Directed by Kensho Yamashita
Produced by Shōgo Tomiyama
Screenplay by Hiroshi Kashiwabara
If a seven-year old offered to make you dinner, you might well end up with a meal the equivalent of GODZILLA VS. SPACEGODZILLA: it’s got too many ingredients, it’s not made particularly well, and even though it checks all the boxes, in the end, it’s just an unappealing and unsatisfying experience. You might enjoy eating a red sauce pizza on thick crust topped with pepperoni and you might like a white sauce pizza topped with clams on a thin crust pizza and you might even enjoy a dessert pizza, but you’re not going to enjoy them all together. You can’t be everything to everyone, and that’s what GODZILLA VS. SPACEGODZILLA attempts to do.
SPACEGODZILLA is 21st movie in the Godzilla franchise, and 6th of the Heisei Period. It’s got just about everything one could want from a Godzilla film: plenty of monster battles, a decent monster plot, a decent human plot, and a giant robot. It’s got some real stakes, some romance, and some humor, but in trying to give us everything, it ends up giving us something far less.
If I want to be generous, I’ll say the movie fails because it’s trying to be everything to everyone, but if I’m being truthful, the failure of SPACEGODZILLA feels less like an attempt to please and more like an act of desperation.
Let’s start by giving the film credit for what it does well: I very much appreciate the main story focusing on Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka), a character that has been in every Godzilla film since “Godzilla vs. Biollante”. Miki is a psychic and over the past four movies, we’ve seen her psychic relationship with Godzilla blossom. Usually a side character, Saegusa steps to the fore of the story in SPACEGODZILLA.
It’s a good idea.
But it doesn’t really work.
This isn’t Odaka’s fault. She gives her usual earnest, solid performance, and it’s not even a problem of elevating a character to the front of a movie that doesn’t have enough depth to be interesting. Miki Saegusa is a good character, Megumi Odaka is a good actress, and putting her out front still feels like the right move to make in the franchise, even though it didn’t work.
Where the film fails with Saegusa is that it doesn’t do anything interesting with the character. If you wanted to do a Star Wars movie where you elevate Admiral Ackbar to the position of main protagonist, but all he does is stand around war maps and yell, “It’s a trap!” for 100 minutes, you’ve wasted the character. SPACEGODZILLA wastes Saegusa in a similar manner.
At the start of the film, she’s still working with the psychic schoolchildren that were used so effectively in “Godzilla vs. Biollante”. The government wants Saegusa to buy into the Project T program. T is for Telepathy. If she doesn’t agree to sign up, they’ll take one of the school kids and use them instead.
A government that is willing to use kids that it knows isn’t ready to attempt to psychically control Godzilla is not a benevolent guardian, but the film does an okay job showing a desperate government. They’re willing to try using kids, they’re playing nice with the international community, and they’re building a giant mecha called MOGUERA. All of this is an attempt to either control or kill Godzilla. That’s the heart of a good story, I think — a desperate government trying all kinds of things to be ready for the next Godzilla attack, but for this to work, we need to spend more time with the government, so we can see the cost and consequence of their decisions.
If you’ve seen The Expanse, you’ll know what I mean when I say what SPACEGODZILLA is crying out for is a character like Chrisjen Avasarala, someone who lives and breathes with weighty decisions.
We don’t get it. Instead, we get a romance plot that falls flat, a loner military guy living on an island with Little Godzilla plotting and prepping for his chance to kill Godzilla, a giant robot, Godzilla from Space, a cameo from Mothra, a second romance plot … and none of it really works because they’re not designed to work together but to fill some production need to have romance and Baby Godzilla and Space Godzilla and Regular Godzilla and a mecha that probably should have been MechaGodzilla just to make sure we have a complete set.
SpaceGodzilla is another prime example of how this movie gets things right and wrong all at once. Time and again, the film gets the idea right and the execution wrong, which often leads to films that feel a little too formulaic or paint-by-numbers. The film gets the idea right with SpaceGodzilla, tying its origin in with Biollante for a bit of proper world building, but the execution is off. We get a monster that looks like Godzilla fell asleep in a New Age shop and woke up with a bed of crystals on his back.
I’ve never much liked the idea of Godzilla opponents looking like a different version of Godzilla. We can be reasonably certain that Godzilla is going to win whatever fight he’s in, and when he goes against someone who looks just like him, it just reinforces that what we’re seeing is the OG vs a knock-off. Unless we’re going to go the Rocky IV route and pit the old warrior against a younger, stronger opponent, the fight loses something. I’m much happier watching Godzilla fight opponents like Rodan or King Ghidorah or Biollante, where the fighting styles are different.
Another right idea, wrong execution is the inclusion of Little Godzilla. Little G and Saegusa had a genuine connection in Mechagodzilla II, but while they acknowledge it here, they don’t do anything with it. It’s like the film just wants the cheap pop of having the Little Godzilla/Saegusa reunion but doesn’t want to advance that plot in any meaningful manner.
Ultimately, spending 107 minutes of my life watching GODZILLA VS. SPACEGODZILLA wasn’t a waste of time but it’s also not a film I’m likely to revisit very often. Too many beats, not enough rhythm.