Not to be confused with Mothra vs. Godzilla from 1964. This is the version from the Heisei era, because I am a ’90s kid.
I’ll preface this with a simple, likely obvious statement: I like Godzilla. I’ve seen 14 of the films, own a t-shirt, have considered getting its face tattooed on my body, and pester my film-loving friend to no end with recommendations that she see it. Big, destruction-fueled reptiles tend to be my thing. Godzilla is the best of them all.
I have written many different articles on Godzilla in the past. As recently as 2019, I’ve made it kind of a tradition to watch at least one Godzilla film in every March of the Movies block. This year, I’ve decided to go with Godzilla vs. Mothra, since people seem to have a huge thing for Mothra as a character in general. Mothra looks pretty rad; look at those big wings, they’re adorable. But what exactly makes it so fascinating, so enthralling for the fanbase at large? Hard to say definitively, but given the two films I’ve seen with them in it, they tend to make these films a smidge better.
For those who are not regular readers, let me gently summarize what I look for in a Godzilla film:
- Cool practical (key word) effects, kaiju designs, and action scenes
- Minimal effort in making the human aspect important
- Slight emotional factor
Sound shallow? Awesome, because it is. I like seeing big, clumsy, stupid kaiju fights and for humans to sit around and watch as the disaster unfolds. Anything more is basically unnecessary (but appreciated) calories.
Fortunately enough, this film checks all the boxes, though to varying degrees. The specific kaiju here, Mothra and Battra, look pretty great. A little hard to see Battra, specifically, in the night time scenes near the end, but it’s just as wickedly edgy-looking as I like giant kaiju to be. Godzilla, in comparison, looks almost goofy to the nice, contrasting designs of the Mothra’s grace and Battra’s viciousness. And the two have larval stages, which look pretty gross/hilarious! It’s awesome!
On the human side, there’s a very intriguing set-up to the story that mirrors that of Indiana Jones. Our male lead, a “petty thief,” is shown to be a natural treasure hunter, navigating through ancient caves and structures filled with booby-traps. After being caught during one expedition, he’s given the choice by a big company, who happens to employ his ex-wife, of serving 15 years in prison or going off on an expedition to investigate a meteor crash on a lonely island. Said meteor turns out to be an egg, containing an infant Mothra.
In general, it’s fairly harmless stuff. Acting is hit-or-miss, as it is with most of these films (English actors are terrrrrible, as usual). The writing between the main characters is fine for the most part, doing little more than serving the purpose of progressing the film’s kaiju plot. It’s when it tries to be moral is when it becomes blatantly bad.
“For shame, Kappa-doctor! Environmentalism is not bad at all!” I 100% agree. What makes it bad is the execution of its moral messaging, not the message itself. There are three separate times where someone utters something along the lines of “humanity is arrogant and doing bad things” in this film, and every time it is hilariously out of place. Like a teacher going into an elementary school classroom and saying, “I am going to take attendance, so as to perform the duties expected of me by the Board of Education and my initiative to assist the youth of my nation.” What? Why are you saying it like that?
If that wasn’t funny enough, there’s an entire scene where a worker for said “big company” is in the room with his boss. Said worker was with the treasure hunter and his ex-wife for the expedition to the island, and while initially stayed loyal to his job, eventually turned “good.” His boss, on the other hand, is the embodiment of Satan. Incredulous of a spoiler-y fact, the boss screams and throws a fit, to which the worker replies along the lines of, “Don’t you see? You are the one in the wrong! Your arrogance has brought us to ruins!” Hello, audience. This man is “the bad guy.” We just wanted to make sure you were in possession of a functioning brain. Thanks, hope you enjoy the rest of the film.
Such was the biggest blemish on an otherwise mindlessly fun film. Heavy emphasis on the “mindless” part, as this is quite an insane film. Kaiju aside, there are space fairies called “The Cosmos” that act as a beacon for Mothra, taking the form of very small human beings in red dresses. They sing catchy tunes to attract Mothra and, from what I can tell, support it in its moods and power, I think? Ancient cave paintings depicting these space creatures, like straight out of Pokémon‘s third generation. Volcanoes erupting and big-headed larval kaiju blasting through the ocean. It’s a trip.
A few fight scenes occur within this, between human artillery and kaiju, and then between kaiju, which are generally fun. Godzilla throws things a lot in this—I think Battra and Mothra each once. Just takes ’em, gives ’em a swing, and away they go. Lots of beams and electrical blasts of energy, as well as some sticky string and yellow-green blood. It almost feels like a wrestling match as it progresses; take that as you will.
Wow, 900+ words and it feels like I’ve hardly said anything. Who could’ve guessed that to improve the word count for my posts that all I had to do was watch something I enjoy on a spiritual level? Artsy-fartsy foreign films are nice, but it seems my soul knows what it wants—kaiju.
I suppose I’ll wrap it up then. Godzilla vs. Mothra is a pretty solid piece of Godzilla lore that hits just about everything I want in a film from the franchise. That said, this is definitely not something that will appeal to everyone… the fact that it appeals to me is kind of weird, all things considered. Explosive fights, subpar acting/writing, and awesome practical effects/kaiju designs are the name of the game, and based on what I’ve seen, this is near the top all-time in my personal ranking. So far, it’s true: Mothra is a precious being that deserves cherishing.
Final Score: 6.5/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!