Godzilla: City On The Edge Of Battle (Godzilla: Kessen Kidō Zōshoku Toshi)
Japan (2018) Dirs. Hiroyuki Seshita & Kobun Shizuno
The second film in the new animated trilogy of films featuring the King Of Monsters Godzilla, distributed in the west via Netflix, is a direct continuation from the first film Planet Of The Monsters. Unfortunately for us no recap is present at the beginning to remind us what has previously occurred, so unless you have an exceptional memory, following this from the beginning won’t be an easy task.
So, to quickly get you up to speed, the story is set in 2048, and the human race was driven from Earth by Godzilla. Returning to Earth twenty-year later, a group of travellers discover Earth’s eco system now revolves around Godzilla himself. Led by Haruo Sakaki, an angry teenager with a bone to pick with Godzilla, a small team arrive on the planet and quickly come face to face with Godzilla.
At the end of the first film Haruo had been separated from the rest of the squad in the wake of their defeat against Godzilla but in a post credits scene, he had been found by a strange girl. Haruo awakens in a strange place, his wounds treated by the girl and the rest of his crew having been captured and held for questioning. They learn these people are the indigenous Houtua tribe, descendants of the original humans who live in fear of Godzilla.
Through the telepathic abilities of twins Maina and Miana – the latter found Haruo – the tribe are able to communicate with the humans to understand their conflict with Godzilla. Confident that the firepower and technology at the humans’ disposal is enough to defeat Godzilla, the tribe sends the twins to act as their guides on their journey, during which they are saved from an attack by monsters by Metphies, the Exif priest.
Metphies and his squad take Haruo’s group to safety, where they learn about nanometal, the remnants of the nanotechnology used to build the original Mechagodzilla, which has somehow survived and replicated itself to a new stronger form. Team member Galu-Gu learns that like the earth ecosystem has become one with Godzilla, a city of nanometal exists from the remains of Mechagodzilla and is the key to defeating Godzilla once and for all.
If this all sounds a bit confusing, might I remind you that the writer of this trilogy is Gen Urobuchi, whose reputation for being a prolific but needlessly over-complicated scribe is well deserved in anime. Much like his contemporaries in the sci-fi genre, Urobuchi has a tendency to focus on the verbose to put his ideas across, probably because they are intricate in detail and audacious in concept.
Whilst this might suit the written word format, in an animated and live action scenario it means prolix passages of technobabble and pseudo-science to sit through and become even more perplexed by. One of the reasons the first film in the series wasn’t so well received is because it was 90% chat – that ratio is a little less this time around but still weighs down the pacing with this “tell” rather than “show” approach.
The good news is that this film isn’t as slow as its ponderous predecessor but it does engender some impatience within the audience as action and plot development is largely sparse until the final thirty minutes when it redeems itself in a major way. More on that in a moment but it is worth being forewarned that much of the first hour is exposition heavy, making Mechagodzilla City seem more like Info Dump City.
Unfortunately this is where a recap of the previous events would have benefited us since it references things many viewers will have forgotten, like the existence of Mechagodzilla and the concept of Godzilla controlling the Earth’s ecosystem. As it pertains to the new discoveries, the existence of the Houtua tribe is pretty much taken as read rather than explained, along with Galu-Gu’s ability to suddenly discern so much about nanometal.
Considering how much Earth has changed and is beyond recognition to them, this is a rather remarkable feat but sci-fi is a genre where writers expect to get away with such things and not be questioned on it. Meanwhile the twins warn Haruo that nanometal is toxic yet Galu-Gu insists it is harmless to humans; it is effective against monsters, that much has been established and now it is hoped it will be equally devastating to Godzilla.
As alluded to earlier, the climactic showdown is the highlight of the film, a blistering thrill ride of non-stop action and heavy drama, as Haruo is forced to make a critical life-or-death decision that could jeopardise the entire mission. Had the supporting characters in this scenario being featured more prominently ahead of this, our emotional investment in their fate would have been heightened, but credit to the writing and direction in at least making us care.
Polygon Pictures have maintained the same blend of CGI animation for the backgrounds and the monsters, with characters rendered in cell drawn fashion. The clash between the two styles is still noticeable but not as bad as other efforts in the same vein. The explosions and elemental effects are very impressive, incredibly lifelike and photoreal, adding a rich textural layer to the visuals.
It’s just a shame Godzilla himself still resembles a giant lump of scratchy coal with fins who moves slower than a slug in molasses. His legendary firepower is very effective and spectacular in its bombast, but his all important imposing presence just isn’t there with such a poorly realised design, but it seems directors Hiroyuki Seshita & Kobun Shizuno are lumbered with it, as are we.
City On The Edge Of Battle is a vast improvement on its lumbering predecessor but is still hampered by many of the same issues that blighted it. With one film left there needs to be a continuation of the turnaround started here to save this trilogy from enduring shameful infamy within the Godzilla oeuvre.