“Toho does Godzilla right by returning him to his darker, more message-lined roots.”
Almost a decade after 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla, Toho finally launched a new Godzilla movie to kick off the Heisei series of Big G films. Although Terror of Mechagodzilla was the last Godzilla movie until this one, there were actually a few of proposals between it and Return of Godzilla (the original 1984 version on which this Americanized version is based); some of them nearly made it too. Godzilla vs Gargantua was proposed for 1978 but never happened. A 1978 emake of the original 1954 movie, known these days as King of the Monsters: Rebirth of Godzilla, got very far along before being quietly canceled. Godzilla vs Asuka Fortress was to be for 1979 but never came to pass either. The original Return of Godzilla script from 1980 was the most thoroughly completed but was almost completely thrown out in favor of this one. I think Toho made the right decision. If nothing else, it certainly created quite a build up for this film in 1984 (or 1985 for us Americans).
If you disliked the campy and more child-friendly Godzilla flicks that had succeeded the dark original, you’ll appreciate Return of Godzilla greatly. The dark, somber theme coincides with a much more menacing, serious Godzilla. Godzilla is bigger and looks menacing. His atomic ray (along with other special effects) have been upgraded considerably, although there are still the oft-mentioned quirks with the mechanical head and other here-and-there’s. Shockirus, a mutated louse that feeds on people by sucking them dry, adds a jumpy scene or two earlier in the movie and tells the audience right away that this isn’t your kid-friendly Godzilla’s Revenge movie.
Some of the plot elements are also in tune with the industrialized world circa-1985, something that couldn’t be said for a lot of Godzilla movies. No goofy looking aliens, no underground races, but we do have the Cold War and the Russian-American tensions. This actually draws on one of the flaws I have with the film –the American version, titled Godzilla 1985. The repositioning of the Russians’ actions was a poor move but one that doesn’t surprise in the version geared towards Americans. I won’t expand on it beyond that, but if you see both version’s you’ll know what I’m talking about. The only other somewhat larger flaw I found with the American version as compared to the Japanese version was the cut explanation for the Shockirus, but you can’t have everything.
Toho did a fantastic job with Return of Godzilla, both in the movie and in returning Godzilla to his roots. They continued this excellence with the film’s sequel five years later, 1989’s Godzilla vs Biollante. Godzilla 1985 is not quite as good due to its rearranged plot devices that spoils a few parts of the movie, but it too remains a solid movie nonetheless. As a passing mention, this is one of only two Godzilla films where Godzilla is the only giant monster, the other being the 1954 original. Some fans would say that’s boring. Personally, I think it’s nice to see when the movie is done well enough that other monsters aren’t needed to prop up the movie — and I like my monster fights!
Return of Godzilla: 8.5/10
Godzilla 1985: 8/10