Welcome to Freaks of Nature, a monthly column devoted to creature features of all shapes and sizes. This includes eco-horrors, kaijū, cryptids, and everything else in between. If a film features a beast who strikes terror in the heart of man, I’ll be there, bestiary in hand and ready to bask in all that monster glory.
All good things must come to an end — even Godzilla. Toho’s 1990s reboot of the long-running series, also known as the Heisei period, entailed some of the franchise’s most bizarre entries. When Godzilla wasn’t evading Japan’s specialized military, he fought both new and classic enemies: a now-heroic Mechagodzilla, a cyborg version of King Ghidorah, Mothra and her contentious counterpart Battra, and even an alien created from Godzilla’s own cells. This was a very strange era that fans have a tendency to overlook in favor of the older and campier movies (the Shōwa period). Be that as it may, the Heisei arc went out on a high note that even Legendary’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters couldn’t hold a match to in spite of the fact share a similar plot.
Because the prior two movies — Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II and Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla — failed to match the box-office attendance of the 1992 hit Godzilla vs. Mothra, Toho announced the series would conclude with its 1995 movie. The studio passed on screenwriter Kazuki Ōmori’s initial idea of Godzilla battling the ghost of his 1954 incarnation; they did, however, want to reference the first movie in some way. This led to the revival of the Oxygen Destroyer, the very device that destroyed the ’54 Godzilla.
With the Heisei movies ignoring everything that happened after the very original Godzilla, the eponymous monster is back to being a fearsome force of nature who occasionally saves the world only because he’s so territorial. Japan has rolled out a specialized unit of the national military to deal with Godzilla; their efforts have yielded mixed results over the years. When it’s revealed that Godzilla has turned into a walking nuclear reactor, Japan enlists the help of a college student who so happens to be the grandson of Kyōhei Yamane, the scientist who “discovered” Godzilla all those years ago. As everyone rushes to find a way to stop Godzilla from blowing up the planet at any second, another problem surfaces: a colony of Precambrian crustaceans known as Destoroyah have emerged from the ocean. They were awakened by the Oxygen Destroyer (hence the name “Destoroyah”) and have since evolved incredibly over the years. It’s not long before these dangerous creatures take on a composite form and then square off the King of Monsters himself.
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The lightheartedness of the Shōwa movies is absent here; Godzilla was totally grimdark from 1984 and onward. Things are now more dire than ever as the threat of an apocalypse hangs in the air. The recurrent theme of mankind dooming itself with bad science is as present as ever — the very thing that eliminated the ’54 threat has given life to another nightmare. There are some complaints about the tone of the Heisei movies — sometimes they’re fantastical or too serious — but director Takao Ōkawara sets and seals the mood perfectly in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. With Toho killing off its most iconic character, there was no way his swan song was going to be a joyous one. In fact, news of Godzilla‘s impending death did not sit well with fans; their protest eventually led to the Big G coming out of retirement in 1999 as opposed to a planned comeback in 2005.
The tonal disparity of the previous Heisei movies generated divisive reviews, but for the most part, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is well-liked by critics as well as the fandom. For starters, the story is engaging and far less meandering like in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla. The characters are equally paper-thin in this movie, but that flaw is offset by some spectacular setpieces. This includes the humans’ first encounter with the junior Destoroyahs; the sequence in question sees a task force squaring off with the crawly human-sized specimens. The use of animatronic models with inbuilt mechanisms generates plenty of standoff excitement before the creatures are exterminated through the use of flamethrowers.
The fun doesn’t stop there as the gigantic battles are thrilling and laced with so much genuine emotion. Godzilla‘s heir Godzilla Junior has rapidly matured thanks to his absorption of excessive radiation, and he’s the first in the family to go mano a mano with aggregate Destoroyah. This match does not end in Junior‘s favor and viewers’ fragile hearts will be twisted before the movie’s actual climax.
At last, Godzilla shows up to only have the most briefest of reunions before having to say goodbye to his only family. Longtime Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube retired after this movie, and his signature sound perfectly accentuates tender moments such as this soul-crushing one. When Godzilla, whose body is covered in radioactive rashes, mourns his son with guttural roars that can only be described as “crying” by spectators, we cannot help but sob with him. It’s almost enough to make you forget that the world is about to end.
As Godzilla avenges his progeny by lashing out at the now fully-evolved and absolutely demonic-looking Destoroyah, the military rolls out its Hail Mary plan to save mankind. It’s not hard to guess what happens, but there is a wonderful revelation at the end that restored hope in fans’ minds back when the movie first came out. It just goes to show, you can’t kill Godzilla.
The Heisei movies had its ups and downs, not to mention some extreme low points. Keeping that all in mind, Toho’s precarious attempt at continuity and world-building finally paid off with some of the era’s best direction and displays of special effects. While Legendary’s King of the Monsters borrowed the idea of Godzilla‘s radiation levels going nuclear, that movie lacks any of the heart that makes Godzilla vs. Destoroyah such a touchstone in the overall franchise.