Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)
Directed by Takao Okawara
“Godzilla vs. Mothra” isn’t the first “Godzilla” film originally conceived as a standalone film for another monster. 1965’s “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” was never meant to have Godzilla. It might have been better off had it not. Similarly, the presence of Godzilla in 1992’s “Godzilla vs. Mothra” felt shoehorned in, like the afterthought it literally was. What was supposed to be the film that rebooted the “Mothra” franchise ended up being another disappointing entry in Godzilla’s Heisei era.
After Takuya (Tetsuya Bessho) is caught stealing an ancient artifact, he’s only released when he promises to accompany his ex-wife Masako (Satomi Kobayashi) on a dangerous mission to Infant Island, home of Mothra, to investigate an alleged meteorite which has landed there. They bring along a secretary from the Marutomo company, which has been developing land near there. If you think this might turn into another parable about global climate change and corporate greed, you’re right. But while “Mothra vs. Godzilla”—still the best “Godzilla” movie I’ve seen so far—used those themes to great effect, “Godzilla vs. Mothra”…doesn’t.
The Heisei era’s first two films—“The Return of Godzilla” and “Godzilla vs. Biollante”—felt modern and updated, but the next two—“Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” and “Godzilla vs. Mothra”—have felt like fantastical throwbacks to the 1960s movies…but not fun and nostalgic throwbacks. Instead, I feel like the films have thrown away years of progress. While the special effects have improved, the storytelling, on the whole, has not. With the exception of “Godzilla vs. Biollante,” which I greatly enjoyed, the franchise at the time of “Godzilla vs. Mothra” had been stuck on the same gear for nearly 30 years. Pairing a divorced thief with his ex-wife was a creative choice that had a lot of potential, but it was squandered by the fact that they rarely had a substantive conversation, especially in the second half of the movie.
“Godzilla vs. Mothra” introduces a cool, new monster—Battra, an ancient, evil moth that stands in contrast to the kind and protective Mothra. But for too much of the film, both Battra and Mothra are in their ugly caterpillar forms. While Mothra is arguably the coolest monster in the Godzilla universe, caterpillar Mothra is definitely one of the lamest. All it can do is bite Godzilla’s tail and shoot silk at his face. Not especially terrifying or even interesting to look at. But I did rejoice when Mothra and Battra are revealed in their adult forms, and both engage in battle with each other and Godzilla.
It’s wild to see films take the threat of climate change as seriously and as early as the “Godzilla” movies did, but even that aspect makes the movie feel reminiscent of the films from twenty and thirty years earlier. By the time “Godzilla vs. Mothra” released, I had been born. It released in America around the time “Jurassic Park” did. Considering that, I would have expected the franchise to have moved on from its past and embraced its future.