Friday, September 18, 2015

Movies You Already Should've Seen (filler week): GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION

at 1:00 PM
This is the kinda thing I watch when being sick and working the weekend leaves me too depressed to be interested in PSYCHO.

GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION (1996)
AKA: Gamera 2: Advent of Legion
Directed by: Shûsuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Itô

GAMERA 2 in one sentence:
Yourself: Daaang son, that was badass.

Here's a story about me and GAMERA 2:
Yourself: Geek note: green skin aside, the Gamera series is closer to ULTRAMAN or PACIFIC RIM than it is to Godzilla, delivering fantastic wrestling matches between good and evil rather than anything resembling science fiction.

Get the plot bitching out of your system:
Yourself: The movie features the same annoying multi-plotting that drags down '90s Godzilla, but Gamera himself is a clear enough hero that it never feels quite as soulless. Ultimately this is a movie where an elementary school teacher explains "symbiosis" to generals and engineers, so the humans are hard to take seriously. Oh no, there goes our best source for details on Gamera!


It is fairly arbitrary in the context of giant space bugs, but I like that Legion generates an electromagnetic field that washes out EM waves near it, shutting down radios, TVs, phones, and all other electronic devices. The creatures' invisible presence permeates the city and projects a lurking tension beyond imminent evisceration. It also means the swarm has a sort of event horizon - as we watch reporters, investigators, and military probe subterranean tunnels and scout the skies, the eventual blackout signals that they are beyond all recourse for help or even reporting back. The effect is lost a little because the script doesn't hide the monsters from the audience as diligently as it does from the characters, but it's still creepy in the same way as watching video feeds cut out in ALIENS.

The aesthetics [of the monsters] are basically:
Yourself: Awesome. Gamera, the jetpants-equipped turtle-x-spinning-top, is a pretty goofy creation, but damn is the revival effective in bringing him to life. Maybe one day I'll be proven wrong, but I don't think you can make quote-unquote realistic action based around a giant bipedal turtle. It doesn't need to double over laughing to be possessed with the blatant anthropomorphism that infects the baby-targeted late-'60s Godzilla performances. Thankfully the camp design (it just now occurs to me that Gamera is Bowser) feels better achieved in LEGION than it was in GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, possibly because the spin-boosts, rocket ship takeoffs, and fire-spitting hardly let up, or possibly because Legion is a far more outlandish counterpart than the saurian Gyaos. Strafing a skyscraper-sized plant pod with fireballs by rocket-skating 180 degrees around it is exactly the kind of sequence we need to capture the comic book energy of Gamera. The fire-breath in particular looks massive and, it pains me to say, much cooler than Godzilla's contemporaneous lazermouth.

Legion is a multi-tiered threat combining swarms of flying bugs with a burrowing queen and explosive plants. It wouldn't so thoroughly demand comparison to 1995's Godzilla vs. Destoroyah were the movie not stocked with the exact same ALIENS-riffing soldiers vs. bugs action, but that isn't meant to be a complaint. Legion pairs the terrifyingly unpredictable life-cycle that made Destoroyah so dynamic with a completely original artistic model. Up close, the pointy cyclopean drones are too '50s B-movie to be menacing (they remind me of Gohma, which sorta makes this a showdown between Nintendo villains), but mostly they exist to be the creepily inescapable swarm cloud that dances through the air and perches on power lines. Their queen is a hyperbole of jagged spindly appendages made more uncanny by its forward-protruding head and bipedal gait, less an alien insect than a forgotten insect god.



I like that there are callbacks to the previous movie, but it does highlight one place the sequel falls short: the visually referenced destruction of the Tokyo Tower by Gyaos was ballsy, impressive, and one of the most memorable images of the daikaiju genre, and ATTACK OF LEGION's attempt to one-up it by replacing Sendai with a smoking crater (seen only in a black-and-white newspaper cutaway) is fairly disappointing. Statistically it's bigger, but dramatically and visually it is not. It doesn't help that the city of Sendai is an utterly blank spot in my cultural consciousness.

Performances to speak of?
Yourself: The acting is pretty fun, which is a good enough alternative to the genre standard "pretty boring". Miki Mizuno as Honami has a playful edge as does Mitsuru Fukikoshi as the painfully nerdy Obitsu. A particularly entertaining moment comes when the army men show up to visit Honami and are silently menaced by her father solely for having the nerve to visit a woman at her home.

A really cool shot or scene:
Yourself: Gamera's skin-crawling defeat as he's swallowed in a husk of swarming, sparking bugs creates a kind of tension I never imagined I'd see: daikaiju body horror. There is a prolonged sequence of shots of Gamera stumbling blind and helpless under an insectoid horde, shrieking in pain, all to the effect of a more vulnerable, not necessarily humanized but certainly enlivened hero. Legion doesn't just drive off Gamera, it hurts him, and in doing so imbues Gamera with humanity's pain.

What does it all really mean?
Yourself: The character who christens the invaders "Legion" does so by explicitly recounting the New Testament exorcism where the name originates. Typically I'd feel unbearably philistine invoking the Bible with regard to giant monsters, but GAMERA 2 went and got its hands dirty all by itself. And, of all things, our giant turtle hero is indeed rather Christ-like, reproducing not only the exorcism of demons but also the Lord's most famous routine, The Resurrection. At their first encounter, Gamera is swarmed by Legion, weighed down by the innumerable abominations to inevitably be purged in the flames of death. The sacrifice is made while literally bearing mankind's woes, a reference to Christ and His Cross as explicit as they come. Gamera's death doesn't extinguish the evil, but it stays destruction long enough that he can be called back amid the vigil of the faithful. The petrified giant miraculously breaks through his ashen burial like Christ casting aside an entombing boulder, in the process severing his psychic link to Asagi and the rest of humanity. Liberated from mortal incarnation, the reborn spirit rockets off to preach life after death - but while Jesus was content to boringly haunt his disciples, Gamera's gospel comes with a significantly larger helping of lazers. His final attack technique, which I won't spoil, is summoned forth from the life-force of the entire planet, a symbolic transcendence to omnipresent all-powerful godliness. Asagi's bloodied hand as she clutches the remains of Gamera's pendant ominously suggests the grave cost of this resurrection, but that's a topic to be addressed in the sequel.

I don't know why GAMERA 2 is a Passion allegory, but there it is.

Note to future self on watching GAMERA 2:
Yourself: I was ready for GAMERA 2 to be a fun watch, but I wasn't expecting to come out hotly anticipating THE REVENGE OF IRIS. That ATTACK OF LEGION pursues a continuing story arc rather than a permutable formula makes the series (or at least the first 2/3 of it) an honest-to-god trilogy, and that's something I can get behind in any franchise.

It looks like being sick and working the weekend was a blessing in disguise, kind of, because I just got word that PSYCHO will be visiting the theater this month (if you've got a local Cinemark, check it out!). To pass the time, Greg will rejoin me next week to take on DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.

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