raise it up from its subterranean hangar to the earth’s surface. It’s a pure fantasy sequence, but it plays out like a bizarro universe equivalent to a space shuttle launch. It feels a little more grounded than Pacific Rim‘s gorgeous and outrageous Jaeger launches.
After a successful launch, Mechagodzilla flies off to stop his organic counterpart. Yes, Mechagodzilla flies, and it is wonderful.
Godzilla and Mechagodzilla square off in a wilderness area outside the city, and MG opens fire with a bitchin’ rainbow mouth laser, goldeneye beams, and the oddly named “plasma grenade” which isn’t so much a grenade as it is a face-meltingly brutal Care Bear Stare:
But all that is just a warm-up for MG. The real threat is the gruesome and cruel “shock anchor:” a pair of wrist-launched, tethered harpoons that bloodily blorp through Godzilla’s scales and bury themselves in his flesh, then pipe in a hundred gazillion volts of electric torture.
It’s brutal and leaves me conflicted about both creatures. Godzilla is a dangerous menace. Whatever his intentions are, every time he comes ashore lots of people are homeless at best and dead at worst. But the reason why he’s doing it (this time) is to retrieve his stolen baby. He’s not really malicious. Mechagodzilla is built to protect the people from Godzilla, a nigh-invincible rampaging monster. But they go about protecting those people by torturing a scared and confused dad-animal into paralysis. Conflicted feelings or not, it is super satisfying when Godzilla reverses the charge on the cables, frying that bitch-ass robot so hard it flops over and terror-sharts a cloud of black smoke.
The military tries to swoop in and clean up Mechagodzilla’s mess, but we know what happens when Godzilla faces a few brave souls in tanks and jets. Godzilla gets all the way to the building holding Baby G captive and thrashes it a good one, but the scientists and Miki manage to hide the baby from Godzilla. G-money eventually gets sad and leaves.
Godzilla goes to pout in the ocean sans baby, Mechagodzilla shambles home like a dumbass to get repaired, Asuza and friends move Baby Godzilla to a mini-Jurassic Park, and Kazuma is demoted to parking lot detail.
During this downtime, G-Force scientists study Baby Godzilla for possible weaknesses and Kazuma pitches his new Garuda/Mechagodzilla team-up idea to the top brass. In a plot point designed to make paleontologists weep silently into their popcorn, they discover that Baby G has a second mini-brain in his pelvis that helps control his movement. They figure that Godzilla must have one as well, and their best bet to stop him will be to explode his butt-brain.
In addition to greenlighting Operation Ass-Blasters, G-Force gives the okay on Kazuma’s crazy Voltron idea. To celebrate he heads over to Baby Godzilla’s enclosure to romance up Asuza. He attempts this by taking her for a romantic ride… on his home-made pterodactyl-shaped hoover-scooter. It is miraculous.
Big, big thanks to JKorra from the Kaiju Combat forums for the above pics! Before JKorra swooped in, the best I could find was some concept art of the pterodactyl glider, and that just wasn’t cutting it. The scene is unintentionally deliriously funny. Few things make me as happy as seeing two full grown adults crammed onto that thing as it lazily and quietly drifts around in the air in a big open room at awkward angles. Dreamy romance music tinkles along in the background until they crash into a haystack. Mechagodzilla II has an entertaining, clever plot, great monster action and interesting human characters, but none of that can top pteranodon air-scooter romance.
Miki brings her class of creepy psychic kids to check out Baby Godzilla and sing him his plant-song. This makes Baby G trip balls, and it summons
Radon Swamp Dogg Rodan, causing him to upgrade into Fire Rodan. Fire Rodan is a brighter shade of red and spews a hot-pink energy beam because this is a Heisei movie.
The military decides they’ll use Baby G as bait to lure Big G away from the city and they want Miki onboard Mechagodzilla to help lance his booty-mind. This leads Kazuma, Miki, and Azusa to have an awkwardly overblown pity-party for Baby Godzilla, and Asuza decides to accompany Baby G in his cargo container.
But sexy new Fire Rodan is not having it! He blows up the helicopter carrying the container, snatches it from the air and slams it to the ground, somehow without killing or even hurting Asuza or Baby Godzilla. Mechagodzilla is deployed and has a calm, collected debate with Rodan about the consequences of his actions.
Kazuma pilots Garuda to try and lead Rodan away from the crate, and Rodan bellyflops the spaceship into a building. Mechagodzilla returns the favor by tummy-zapping Rodan through a skyscraper spectacularly. Rodan returns the returned favor by pecking MechaG’s eye out. MG returns the return of the returned favor by belly-blasting Rodan into a fucking early grave.
Godzilla shows up and whomps ass on MechaG… until they accidentally cross the streams!
Garuda goes back online and Power Rangerses onto Mechagodzilla’s back, combining into SUPER MECHAGODZILLA
Mechagodzilla floats around and peppers Godzilla with a wild menagerie of missiles and beams and rockets and lasers and pots and pans and insults and hair curlers and cats and dogs and blurays of Free Birds and rotten produce–basically he fights like a little bitch, and it works. They nail Godzilla with some tranquilizer missiles fired from Mechagodzilla’s hips (which I presume are incapable of lying), giving Miki the perfect opening to zero in on G-man’s sphincter thinkter. Oddly enough, she seems to manage this with X-ray goggles instead of her psychic powers? Or maybe her psychic powers look like how I imagine X-ray goggles would look? I’m not an expert on either.
The MechaG crew launches the shock anchors, nailing Godzilla right in his hindbrain and frying the fuck out of it. G-money drops like a sack of radioactive walrus turds and Miki immediately feels like a sack of radioactive walrus turds for making it happen. The second Godzilla hits the ground Kazuma peaces out, not even piloting Garuda back to HQ, instead hopping out of Garuda and flying away on his stupid fucking pterodactyl sky-tricycle like a brain damaged, pteranodon-obsessed Mary Poppins.
In his defense he’s going to check on Asuza, but I feel like he should have hung around for like… at least one minute before bailing. While Kazuma farts around in the air and Mechagodzilla keeps Palpatining Godzilla’s immobile body, Baby Godzilla finally breaks out of the crate and roars, which wakes Rodan up.
Swamp Dogg heroically gets up to help Godzilla, but is blasted out of the air by Mechagodzilla. Rodan collapses on top of Godzilla’s body, then Baby Godzilla dies of a broken heart, Mechagodzilla takes a steamy robot dump in Godzilla’s gaping dead mouth, and the puppy and kitten orphanage that was going to hold your surprise birthday party burns down.
Just kidding! Rodan does die (again) though. But this time he turns into like… magic goldust that Godzilla’s body absorbs, restoring his brainus and powering him up to finish the fight. The remainder of Rodan’s essence evaporates into a glittery snow that melts the diamond coating off MechaG’s armor (which seems like it would have disastrous effects on whatever’s left of the city), and Godzilla starts radiating with bright pink light, crackling with electricity and just chomping at the bit to dish out some red-hot robo-murder. Mechagodzilla is ready to rumble, but gets barbecued to fucking death by Godzilla’s savage new RED BEAM FUCK YES
The crew are able to jettison to safety, and Godzilla makes his way over to Baby Godzilla. Asuza and BG do the whole “sad dog getting sent away for his own good” routine, and even though Baby G fluctuates between kind of cool and cute to straight up creepy (but without the derpy charm of my main man Minya) it works. In a neat twist, Miki psychics BG the courage to go be with his huge scary dad. It wraps up nicely, until the main characters launch into their out of nowhere, bugfuck crazy “moral of the story” speeches.
Plenty of Godzilla movies end with the characters waxing philosophical about nuclear weapons, human greed, the balance of nature and civilization, or other big topics that warrant discussion and were addressed somehow over the course of the film. Mechagodzilla II has its characters go into bizarre monologues about how artificial life will always be secondary to organic life, and how another age of the dinosaurs is coming in the next few million years. The artificial life one could have worked if this movie’s Mechagodzilla was a self-aware A.I., but it wasn’t. It was a big machine piloted by humans. I’d even accept the nouveau-dino-age one, if they meant that Godzilla and Baby Godzilla will someday inherit the world, but they didn’t. They literally meant that in a few million years they think that dinosaurs could reappear somehow and take the planet back.
I try to avoid armchair-screenwriting on reviews, but the “what we learned” ending schpiel really could have worked if it had been about the modern meaning of family. Mechagodzilla II doesn’t deal with global politics or intense social issues, but it does (maybe inadvertently) explore the idea that family isn’t necessarily who shares your blood. It’s who you love, who you’ll fight for, and vice versa. Godzilla, Rodan, and Baby Godzilla formed a non-traditional (if short-lived and dysfunctional) family, just like Kazuma, Asuza, Miki, and BG did. The humans could even jokingly speculate about being distant cousins to big bad-ass Godzilla himself. It would segue perfectly into the next two movies, which depict a more sympathetic Godzilla caring for his adopted baby boy.
This went way longer than I planned, but I still want to take a quick look at the alternate version of this movie we almost got instead. First, the wild rainbow of concept art:
As an American I really appreciate these red, white, and blue Rodans. I wonder if the white and blue Rodans were intended as Ice Rodans rather than the film’s Fire Rodan.
The first and last Mechagodzillas here are my favorite. I love that funky, chunky red fat-ass up top. The green and red ones in the middle have really bold colors, but otherwise don’t look that far off from the final product. I’d love to see a Mechagodzilla with a paint-job other than silver someday. The last one’s shoulder-mounted bazookas and superhero utility belt are just the right amount of crazy. I definitely see some similarities between that design and Godzilla’s 1995 comic book opponent, Cybersaur:
Outside of monster aesthetics, earlier drafts of the film ended differently. One has Godzilla being resurrected by the destroyed Garuda’s nuclear core. The other has Godzilla staying dead and transferring his energy to Baby Godzilla, instantly blasting him through monster puberty and turning him into a new adult Godzilla. Rodan of course took it upon himself to recharge Godzilla in this movie, but the idea of a dying Godzilla passing his life force on to his son wouldn’t be revisited until Godzilla vs. Destoroyah.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is kind of a weird one for me. When I went to re-watch it for this review, I didn’t really have strong feelings for it one way or the other. That persisted until about halfway into the movie, where everything sort of finds a groove and gets fun and compelling and crazy. Even in writing the review I found myself kind of ambivalent for the first half, but then getting more and more pumped as we got into the story, the monster action, and the weirdness. For better and worse, Mechagodzilla II packs in everything that makes the Heisei movies unique. It also remains a ton of fun to watch… once it gets rolling.