So Gamera is really, really getting good. Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (more commonly released under the moniker “Gamera 2: Attack of Legion” but that’s not what my DVDs said) is the follow up to the first film in the series’ Heisei era. It’s a pretty true sequel. Japan is still seen to be rebuilding after the events of the first movie, and we even see a few of the same characters. Most importantly we again see the girl who mentally bonded with Gamera in the first film. We also see an unexpected return from a briefly featured police officer in the first movie. There are even a few Easter eggs about the first film. The female ornithologist from the first movie appears to have written some sort of book on Gyaos. All that being said the movie does have a new main cast, consisting of a female…scientist. Her exact job was kind of unclear. Something science related anyways. She works closely with a brave soldier and a clever computer scientist, who help her with research and stuff.
The movie opens with an ominous asteroid falling to earth. It skirts above the clouds emanating a Spielberg-esque light as it plummets to the snowy peaks of a Japanese mountain. The military rolls out to examine it. We get a pretty wonderful giant-monster moment when, overlooking the empty meteorite crash site, the army realizes the massive scorch marks in the snow and soil look like something was trying to break and slow down. Then we see two security guards (one of whom is the now traumatized Gyaos-spotting cop from the first film) watching a mass of beer bottles for a factory. Suddenly threatening noises and lights appear in the corner of the room. Frightened the guards approach, only to see a jagged and insectoid shadow destroy the bottles. The army starts investigating this too, when a third incident occurs.
A subway train comes to a screeching halt. The path ahead of them is filled with rubble and crawling with man-sized, cyclopean insects. They attack the train, slaughtering some of the passengers. The military rescues the survivors, but it becomes clear the Garthim are the least of their worries. Buildings start cracking and splitting in the same area as the subway, and from the rubble emerges a massive flower and root system. The scientists scramble and realize that the flower is oozing excess oxygen, using it as a fuel source for an eventual launch. The creatures (at some point christened The Legion by a bible-quoiting soldier) plan to spread their species to other planets by launching the pod in the centre of the flower.
Gamera, genetically designed Atlantean guardian of the world that he is, isn’t having any of this. Even the blast-off process is an incredibly dangerous procedure. He emerges from the ocean, revealing the key features of yet another redesign. He now can wrap his forearms in a sort of sheet, transforming them into sea-turtle-looking flippers when he flies in his non-saucer form. His elbow spikes are no longer retractable, and his crests and grooves are more prominent than ever. The regal turtle appears and destroys the flower, but the skittering hordes of The Legion attack him. There are so many of these massive bugs that they actually coat him completely. Eventually Gamera figures out a plan of attack, retracting his legs and spinning in his saucer form. This sprays dislodged and dead bugs and jets of Gamera’s green blood across the city as he flies off.
Later the earth shudders and groans and cracks open, revealing the daikaiju villain for the movie. The massive Legion Queen flies from the split earth into the air. The army attacks the soaring rhino-beetle inspired monster with missiles, but they can’t find the thing’s body. They start to track The Legion’s progress, guessing it’s heading towards Tokyo. It resurfaces again in Sendai, a city near Tokyo. The Queen starts working its way through the outskirts of town, attempting to plant a new flower. The city cracks and crumbles again as the flower grows before Gamera can even get there. The Queen hangs around, protecting the dangerous flower.
The Queen Legion is a pretty great design. I’m not normally a big fan of the more insect-based monster designs, mainly because I find they tend to run a bit similar and forgettable. There are a few exceptions, including Godzilla’s MUTOs, and now Legion. The massive horns the Queen has are pretty cool. The fact that they split apart and generate a massive electromagnetic blast is pretty great too. Another good choice is the design of her thorax, which has a collection of tiny arms (as opposed to the frequent bipedal or quadrupedal thoraxes presented by most movies) that is pretty cool. Her massive tail, which hangs behind her upright thorax, makes for a pretty unique silhouette. She doesn’t move like most kaiju, and while I’m partial to the way most kaiju move it does help set Legion apart from Gamera’s past foes. Hell she’s even substantially larger than anything else Gamera has ever fought.
Gamera shows up to fight this exoskeletoned nemesis and promptly has the shit beaten out of him. Between The Queen’s many pointy limbs and electromagnetic attacks she’s a dangerous foe. She flies off, leaving a bruised and bloody Gamera. It’s pretty grim. There’s a whole chunk missing from part of his shell and everything. Battle-damage Gamera. He drags himself over to the flower even as it launches. The explosive wave of ignited oxygen obliterates all of Sendai as The Legion successfully spreads its seed to other planets. Gamera bears the brunt of the blast. He rests in the ruined city looking like the giant-turtle version of one of the corpses from Pompeii.
The rest of the movie pretty much plays out as you’d expect, with Gamera reviving himself with the help of his mentally connected friend (whose talisman cracks, theoretically removing her role from the next and final film). He seems to gather the sparks of fires lit in his honour and emerges unscathed from the ashy shell encapsulating him. He fights The Queen, and despite having slightly more energy blasts than wrestling this fight is pretty wicked. Although that does highlight the problem with such a non-human kaiju. You don’t get that sweet fighting. That being said it’s still pretty dramatic, and I am greatly pleased the movie has removed the need to shoe-horn in Gamera’s remote control.
So in mentioning Gamera’s mentally linked partner I’m reminded of something I completely forgot to mention is Roger Ebert’s review of the last film:
There is, strictly speaking, no need for human characters in “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe,” since the creatures are self-contained in their age-old enmity. But the movie does provide us with four observers, including Asagi (Ayako Fujitani), a teenage girl who seems able to read Gamera’s mind and carries a glowing stone that helps her do that, I think. Late in the film, there is a big closeup of the girl’s eyes, and then Gamera’s eyes, and then a blob of energized spirit is exchanged somehow, and Gamera is able to live to fight again another day. Studying the film’s press kit, I discover that Ayako Fujitani is Steven Seagal’s daughter, and I punch my fist into the air and cry, “Yesssss!”
If that isn’t a damn-endearing review I do not know what is.
Gamera 2: The Advent of Gamera is pretty plainly the best Gamera movie I’ve watched yet. Guardian of the Universe was pretty great too, but all the problems I had with that one are alleviated by this one. The digital effects are integrated with the practical effects so much more smoothly than the last film. The human characters, while not exactly arc-driven, at least have traits and engaging personalities. Not only that but they get a role to play in the climax that actually feels earned and logical (the benefit of having a monster that comes complete with human-sized munchkin kaiju). The movie is pretty well directed too. It’s tense when it means to be, it’s dramatic when it means to be. It’s bright and colourful, but not campy. It’s dynamic and cool, and Gamera gets some great moments, like when he speeds in to fight the Queen and crashes into the ground, sliding on his hind-legs to slow down. The scenes with the little Legions are exciting and engaging. This is about the only kaiju film I’ve watched that cuts to humans during the climax effectively. Their subplot is not only engaging, its super cool and pretty memorable. It all feels a notch above a lot of the series’ past entries. I hate to sound dismissive of the other films, but in a lot of ways this one feels more like a real movie than some of the others. It has stakes and likeable characters and nicely Spielberg inspired direction. It all makes for a great watch.