Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Gamera: Guardian of the Universe

When you think of kaiju, there are some obvious monsters that cross your mind. Godzilla, Ghidorah, Rodan, Mothra, Destroyah...but there is one in particular I left out there. The kaiju that probably comes closest to matching Godzilla. I am, of course, talking about the big flying turtle monster himself, Gamera! Yes, you can't ignore him, as he is very much an icon in the world of kaiju. There have been quite a few movies featuring him too, going all the way back to 1965 he has actually gone on to rival Godzilla's fame in Japan as the other monster who is here to save the world while occasionally destroying parts of it. He's even appeared in his own comic here stateside and in various comics from Japan.

Have you ever seen a turtle get down? Slammin' and jammin' to HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THAT THING!

Yep, he's proven that he's got some serious staying power. Today we're going to examine a bit of that staying power with the 1995 reboot of his series (also known as the Heisei era). Our story opens with two large ships in the Japanese Navy transporting some rather hazardous materials across the ocean. What sort of hazardous materials? Well, that would be plutonium, which would royally screw up the ocean if it leaked into it. It could mutate sea-life and give us something like, I don't know, a giant flying turtle? I'm just guessing here. The ship carrying that particular load runs aground with a floating atoll, but luckily the atoll floats away without damaging anything and leaving humanity from dealing with any sort of giant mutant angler fish in the future.

Yeah, we're just gonna NOPE right out of here.
Anyway, our title explodes into our face like a scene from a Michael Bay film, and we continue the plot as the Navy seems to be tracking the mysterious floating atoll. We then see some schoolgirls discussing Atlantis at an aquarium, which would seem silly if this movie wasn't already about a giant turtle monster, and we see one the gents from the ship earlier trying to get on the team investigating the floating atoll mystery. Then we jump again to another scene featuring a young bird expert who gets a phone call that is immediately hung up. I wonder why? Well, it could have something to do with the island she mentions him being on, as we see several men on said island being attacked by a creature of some sort. I'm sure that's not at all important though. Back to our young Navy man, he's prepping to suck up to the team head by buying some liquor as a bribe when it turns out that one of the Atlantis girls from earlier is his daughter and she helps him out by getting him to make dinner. Her dad offers him the job and the plot rolls on.

Over here! We seem to have found the plot!
The bird lady gets talked into going to the island her friend was on by a government official who seems to have had a lot of really bad days. I mean, this guy looks like he has had all of the worst jobs piled on him as if he had the bad luck lottery. Considering where he's going with her, that maybe a rather honest assessment too, as the island turns out to be destroyed. By what? Why, a giant bird, of course! Yeah, she scoffs at that idea too...until the find a nice large pile of bird dropping with her missing doctor friend's glasses and pen stuck in there. Looks like he's not paying his rent this month. They wander the island, eventually finding the giant bird only to realize the avian attacker is leaving for somewhere that actually has food (i.e. people) because there doesn't seem to be any left on this island. So they rush off to follow the birdy and get rather close to it in their helicopter where she gets close enough to snap a few close-up photos of it. She also realizes that it is, in fact, not a bird at all but rather a big flying lizard thing.

It also eats a poor old lady's dog. But, because this is Asian food, it's still hungry & comes back for her.
Meanwhile, our Naval hero finds the mysterious atoll and joins his team as they go ashore of the large crusty landmass. On the atoll he finds a bead that one commonly finds in many Japanese anime, manga, and fantasy films that seems to interest him greatly. Another team member tells him they're all over the place there, so I am certain that it's not important. Back to our bird lady, we've now learned that there are multiple sorta-bird monsters and the government is adamant about her helping them capture them for research. So, once again, we jump back to the Navy guy's team as they have found and unearthed a slab with strange runes on it in a language they can't quite decipher. They get some pictures of it and he happens to notice that it's not-cold and seems to be pulsating. So, naturally, it then shatters into a million piece and the atoll starts to break apart as they all abandon it for the safety of the ocean. Well, the safety is debatable anyway, since he sees under the water that the atoll housed what appears to be a large frightening turtle creature.

NO! NOT THAT ONE!! KILL IT! KILL IT!!
We then see that the bird lady and overworked government guy have came up with the idea to use baseball stadium, that has a roof that opens and closes, to capture the toothy winged bastards that are trying to eat all of Japanese society. They set a trap with lots of meat for them to eat that has been drugged religiously, while they also have men armed with lots of tranquilizer rounds to be used as a last resort. It all seems to be working too, as the sorta-bird monsters fly in and start munching away. But it seems Gamera, our beloved turtle monster, has his sights set on swatting these flying nuisances himself. The governement does manage to capture two of the things, but the third ends up flying off before the roof is closed and Gamera gets blamed for all the property damage. I mean, sure, he did cause it but it's only due to him trying to get those other monsters. You can't really fault him too much there, yes? He uses his rockets to fly off (yes, he has rocket jets in his shell somehow) and pursues the other creature. It also turns out that the other two cut their cages in half and also escaped. Good to know that the government was around to make sure those things didn't run amok, yes?

Are you implying that we aren't doing our best? We're the government! We have suits & ties!
The Navy gent, Yonemori, is then seen telling his team leader, Kusanagi, and his daughter, Asagi, about what they learned from the slab earlier. It turns out that the turtle monster is Gamera (shocking, right?) and the flying sorta-bird things are called Gyaos. He gives the daughter his bead from earlier, because the age of consent in Japan makes it totally alright to flirt with a schoolgirl, and we then see the military going after poor old Gamera who is just minding his own business and trying to rid the world of flying human-eating pests. Turns out they don't trust him because he's a massive turtle monster that kinda destroys things when he's around. The nerve! So, what does Gamera do when our heroes and the bird lady, Nagamine, are called to a village under attack by one of the Gyaos? Why, he saves them from certain doom, because he's a big horrible monster! He manages to kill the Gyaos, but the last one manages to fly off. I don't remember him killing the other one, but yeah, there's one left now. Asagi discovers she has some sort of bond with Gamera through her bead, as it kinda glows and makes her give him strength somehow. Sadly, this also means she feels his pain. She tries to cheer him on after getting the craziest taxi driver since Travis Bickle to drive her to Mt. Fuji, where the military are trying to ruin our shellshocked hero's day.

You guys are dicks.
Making matters worse, he gets knocked onto his back and wounded by Gyaos, which causes a similar wound to appear on Asagi. He escapes the military though as he disappears into the ocean so he can heal and Asagi sinks into a comatose state. Nagamine and Yonemori learn that the Gyaos is genetically engineered and reproduces asexually, which means we don't have to imagine them mating. Eugh. They figure that an ancient civilization (maybe Atlantis) made the Gyaos to get rid of pollution but it grew too strong and decided eating humans was more fun. So they created Gamera as a last ditch effort to save themselves, but it was too little too late as they ended up dying anyway. After they ran out of foodstuffs the bird-things ate each other until there were only eggs left that hibernated until now. So Gamera was sealed away in case the Gyaos ever returned. They tell Kusanagi all this and that his daughter is likely linked to Gamera, which is why she's in a coma.

Dad...I think I might be a giant turtle monster...also I might be pregnant by Mr. Yonemori.
Then we find that the government, being the brilliant ruling body that they are, decides they still want the Gyaos captured...until it eats a train full of people in Tokyo and they end up begrudgingly admitting that it needs to die. They try to kill it during the day, as they figure it's nocturnal, but it wakes up and runs amok throughout Tokyo. It even destroys Tokyo Tower, which isn't great. So, the city gets evacuated and the next day Gamera shows up to show them all how it's done. He launches an attack on Gyaos in the air as the group of protagonists follow in a helicopter. Asagi seems to still be getting hurt every time Gamera is, but she tries to shrug it off as Gamera drags the winged bastard into the upper atmosphere and tries holding it as they crash back towards Earth. But the wily Gyaos chops off its own leg to it can get free and blows up Gamera in a refinery. Asagi then uses the power of her amulet to bring Gamera back as he deals the coup de grace to the threat before him. They then lock eyes from a distance as he somehow heals her wounds, and Gamera returns to the ocean until he is needed again to save the Earth in two more sequels.

Give 'em shell and leave 'em wanting more!
Now, let's get to the details of how I feel about this. While I really did enjoy it, as I often enjoy these sorts of movies, I will admit there were some problems. The fact that they jumped around a lot with the different characters felt like the director had ADD. It hurt my ability to really focus on what was happening sometimes, which sucks, because I was really interested. I also felt that we may have had too many character arcs happening all at once, which made some characters seem almost pointless. Nagamine, for example, hung around through the film but barely did much beyond being there in a lot scenes where other things were happening to other characters. I don't know, it's minor, but I think maybe less time focused on the monsters themselves may have helped flesh that out better. I also felt like the Yonemori/Nagamine relationship was tacked on at the last minute, as they hadn't been seen together enough to really develop feelings for one another.

I mean, she's pretty, but come on. Give me something to work with here besides that.
I kinda wish the parts with the Gyaos eating people were better done too, as you couldn't really see any people in its mouth. You only get a gushing sound as it chews. Subtlety is not what you should go for here, give us the violence we crave! The thing with the bead was pretty cool too, but then I wonder is it just her bead or do all the beads they found do that? They say in the plot that it only seems to work for Asagi, but why? And why are there so many beads if only one works for just the one person? It just seems weird, that's all. Getting around those gripes, I really enjoyed this movie. It's not the best, but it's certainly nowhere near the worst. The monster suits are well-done and the acting isn't bad, even if it can be a bit cheesy at times. Overall, it's a movie worth watching if you want to see some giant monster action while you eat a delicious pizza. You know, because giant mutant turtles love pizza. See you later, Bleeders.

T-U-R-T-L-E POWER!!

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