Review Date: 2/4/20
I had no idea this movie existed until I picked up the Criterion Showa Era collection, and I was even more surprised to see that it was shot in black and white just like the 1954 original. One could argue that it's the last of the "serious" Godzilla films, before he became a good guy and goofiness started creeping into the productions. A couple of airplane pilots discover two giant monsters battling on a remote island. One of them resembles Godzilla (who dissolved into nothingness in the first film) and the other is a radioactively mutated Ankylosaurus named Anguiras. They're definitely not friends like they are in the later films, and Anguiras is violently aggressive towards the new Godzilla. The battle continues in Osaka, when both monsters are attracted by an oil refinery fire on the coast. After defeating Anguiras, Godzilla heads back to his island and the Japanese Defense Force somehow buries him in an avalanche of ice.
After watching the later Godzilla films, I found this one quite refreshing in that it's a straight-up monster fight that doesn't shamelessly recycle old footage (although there's a brief summary of the destruction Godzilla caused in Tokyo the year before). The film also explains that they can't use the oxygen destroyer again, because Dr. Serizawa died and all of his research and secrets died with him. The destruction of Osaka looks fantastic and the miniature effects work is delightfully charming. Unfortunately, one epic battle scene was accidentally shot at normal speed, which betrays the scale of the set and makes the action look unnaturally comical, but it was deemed too expensive and time consuming to reshoot the material. Godzilla looks appropriately menacing, but his outward jutting teeth look awkward and impractical. Perhaps that was the only way they could make his mouth close more fully? The production values are considerably higher than the original, and overall the film looks more polished and professional. The visual effects also look much better and we get to see a lot more of Godzilla this time. There's no big reveal, so there's no need to keep him hidden. After all, that's what audiences want to see! The social commentary and political lobbying that both drove the original and dragged it down is absent this time, in favor of a more streamlined action story.
The music is sparse and subdued, and not at all like Akira Ifukube's bold signature themes that dominate the rest of the series. But that helps support the dramatic elements of the film, which include a silly romantic subplot and an even sillier subplot involving escaped convicts. Typical of Japanese cinema and films of the 50s, the pacing is extremely sluggish and the film slows to a crawl whenever the monsters aren't onscreen. Godzilla would remain frozen in ice until 1962 with the release of "Godzilla Vs. King Kong."