Frankenstein vs. Baragon – A Retrospective

frankenstein vs. Baragon poster

The ’60s were home to some fantastic movies. For kaiju fans, some of the all-time best were released in this era. King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Destroy All Monsters were all released in the ’60s. Even Gamera got his start here – his first film released in 1965. In fact, 1965 is an important year for this retrospective. Of course, it was the year Invasion of Astro-Monster (better known as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero) came out. But, there was another film from TOHO that also released in 1965. It also featured Ishiro Honda as director, Akira Ifukube as the composer, and Eiji Tsuburaya as the special effects director. Even the two core actors – Nick Adams, add Kumi Mizuno, were the stars. This film is Frankenstein vs. Baragon, originally known in the US as Frankenstein Conquers the World.

Frankenstein vs. Baragon is a peculiar movie, similar, and yet different than the other TOHO science fiction movies. The Frankenstein monster in this movie is a tragic figure, eliciting sympathy from the viewer. Baragon is a fantastic creation. (After watching this, you will be even more disappointed that Baragon didn’t get to do anything in Destroy All Monsters.) The story moves at a solid pace, though gets a bit slow toward the end. But, there aren’t many negatives that can be said about this movie.

As with Honda’s films, the cast deliver excellent performances. Kumi Mizuno for example demonstrates her ability to fully involve herself in her role. Kumi has played quite a few roles in kaiju films. In Matango, she played the seductress. In Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, she played the island girl. In Frankenstein vs. Baragon, she plays a passionate doctor. She can portray different characters with ease, a true actress in her craft. Of course, Frankenstein vs. Baragon delivers a satisfying showdown, as any versus movie should have. With Bandai having released the first ever vinyl figure based on TOHO’s Frankenstein, the time was right to look back on this gem of a movie. Hopefully when you’re done reading this retrospective, you’ll be inspired to check out the movie either for the first time, or the first time in awhile.

frankenstein vs. baragon screen

The opening sequence is an interesting one. It takes places in 1945, at the end of World War II. A German scientist is experimenting on something…something that sounds like it’s making heartbeats. Soon, soldiers come in and take the crate away, much to the scientist’s dismay. The scientist gives it to the Japanese, whom take it to Hiroshima. Upon opening the crate, it’s revealed that the thing making heartbeats is indeed, a heart. In fact, it’s the heart of the Frankenstein monster. The idea here is to create soldiers that can recover right away from being shot. Frankenstein’s heart would allow for such a thing to be possible. However, the idea is cut short when the Allies launch the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 15 years pass.

In a hospital, Dr. Bowen (Nick Adams), an American scientist, has dedicated his research to helping patients from radiation poisoning due to the A-bomb. He is joined by Dr. Sueko (Kumi Mizuno) and Dr. Kawaji (Tadao Takashima.) Sometime later, Dr. Bowen and Sueko come across what appears to be a homeless boy. He is found in a cave, where Sueko attempts to befriend him.

The boy is taken to a hospital, where many people are looking at him. He is growing at an alarming rate, and it turns out he is related to the Frankenstein’s heart incident. Although not explicitly stated in the film, it seems to be that the heart has regenerated itself into a new Frankenstein. Frankenstein eventually breaks out of his cage in response to the reporters angering him with their camera lights. He runs around looking for food. Meanwhile, a monster destroys buildings, and eats cattle. Frankenstein is blamed for these things. But, later, it’s discovered that another monster was indeed responsible. Frankenstein sees Sueko in danger from this monster, called Baragon, and rushes in. What commences is a duel between titans…

Frankenstein is one of the oldest science fiction stories. It’s compelling because it consists of science gone wrong, and tragedy. The Frankenstein monster is a tragic character, and that plays a part in TOHO’s film, but in different ways. Frankenstein is portrayed by Koji Furuhata. Unfortunately, not much information can be found about the actor. It’s a shame, because his performance as Frankenstein was excellent. It takes passion and talent to play a character who has no lines throughout the entire movie. Frankenstein does not talk here. He does grunt, roar, and make sounds, but doesn’t have dialogue. This kind of portrayal works within the movie, because the character is like a lost child. The relationship he develops with Sueko is engaging. There’s a scene where Frankenstein has grown to a monstrous proportion. He goes to Sueko’s apartment, showing that he considers her a mother-like figure.

Talking about the cast, I already mentioned how great of a character Sueko is. One scene in particular that’s worth mentioning is the conversation between Bowen, Sueko, and Kawaji. Bowen and Kawaji seem to be leaning toward the idea of amputating one of Frankenstein’s limbs to prove whether or not he is actually the Frankenstein. Sueko is passionately against the idea, and it’s perfectly delivered by Kumi.

Frankenstein vs. Baragon Cast

Nick Adams and Kumi Mizuno work really well together, here and in Monster Zero. The scene with them having a meal together really does sound like a sequence where two everyday people are talking. The trio of them and Kawaji were fun to watch. A few other TOHO golden era stars appear in the movie. In the 1945 sequence, Takashi Shimura (Dr. Yamane in Gojira) briefly appears as the surgeon analyzing Frankenstein’s heart. It was a quick sequence, but Shimura was excellent here. A more prominent role is given to the police chief. He was very good, but the scenes of him trying to explain that another monster was responsible for the destruction were a bit slow. These sequences felt like they belonged in the middle act, not toward the end. This brings us to Baragon.

There was another non-Godzilla kaiju film the year before Frankenstein vs. Baragon. That film was Dogora, The Space Monster. Dogora had one of the best human plotlines in the entire kaiju lineup. (While Nick Adams in Monster Zero has been called the best American actor in these films, one could make the case that Robert Dunham is the best thanks to his fun portrayal of Mark Jackson in Dogora.) However, and this is probably the only time you will hear this from a giant monster fan, the actual kaiju part took away from the story. The Dogora scenes felt shoehorned in. Why? The plot was about the people, and the monster could have easily been written out. I bring this up because Baragon falls into this in the beginning.

Baragon appears briefly in the middle act, but disappears for awhile afterward. You could argue that it’s ominous, but such a lack of Baragon and mention of him made it seem like he was an afterthought in a movie titled Frankenstein vs. Baragon. Now, the film does kind of make of make up for this in the final 25 minutes. Baragon gets fun screen time as he breaks some beach houses, and snacks on some chickens. The story also finally gives Baragon an important plot by having him “frame” Frankenstein for the destruction. The writing could have done a better job at incorporating Baragon earlier, but the climax is satisfying enough to avoid calling it another Dogora. That, and the fact that Baragon himself is a fantastic creature.

When you watch a “vs.” movie, you expect quality action. Japanese monster movies do not disappoint, and especially not in Frankenstein vs. Baragon. The battle is lengthy and full of the creative maneuvers these classic movies are known for. Baragon has a unique jumping ability that is fun to watch. What I like about this battle is how much personality there is – both in the characters, and how the fight was choreographed. Frankenstein takes note of Baragon’s tail, and grabs it, seemingly gaining the advantage. But Baragon, realizing what’s happening, swipes his tail to make Frankenstein tumble over. In another scene, Baragon burrows into the ground, only to appear on top of a hill, much to Frankenstein’s surprise. It shouldn’t come as a shock how great Baragon moves and acts in this battle, as he was portrayed by none other than Hauro Nakujima – the man who brought Godzilla and Rodan to life.

The camera work is really good in the movie. There’s a scene in the climax where Sueko is on the ground and Baragon is approaching. It’s a genuinely terrifying sequence, as Baragon approaches and roars when he’s right over her. The special effects are mostly excellent, as one would expect from Tsuburaya. Of course, most fans know about the infamous horse. Instead of using an actual horse, a miniature was used. Honestly, it’s not that bad. What is bad however is the brief scene where a miniature tank and doll representing a soldier appeared. That scene, and the one with the boar, are the main negatives in a film with otherwise fantastic special effects and camera work.

The ending is worth discussing for a couple of reasons. If you watch this movie via the Tokyo Shock DVD, you’ll notice the “theatrical” and “international” versions. The original theatrical version features what you would call the true ending. In it, Frankenstein kills Baragon (by actually snapping his neck) and roars in victory. But, the ground beneath them breaks open, engulfing them into the earth. In the international version’s ending, Frankenstein kills Baragon, but instead of the ground opening, something else transpires. A giant octopus appears, the same creature that tussled with King Kong in King Kong vs. Godzilla. Frankenstein tries to fight, but the octopus grabs and takes him to the bottom of the ocean.

As for which ending is more effective, the giant octopus one is too abrupt. However, it’s definitely more enjoyable as it adds a brief kaiju battle to end off the film. But, the original ending makes more sense within the context of a coherent story. Interestingly, the giant octopus would once again show up, this time in the film’s direct sequel, War of the Gargantuas. (Gaira had much better luck with the octopus than Frankenstein.)

Akira Ifukube delivers an excellent soundtrack. The opening, rather mysterious theme, sets the tone for what’s to come. Unlike many of the Godzilla films, the music here is more downbeat – fitting, because the story has a tragic element. The final battle against Baragon was dramatic, and the music was a major part of that. All of this works to the film’s benefit, because the story has an emotional core to it. Like Honda, Ifukube treats the happenings with the utmost respect, and it shows in the maestro’s music.

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Frankenstein vs. Baragon is tragic, fun, and an engaging movie. The Frankenstein creature is one of tragedy, a misunderstood being whom doesn’t want to hurt people. Honda is masterful with monsters and creating compelling stories around them. Baragon unfortunately takes awhile to become part of the main story. He does get great screen time in the climax thankfully, and is a major part of why the final battle is so memorable. The core human cast is excellent – Kumi Mizuno and Nick Adams are engaging leads. This film is a fine example of the amount of passion that went into making these classic kaiju movies.

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GODZILLA: THE PLANET EATER Review – Where did it all go so wrong?

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It should have been epic. The Godzilla anime trilogy should have been a lot of things. The potential was there. In the first film, Planet of the Monsters, Godzilla was established as an unstoppable threat. I remember feeling in awe when he unleashed his iconic roar in the climax of the film. The actual movie wasn’t anything great, but it was decent setup. The potential was there. The sequel’s marketing hinted at a battle between Godzilla and a new Mechagodzilla. City on the Edge of Battle did not feature a Mechagodzilla throwdown, instead rehashing the battle against small machines from the first film.

City on the Edge of Battle had some neat ideas. Mechagodzilla taking over an entire city, and the Bilusaludo willing to become one with it in order to face Godzilla were interesting concepts. The problem is that these things completely took the place of why we watch Godzilla movies. In City on the Edge of Battle, Godzilla doesn’t do anything until after the first hour. That’s a bold move with a movie titled Godzilla, but maybe it could work if the climax was amazing. It wasn’t. At the very least, the poster for The Planet Eater showed Godzilla battling an intriguing new version of King Ghidorah. There is definitely a confrontation, but fans will likely be disappointed. The film itself is kind of bizarre in that it barely even feels about Godzilla at times.

Look, deep themes and meta storylines can be fascinating. Anime is home to many fantastic concepts and themes that Western animation barely touches. So, it’s certainly welcome that a Godzilla film in anime format could touch upon themes, such as what it means to be human, and the will to keep fighting. That sounds interesting, but it only works if the themes don’t overpower the kaiju element. The Planet Eater goes full on in attempting to convey something profound with its protagonist. The film is certainly thought provoking to some extent, but in the end, it got lost in its themes and forgot to be a quality movie. The ending is downbeat and out of left field, reminding everyone that this is the Haruo Sakaki saga with Godzilla just as a guest star. The after credits scene is strange in that it literally has nothing to do with Godzilla.

Now, that’s not to say everything about The Planet Eater is awful. The story, summed up, is about Metphies revealing his plan to Haruo. The Exif plans to bring King Ghidorah, a powerful space monster who the Exif worship as a god, to deliver Earth’s destruction. Haruo is of course against this, but is manipulated by Metphies in mind games. Ghidorah arrives on Earth, and Godzilla is powerless to stop him. With Haruo edging closer and closer to the end, Maina goes to the large egg and summons a familiar moth to go inside Haruo’s mind. With Haruo later back to his senses, it’s time to stop Metphies and Ghidorah’s menace…

haruo

So, one thing that was well done was the build-up to Ghidorah. I got goosebumps when hearing the classic Ghidorah cackle. Ghidorah is treated as a god-like being, and the scene where he arrives and destroys the Aratrum was awe-inspiring. His arrival on Earth was also well done, with the animation being quite good. The encounter between him and Godzilla was, at first, interesting. Godzilla was clearly on the verge of losing, and the overall feel was that of a big climax. The problem is that the way Ghidorah was designed did not allow for a very engaging battle. It was barely even a fight as Godzilla couldn’t even touch Ghidorah until later.

The strange thing is that the film teases viewers with the classic winged Ghidorah look, but we never actually see that in the flesh. An even bigger tease was Mothra. Yes, Mothra does sort of show up – but only as a silhouette who goes inside Haruos mind. That’s her only appearance. Mothra appearing in person to help take out Ghidorah? A team-up with Godzilla, as a reference to their partnership in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Godzilla: Final Wars? Nah, none of that stuff. Instead, the film thinks we’re satisfied by Mothra being a flying shadow.

Some of the dialogue was good. The mind sequences with Haruo and Metphies were interesting, as Haruo was brought lower and lower by Metphies’ elegant vocabulary. Methphies was definitely a highlight of the trilogy, and it was great seeing him go full on calm fanatic in this movie. Haruo isn’t a terrible focus, but at this point we’ve so much of him and so little of Godzilla, that it’s hard to be engaged. It also doesn’t help that the ending was a terrible conclusion to his story.

The Houtua were interesting characters in City on the Edge of Battle, and the twins return here. One of the best sequences was Miana discovering Metphies’ alter to Ghidorah. Meanwhile, her sister, Maina has one notable scene where she goes to the Mothra egg. However, Maina is also given a rather…odd role. Haruo seems to have gotten over Yuko quickly, huh?

At this point, there isn’t too much else to be said about The Planet Eater, and the anime trilogy as a whole. Perhaps people who have never seen a Godzilla film will enjoy these more. The themes can be interesting, but they are sandwiched with dull pacing and little kaiju action. The Planet Eater teases with winged Ghidorah and Mothra, but not much happens there. Ghidorah’s “battle” with Godzilla did have some great moments, like Godzilla snapping one of the head’s jaws. But, it did leave a lot to be desired. The soundtrack was strong overall at the very least, especially when Ghidorah arrived. The Planet Eater attempts to be a deep movie, which is admirable, but in the process loses key things associated with the Godzilla saga.

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All in all, The Planet Eater is a mediocre conclusion to a mediocre trilogy. Throughout the films, there have been great moments and intriguing concepts. But, there is no satisfying endgame. Planet of the Monsters was decent setup, and City on the Edge of Battle was one overly long middle act for The Planet Eater, none of which delivered. Hopefully Godzilla’s journey into anime doesn’t end here.

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review

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Ever since Godzilla made a triumphant return to the big screen in 2014 thanks to Legendary Pictures, the King of the Monsters has enjoyed a resurgence. TOHO released Shin Godzilla in 2016, crushing the Japanese box office. In 2019, Godzilla will once again return to American theaters, and in 2020, he will do battle with King Kong. In short, it’s a great time to be a fan. The latest film, Planet of the Monsters, marks a special achievement for the series: it is the first animated Godzilla film. Yes, there have been animated shows starring the king – namely the Hanna-Barbera show from the ’70s and the Animated Series two decades later – but this picture is the first film. Released January 17th on Netflix worldwide, Planet of the Monsters – Part 1 gives viewers new characters, new continuity, and most importantly, a new Godzilla. It’s a well made film, though suffers in some areas.

It begins in space where we meet our main character, Haruo Sakaki. He believes the elderly are getting sent off so there are fewer people to feed. It’s an effective sequence demonstrating the type of character Haruo is: passionate. After he’s arrested, we’re shown the title screen and then the most tension-filled part of the movie, the flashback. Here Haruo tells the viewer what happened at the end of the 20th century on Earth. Monsters rose up (including some familiar faces such as Orga and Kamacurus), and eventually Godzilla came. Two aliens species, the Exif and the Bilusaludo, also arrived. This was the prefect setup; it’s a shame it was told in this format instead of showing in detail the world getting taken over. Part 1 isn’t that long, so there was enough time in the beginning to further detail the flashback sequence. But, what we do get is still effective. Godzilla blows up a rocket that is trying to escape, which also kills Haruo’s parents. Soon, we’re back in the modern day.

This storyline of a human wanting to get revenge on Godzilla is nothing new. We’ve seen that in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. For the many going into Planet of the Monsters having never seen those films, this plot point will seem original. But for longtime Godzilla fans, the thought, “Here we go again…” may cross. But, the plot point is handled well for the most part. This is thanks to the passionate nature of Haruo’s character. Everyone on the spaceship seems to be content with looking for a habitable planet to colonize. Not Haruo. He’s passionate about Earth and taking it back from Godzilla. One of the best scenes is him arguing with Leland over retreating. Leland is not wrong when he says retreat is realistically the only option. The flying monsters were unexpected, and lives were lost. One can’t help but admire the dedication from Haruo as he argues with Leland, whether or not Haruo is in the right for talking against retreat.

This being a shorter film (only 88 minutes), there is not a lot of time for character development. The heroine of the story is Yuko Tani. Her only real development is the line, “I want to get stronger!” Beyond that, she isn’t given much to do. She has the potential to be an interesting character (voiced by Cristina Vee of Shantae fame), so hopefully she does more in the sequel. The most interesting character aside from the protagonist is Metphies, an Exif. His smart and sometimes ominous dialogue is interesting, and by the end, the viewer does not know what to expect from this guy in Part 2.

It takes a bit before the characters return to Earth. Some of the scenes in the spaceship border on the boring side, but there’s nothing too dull. The exchange between Metphies and Mulu-Elu Galu-Gu was particularly interesting. There’s some exposition as Haruo explains his plan to get past Godzilla’s defenses and destroy the monster from within. It’s told in a sciencey, but understandable way. When the characters finally arrive on Earth, things start to get interesting. Before we talk about Godzilla himself, let us discuss the film’s original monster. Though not named in the film, the flying monsters mentioned earlier in the review are called Servum. Their first sequence was well executed; it went down like something out of a horror movie. But, after that, these vicious creatures aren’t given much to do. Honestly, it felt like they were just there to satisfy the “Planet of the Monsters” title. (Other than Godzilla and the Servum, no other monsters appear in the present day.)

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Godzilla. The name is one of the most iconic in popular culture. This version of the king has a unique new look, but you can still tell it’s him. Though standard animation would have been preferable (imagine if Production I.G did the animation), one can’t deny how magnificent Godzilla looks thanks to the CGI. From the closeups to the distance shots of him firing his atomic ray, Godzilla looks great. Sadly, he isn’t given too much to do. He remains typically in an almost static position firing atomic blasts. He does get one nice scene of using his tail. But, there are no buildings to crush and no monsters to fight. This leads to a rather dull climax. The final battle features a bunch of air vehicles shooting Godzilla, and the latter retaliates with an atomic blast. Rinse and repeat.

The soundtrack is solid. The soldiers’ theme evokes the classic TOHO military march.  Godzilla himself gets an epic theme, similar to what was heard in Shin Godzilla. There is an after-credits scene. Haruo wakes up, apparently rescued by the mysterious girl we saw briefly running around in the bushes earlier in the film. She makes a sound of surprise…and that’s it. We know nothing about this character, so the cliffhanger does little to build anticipation for Part 2. (How about showcasing a monster reveal in a film called Planet of the Monsters?)

Like with a lot of Godzilla movies, there is a running theme. In Ghidorah, it was about putting aside differences and utilizing teamwork against a larger threat. In Hedorah, it was about fighting pollution. In this movie, it’s about human pride. The pride to fight, to not give up when things look bleak, and to press on knowing you might not make it. The speech Haruo makes when he’s put in charge exemplifies this: “If we stand our ground, we don’t show fear and if we put our lives on the line, we’ve already won.” It’s still hard to root against Godzilla, but one can’t help but want to see the human characters succeed in their endeavor. It’s an interesting conundrum. Godzilla is Godzilla, it’s hard to root against him. But thanks to Haruo’s unwillingness to relent, the viewer can’t help but root for him as well.

Overall, Planet of the Monsters gives viewers an intriguing status quo, but a bit of an underwhelming film. It’s not bad by any stretch. The story is good. The idea of Godzilla driving away humanity and somehow living on Earth for 20,000 years is epically interesting. There are some exciting moments (make sure you have your surround sound speakers ready for Godzilla’s roar near the end), and an engaging main character. The problem is that it doesn’t feel much like an actual “planet of monsters.” The battle scenes against Godzilla are fun for a bit, but during the climax the thought, “I wish he were fighting another monster” will probably occur. The Servum sadly don’t contribute much. It’s understandable that Part 1 would focus as setup. It’s a good enough story to make the viewer anticipate the next part in Godzilla’s anime saga.

7/10

KONG: SKULL ISLAND Review

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It’s been 12 years since the last King Kong film. Peter Jackson’s 2005 film is a remake of the classic 1933 story of a giant ape who falls for a woman and ends up meeting an unfortunate demise. Skull Island takes a break from this plot to tell a unique tale using elements from the original story. This isn’t the first time Kong has deviated from the usual story of course, with one example being TOHO’s King Kong Escapes where he battles a mechanized version of himself. Skull Island brings an ensemble cast to the titular setting for an adventure that feels both familiar and new. It lacks enough quality writing to call it a “great” film, but it’s still an enjoyable, fun trek.

The primary reason why people would come to watch this film is to see the title character in action. Kong himself doesn’t disappoint. The sequence with him taking out the helicopters was excellent and rivals Godzilla’s grand airport entrance in the 2014 film. The music going silent when the tree struck the first helicopter changed the mood drastically, and as one by one each helicopter was destroyed the viewer got a sense of how ferocious Kong was. This is his most violent portrayal yet, and in this early scene the viewer actually begins to think that Kong might actually be bad in this one. The story smartly destroys that thought later on. The writing perfectly balances Kong’s gentleness with monstrous ferocity.

Again, his big scene with taking down the helicopters was incredible. It featured some of the best cinematography and editing ever in a monster movie. It’s actually a shame that the very first scene in the film featured a full face shot of Kong, because the helicopter sequence later on would have been a much better way to first show the character. Kong commands a presence every time he’s on screen, and the film features him a lot, which is a nice change of pace from monster films hiding the beast for extended periods of time.

Like in the previous King Kong films, Skull Island is home to many dangerous creatures. Unlike the previous films, the creatures in this film aren’t ones we’d find in a book. Instead, they’re either abnormally giant (the spider) or completely brand new, such as the Skullcrawlers. The creatures are used to great effect. The spider sequence was very well done (it features one of the creepiest deaths in a monster movie) and how the characters managed to overcome it was pretty smart. There’s even a giant octopus which Kong battles. (It reminds the viewer of his encounter with another giant octopus in the original King Kong vs. Godzilla.) The Skullcrawlers are the film’s primary antagonists, and they are really well utilized. They’re genuinely creepy and also command a presence. (The quick death scene of a character turning around only to be chomped by a Skullcrawler was something straight out of a horror film.)

Of course, the climax couldn’t feature Kong simply taking on a bunch of little creatures. The final battle featured a giant Skullcrawler. It got some quality buildup beforehand, and it doesn’t disappoint. It takes what made the little ones creepy and amplifies it. The fight was very well done. The battle is brutal, the setting is used to great effect, and above all else – it’s satisfying. There are no extended cutaways, there are some surprises, and it’s just fun to watch as a moviegoer and as a longtime kaiju fan.

The main thing the story suffers from is an unnecessarily light tone. There is some seriousness to the atmosphere, namely when the music stops when that tree struck the helicopter. Despite scenes like that the story appears more on the light-hearted side at times. John C. Reilly’s character for example kinda takes the viewer out of the realism at times with his dialogue. With horrific deaths taking place on an unknown setting, it seems like the overall atmosphere should be consistently more serious than what it is. Perhaps the idea was to differentiate itself from Godzilla, since that film was completely series from beginning to end. This is not to say Skull Island is a comedy, because it isn’t. A more serious tone throughout just could have been better.

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A rather big drawback is that the Island natives don’t really do anything in this film. It felt like they were just there for tradition’s sake. (They barely do anything other than stare and nod.) An additional 10 minutes could have been added to explain more about their relationship to Kong and the fascinating backstory only briefly mentioned. Moving on to the characters, the film features a cast with quite a few familiar names. Just about all of them are fun to watch. (It could be a fun game counting how many zoom-ins they give Samuel L. Jackson.) Ultimately though, there’s no standout performance. Maybe it’s assumed that simply having these big name actors on screen is good enough. (We have Tom Hiddleston grabbing a sword and slashing like a samurai.) The characters needed to be fleshed out just a little bit more.

The pacing is solid. Some of the early scenes on the boat were a little on the boring side, but it doesn’t take too long for the characters to arrive on the Island. There’s just the right amount of Kong scenes and humans, whether the latter be talking or running away from another creature. The soundtrack has some great moments. There’s also some classic music thrown in the mix, being set in the 70’s. This is used to great effect in the helicopter sequence.

Overall, Kong: Skull Island is a worthy addition to the large catalog of monster movies. Director Jordan Charles Vogt-Roberts’ vision of Kong is truly special. The ape steals the show, having the perfect balance of being the kind creature viewers have come to know and displaying monstrous ferocity. If Kong had a reputation of being on the weaker side before, this film changes that. The other creatures are really cool to watch, especially the Skullcrawlers. The big one made for an excellent final boss, with the actual battle being a satisfying finale to the story. The characters aren’t bad. They’re fun to watch, and are given enough personality to keep them from being dry. Still, they could have used just a bit more development. Some of the lighter elements and humor didn’t work, but they don’t ruin what is Kong’s most explosive film yet.

7.5/10

 

GODZILLA: RAGE ACROSS TIME #1 Review

It’s been about a month since Godzilla: Oblivion reached its final issue. Sadly, that mini-series was perhaps the weakest. The characters were wooden and the monster part of the story was all over the place. There was also very noticeable plot holes. Rage Across Time is the latest series and just from this first issue it seems to have fixed most of the problems with Oblivion. It’s not perfect, but it does have a high quality look to it.

Move over dinosaurs… monsters used to rule the planet! Travel to different time periods to examine the origin of myths that fueled nightmares! In this first installment, Godzilla brings his terror to feudal Japan!

The concept of Across Time is a unique one. Having Godzilla and his monster enemies in different time periods is a fascinating idea. This plot was kind of explored back in the Dark Horse Godzilla series when in a later arc the title monster was sent time traveling. (For example, he was sent back in time to when the Titanic crashed.) Rage’s story is much more refined since this idea is the primary focus. The first issue takes place in feudal Japan. It’s an excellent backdrop since legendary monsters fit right into this time period.

Jeremy Robinson nicely paces the story. It could have benefited from either being two parts or a graphic novel however. While Robinson makes excellent use of the limited pages, it isn’t quite enough to fully establish the human character conflict. We get a broad picture of the internal feudal Japanese dissension, but the two main characters could have used a little more developing. This doesn’t mean they are bad characters, because they’re actually pretty solid. (At the very least, much better written than the cast of Oblivion.) The usage of Yamata no Orochi was an excellent touch. This is another part that would have benefited from a few more pages. The two characters vs. Orochi happens rather fast, and the brief battle between it & Godzilla was excellent, though again rather quick due to limited pages.

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Even though somethings might have been rushed, the story is still very nicely paced. It’s an engaging read and Robinson makes fun use of the samurai era. Matt Frank’s art is of course fantastic. What I personally like is that it isn’t quite as stylized as usual, fitting with the retro backdrop of the story. This is also helped by the almost-bronze color palette, so credit must be given to the three colorists: Paul Hanley, Goncalo Lopes, & Josh Perez. The main cover by Bob Eggleton is an elegant piece. Everything, from the Sakai version of Godzilla 2000 to the wave is beautifully painted. The subscription variant by Matt is a solid cover, featuring an enraged Godzilla against feudal era ships. Personally, I would say the simplicity of the main cover makes it the winner, but both are good. The RI by James Biggie is definitely the most unique of the three, featuring Godzilla drawn in the feudal style. If you like period pieces, this one is for you.

Overall, Rage Across Time starts out with an excellent first issue. The story is paced very well, with a good balance of dialogue and action. As stated earlier, some parts feel rushed unfortunately. Also, at first it seemed like the book was going to be an anthology. Inside however there’s a sudden cut to modern day, and based on the ending it looks like future issues will be connected in some way. I don’t think this was needed, because the cuts to modern day were distracting. Besides these things, the issue is a fun trek through feudal Japan with some surprise faces. From this opening issue, it looks like we’ll have a great Godzilla book.

9/10

GODZILLA: OBLIVION #3 Review

It’s been quite awhile since the last issue of Oblivion. It was supposed to come out last week, but for some reason was delayed. Was the extra wait worth it? Let’s dig into the comic.

Here’s the official description from IDW:

A plan to rid our world of King Ghidorah backfires and the Earth faces certain calamity! A small piece of technology from another world may be the only hope of salvation.

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 Oblivion has been the definition of an “okay” series. There are some fun concepts but the characters haven’t been that particularly engaging. The artwork also has been more on the mediocre side. Issue Three fixes some of the problems . It opens up with promise: Godzilla shooting a beam at King Ghidorah. What follows is a popcorn fun issue. Sadly, it doesn’t go beyond that and is pretty average in terms of compelling story.

 

A challenge of mini-series is having engaging characters. There’s so little space to introduce backstories, who they are, etc. It’s not impossible however, as seen in previous Godzilla minis. Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov doesn’t give us any reason to care about the characters here. None of them are particularly likable, and there’s very little development between issues. In fact, there’s anti-development in the case of Yamada. Let’s put this in perspective: in this world monsters don’t exist. We have these crazy powerful creatures roaming around for the first time yet Yamada manages to say the line of, “I could use people like you in my company.” How can this be spoken when there are giant monsters destroying the city? The reactions here just aren’t good. Also, the ending features a plot hole because there’s no way they managed to do what they did in such a short amount of time.

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Of course, the primary draw of this issue isn’t the dialogue; it’s the monster fight. People may groan because we’ve seen Godzilla vs. Ghidorah multiple times already, but at least they can admit the fight here is fun. It has excellent usage of beam wars, buildings being used as weapons, and pure fighting. (There’s a really cool panel with Ghidorah literally kicking Godzilla to the ground.) I’m not sure I would call this their best comic book fight, but it was certainly excellent. Brian Churilla’s artwork also improves. It provides a unique  look for the monsters throughout. Godzilla in particular has quite a few standout scenes. The shadowed silhouette near the end also looked really cool. Sadly, once again the humans lacked sufficient detail. There are three covers to pick from this week. The main one by Churilla is certainly unique. Its bright colors are appealing, and the layout is something we haven’t seen before. Cover B by James Stokoe as expected provides awesome detail. Godzilla’s face looks a little off, but nonetheless it’s a great piece. The best one however has to be the RI by Tadd Galusha. We’ve seen covers of the two monsters before, but this might be their best representation yet. One can see the fury in their faces.

Overall, Godzilla Oblivion #3 is a fun issue. It can’t be called great however, which is due to the mediocre characters. The fight is satisfying however, which is enough for a lot of fans. Those hoping to see the story become compelling though are in for a disappointment.

6.5/10

GODZILLA VS. HERO ZERO REVIEW

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I often pride myself as being a hardcore Godzilla fan. I’ve seen (and own) all the films, have a wide array of collectables, and know the history behind the franchise. My nickname would even be “Godzilla” sometimes. Somehow however there are things I’m still discovering. Recently after all these years I managed to acquire a copy of Godzilla vs. Barkley. I’ve known about this crazy crossover, but never actually read it until recently. It was definitely a strange way to advertise Nike sneakers, and one has to wonder how TOHO allowed a basketball player to openly mock the Big G.

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The comic we’ll be looking at today however is another one from Dark Horse, known as GODZILLA VS. HERO ZERO. Like Barkley, I’ve known about this comic for years but never bothered buying it. Out of the blue Midtown Comics acquired the issue so naturally I took this as a sign and attached it to this week’s comic order. Why don’t we take a look at the official description?

It’s a monster-size megabattle of butt-kicking, rampaging, thermonuclear proportions! The size-changing superhero Hero Zero heads down to San Diego in his alter ego as young David MacRae. He’s looking for monster deals at the biggest comic-book event of the year, the San Diego Comic Convention, but what he winds up with is a monster of a different color, that atomic fire-breathing lizard lovingly referred to as Godzilla! Hero Zero learns a hard lesson, San Diego takes a pounding, and Godzilla shows why he’s King of the Monsters.

There’s a few interesting observations on the onset. As you can tell, this a blatant tie-in to the San Diego Comic-Con. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that of course. The cover (which is a nice piece by veteran Arthur Adams) boasts that “It’s a must-have, double-bag item when the two biggest characters in comics crash the San Diego Comic-Con.” Hero Zero even at the time wasn’t close to being “a big character.” Nowadays, even the most hardcore of comic fans have to pause to think about who this guy is. He apparently only had two comics to himself. Over-hype aside, how about the core story? The thing is that Hero Zero is one of the most unlikable characters I’ve ever read. The story has him early on literally say “Nyaaa” to a couple of onlookers. I wish I was joking.

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One can see why Hero Zero never hit it off with the masses. Why would I want to read a story centered around on that? At least the design isn’t bad. The Comic-Con setting is pretty cool, and I couldn’t help but get a chuckle when David’s dad looked at the “Meet Adam West the TV Batman” sign with interest. Naturally the comic amps up from its mediocrity when Godzilla shows up. I’m pretty sure this is in Dark Horse’s Godzilla continuity since the sailors recognized him. Though there’s one completely random guy at the Con that after hearing the announcement G was coming says, “Godzilla? Ohh…scaaar-eee!” Honestly, that’s probably the worst written dialogue I’ve ever read in a comic.

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The actual battle between the two characters is pretty good, which is thanks to the solid art by Tatsuya Ishida. The comic with Hero Zero’s immature jokes and Comic-Con setting gives the story a rather light feel, which is why the death of David’s friend near the end felt so out of place. It was there to make Zero stop feeling overconfident but it still felt out of sync with the rather chipper story. It’s also apparently used to make David decide not to be Hero Zero anymore by the end. (Which is Dark Horse’s not so subtle way of cancelling such a failure of a character.
Overall, Godzilla vs. Hero Zero has never been known as anything special, and it certainly isn’t. It in theory might be the closest thing resembling Godzilla vs. Ultraman, but Zero is so unlikable one has to wonder if writer Michael Eury regretted writing the character. How TOHO  allowed such a crossover is tough to say, since the company seems against the type for the most part. At the very least it’s definitely a novelty.

 4/10