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With continual talk of Legendary’s upcoming Godzilla reboot, I thought I’d take a look back at one of the more interesting entries in this decades long running series.

Normally I would not consider most of the Godzilla films horror, except for maybe the 1954 original…but even that seems more like science fiction. If any Godzilla film could be categorized as horror, this 2001 standalone entry in the long running series definitely would. GMK portrays Godzilla not only as a radioactive monster, but a vengeful demon whose rage is driven by the angry spirits of all the dead killed in the Pacific during WW2. A creature who enjoys killing and does so often. At one point he actually appears to find and finally kill a young woman who survived one of its earlier attacks. With demonic white eyes and elongated fangs, he is truly a soulless monster, and we watch as he slaughters innocent civilians and his guardian monster foes, equally with no mercy. Even in the original classic from 1954 he was treated as a destructive force like a hurricane or earthquake, but director Shusuke Kaneko (director of the awesome Gamera series of the 90s) brings us a Godzilla who is pure evil, one of the most savage and vicious Godzillas ever.

The story presents a Japan that hasn’t seen Godzilla since 1954, but its body was never found and the island nation has been forever vigilant watching for signs of the creature’s return…and with the disappearance of a nuclear sub, that return may have come. As Japan braces for the worst, other monsters appear, too. Yuri, (Chiharu Niiyama) a reporter for a paranormal show, begins to investigate and finds that Godzilla’s return to terrorize Japan has been foreseen and the only hope is from three guardian monsters, Mothra, Baragon and King Ghidorah…the first time in the series that the three headed gold dragon is a good guy…who will rise to defend the land. Caught in the middle of Godzilla’s path of destruction and his inevitable showdown with the monster guardians, is not only Yuri, who tries to cover the nightmare unfolding, but her military father Taizo (Ryūdō Uzaki) who has to somehow stop the rampaging leviathan from flattening his beloved homeland.

Kaneko gives this Godzilla flick a more supernatural tone and a more mythic background. To simplify, Kaneko’s Godzilla is a demon evoked by mankind’s evils and his three opponents are monster deities come to save the Japanese people from the demonic force created from their own misdeeds. The SPFX in this entry are quite good with CGI used to enhance the FX sequences and not become them. Godzilla and his foes are still men in suits or animatronics, except for a few shots, one with a resurrected King Ghidorah being obvious CGI. The battle sequences are fast paced with the early-on battle between Godzilla and Baragon being especially intense and vicious. The much smaller Baragon tenaciously attacking the far larger and stronger Godzilla, like a gigantic reptilian pitbull, is one of the film’s best sequences. Sadly, that is one thing that I consider one of the film’s missteps. Godzilla is so much larger than his opponents, there seems to be no hope that they can win. True, he is the bad guy here and sure needs to appear unstoppable, but he comes across as a big bully and his opponents never seem to have much of a chance. We know from the start that if he is to be stopped, it will be by some other means. Still, the battles are spectacular, and Kaneko’s visual style is striking here as always. A shot of Mothra attacking Godzilla while her wings are on fire is a perfect example of Kaneko’s command of his camera lens. The human characters are well acted and are likable and Kaneko’s Japan is a more down to earth Japan than we are used to seeing in Godzilla films. There are no laser cannons, or giant robots to come to Japan’s defense, just traditional military hardware and that makes it far more dramatic to see how little they have to work with when facing the radioactive fury that Godzilla unleashes on Japan. The film is further enhanced by a great electronic score by Gamera composer Kow Otani which moodily suits the story and visuals.

All in all, GMK is a unique standalone entry in the Godzilla series that is very entertaining and gives a talented filmmaker a chance to give the classic character a fresh perspective. Not everything works. His opponents are a little too outmatched from the start, King Ghidorah is one of the worst incarnations of the character in terms of its design, with its short necks and floppy wings and the Mothra marionette lacks the usual fur and thus looks a bit plastic. Otherwise, the FX are top notch for this type of flick, and we are given one of the fiercest incarnations of Godzilla since he first waded on shore in 1954.  Definitely one of the better of the Millennium series Godzilla films that ended in 2004 with the final Japanese entry, Godzilla Final Wars.

Rated 3 (out of 4) battling behemoths!