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The question came over a week ago, from one of my oldest friends: why don’t you write about politics anymore? At first, it struck me as an absurd thing to ask: don’t I write about politics all th…
Final Fight, SNES.
New Left Review analyses world politics, the global economy, state powers and protest movements; contemporary social theory, history, philosophy and culture.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the original Gojira, the be-all-end-all giant monster movie (King Kong is certainly part of the line, mind, but for entirely subjective and arbitrary reasons, I put it off into its own little category to make broad statements like these much easier), so I thought it’s time to watch as many of the movies it helped create as I can track down. So, while the reboot coming in a few months may or may not be any good, you can always fall back on the classics (and non-classics) for your fix. Unfortunately, this particular subgenre is a little more tricky to get into, with a lot of the obvious must-sees (many of which I haven’t gotten around to in my many years) requiring a little digging. In order to get some sort of a start on this, then, I took some suggestions from random link-diving, and got some more modern fare…lesser modern fare to be honest, but it’s something at least. Read my observations below, because reading this introductory paragraph indicates that you’ve already made some bad choices.
Digital Monster X-Evolution (2005)
Okay, this is only a giant monster in the broadest possible sense. The Digimon series is heavily inspired by the genre, obviously, but otherwise there’s very little in this movie that’s reminiscent of its forebears. Even so, it was there, so I watched it. Sue me.
In order to make the audience forget that this film exists solely as a brand extension/restructuring, the old trick of making it dour and violent as all fuck is employed- at times, it just seems to be a bunch of scenes of mass death(?). It takes a wild stab at some sort of theme by bringing up an organism’s will to live or something, but that’s really only real surface level stuff, and is basically there to justify the tons of bloodless violence (but not glossed over – lots of “what-have-we-done” wide shots of fields of bodies and shouts to the sky) to keep the little SOBs entertained. I do kind of like that the ostensible antagonist is never really given a character, or even a voice, and its modus operandi is only really kind of explained in the last five minutes, which kind of lends weight to what they were trying to say thematically? It was probably just accidental.
There’s a lot of stuff in here that is not explained clearly (probably because they expected the audience to be familiar with the tie-in multimedia extravaganza?), or not explained at all. There are characters who very clearly die and then come back in the second half of the movie with no reasons given. I guess if you looked around a little for things, you could probably find explanations for a lot of the seemingly important plot points, but I don’t know, it just confused me.
I imagine this will be one of, if not the only, example of a monster-y movie that just features the creature with no humans involved. Does that sort of thing work? I mean, these are still characters in the same sense that human characters would be, but without a real world connection, does it make the whole thing weightless? The whole genre, as goofy as it gets, still kind of hinges on humanity’s relationship with various aspects of ourselves and the natural world. You could probably try to draw some parallels here to the real world, but chances are we kind of need a person to ground the whole thing, even though we tend to like the monsters more. It’s just easier to identify with a human than with a fluffy purple dinosaur with a child’s voice.
Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legends The Movie (2009)
Here we go, this is an actual factual giant monster movie, with dudes in rubber suits and the whole bit, though in an appeal to modern times, everything is shot in front of green screens and has that patented Vaseline glow. It’s also another multimedia tie-in, just as egregious as X-Evolution with its lack of set-up, and a continuity clusterfuck that pulls from dozens of television series over forty years – this is all in the name of top level fan service. On top of that, it’s setting up a new “main character” for the franchise going forward, who gets maybe 10-15 minutes of screen time and is the super-best at everything even though he’s young and HAS GOT TO LEARN TO USE HIS POWER RESPONSIBLY and all that jazz and is even the son of the most popular character. It’s got a lot in it, is what I’m saying.
Yet, as shameless at it seems, there’s something so completely pure about it – its a string of twenty-minute dudes-in-rubber-suits-karate-chopping-each-other fight scenes held together by exposition by older actors who have been part of the Ultraman series since the 1960s(!). The new franchise extension aside, there is very little character stuff, as obviously any development would have happened in their respective series - and so there’s little bloat because it’s just the candy filling. And, I mean, as someone who likes kaiju, it’s hard not to salute a no-bullshit kid’s action movie where the bad guy has a “Hundred-Monster Army”, and it’s still all just guys in suits, and even with the green screen (which means most of these actors were probably never in the same studio) it’s like the previous two decades of film technology “advances” just never happened. One of the human characters is basically yelling every time a new well-known Ultraman kaiju appears, and out loud I’m saying “Right there with you, buddy” while sitting very alone in my room.
So, it’s really not all that different from X-Evolution in a lot of respects, and in some cases offers even less in terms of meaning (I guess the lesson learned is that if you’re a fifty-foot-tall superhero it might be a good idea to not be a dick?), but it’s still kind of marvellous all the same.
Sleepy is having a bad day.
Guess what it’s time for?