Saturday, July 11, 2020

Nerdbot Movie Review: Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle

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Michael Rizzardi
From the ashes of a Barney obsession rose a lifelong Godzilla fanatic in Cleveland, OH...on top of whatever superhero comics, mecha anime, and tokusatsu shows Michael can get his hands on. If he's not out to dinner with his lovely girlfriend or at his piano grinding out synth tunes, you can bet he's got his eyes glued to a high octane piece of multimedia, ready to pick it apart for your entertainment.

San Diego Comic Con just ended, and with it we got the first looks at Legendary Pictures’ next big Godzilla movie! With a massive viral build-up to this weekend’s trailer drop, including Facebook teasers, monster profiles, and stunning images, the only question now is: Did anyone else notice the second Godzilla anime came out on Netflix last Wednesday?

Yes, coming out completely overshadowed by Legendary’s marketing push, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle is the follow-up to last November’s Planet of Monsters. Penned by Gen Urobuchi (of Madoka Magika and Kamen Rider Gaim fame), these anime follow the weary remnants of humanity as they try to reclaim planet Earth from the Big G. Through some Interstellar-inspired time dilation shenanigans, 20,000 years have passed on Earth and Godzilla’s undergone a several millennia growth spurt. Last we saw, Godzilla was busting out from underneath a mountain and our heroes were getting wrecked. Now, with the help of some mysterious natives, they must regroup and unearth a dormant and dangerous weapon: Mechagodzilla.

What fan wouldn’t want to see an anime battle between Godzilla and his bionic double? Well, keep dreaming. Mechagodzilla is in this movie in the same way that Galactus is in Rise of the Silver Surfer. He’s called by name, he’s integral to the plot, but he’s not really “in the movie.” At least not in any way that would please fans. Just like Godzilla, Mechagodzilla has been transformed by his 20,000 years of dormancy. In his case, though, the alien nanometal making up his robot body spread and multiplied, becoming a city-like fortress along with a functioning AI. It’s a cool idea in theory, but…we never get a true Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla brawl. We just get Godzilla slowly trudging up to what looks like the capital from Planet Spaceball.

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The next step in Mechagodzilla design evolution, clearly.

The weird Mechagodzilla City idea isn’t the only thing off with this movie. The whole film is filled with wasted potential, the biggest shame being how boring it is. Japanese animation is known for its high velocity action and over the top style, but we don’t get an ounce of that here. Godzilla is the most lethargic he has ever been. When he’s not literally napping onscreen, he’s just shuffling around at a glacial pace. Half the time, he doesn’t even look animated. The design is pretty cool, with a face like ancient stone, but I’ve never seen a Godzilla look less alive.

He also doesn’t actually do anything until three quarters into the movie, leaving us to be entertained by…the humans. All they do is talk and talk and talk. “Oh boy, the professor has some baseless, incoherent idea about the ecosystem. Let’s explore it in-depth while strolling through this nondescript forest.” The Godzilla series is no stranger to some dry human scenes, but this is animation. The only limit is the creators’ imagination. They couldn’t think of anything more interesting for them to do but stand around and chat for an hour? Granted, the first movie was also very talky, but they were setting up a unique alternate universe. By this movie, the setting is established. Just run wild with it! Do something, ANYTHING but talk more!

Despite all the nothing that happens in this movie, it still feels like the writers are holding back for the next installment. We’re introduced to the native humans on future Earth (who may have evolved from bugs, I guess?). They live underground and worship a giant, unseen egg. Maybe it’s a Mothra tease? We can only guess, because that’s all we find out about it. In a film that has not one, but TWO scenes of the main character telling somebody how “lost” he feels, they still had to push all this intriguing “natives-who-might-be-bugs” business to part three?

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The only thing that works for this movie is the humans’ new gear, the Vultures. Built from the nanometal in Mechagodzilla City, the Vultures are high-performance mecha designed to fly around the unanimated Godzilla and distract him with bright colors and explosives. These things provide the only real pay-off in the whole movie, combining lightning fast movement with a design reminiscent of Code Geass and Eureka Seven. It’s the thing that screams “anime” the loudest in the whole movie. Sadly, all their coolness does is remind me of how much cooler it would have been if they had made a legit Mechagodzilla to fight Godzilla head-on instead.

All in all, this one was a disappointment. I was really excited to see where they took the story after the first movie’s epic climax, but they didn’t really take it anywhere. At least, not anywhere I wanted to go. Maybe they’ll bring it all together in the last movie, Godzilla: Star Eater, due out later this year. But until then, I’d leave this one alone.

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2 out of 5 stars

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