The Gamera Heisei trilogy are known as some of the best Japanese kaiju films, right up there next to the original Gojira. The first film came out the same year Godzilla 'died' in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. This trilogy would set Gamera on the map, no longer as a Godzilla cash-in. Let's face it, I enjoy Gamera vs. Guiron as much as the next kaiju fan, but the Showa Gamera films really weren't that good. The ones post Gamera vs. Gyaos were really laughable. Gamera 'died' in Super Monster in 1980. So fifteen later, he was revived for a new series of films. The super turtle was back, and seventeen years later, the film series still shines. This review will be on the first one, Guardian of the Universe.
The story begins when a ship runs into something big. Soon after two people are attacked by something. One of them manages to send a message before being killed. Apparently they were attacked by a 'bird.' It is later revealed that this bird is a creature called Gyaos, the Shadow of Evil. The scary part is that there are more than one of it. All is not lost, however. Rising to the occasion is Gamera, the Guardian of the Universe. His mission: Destroy all Gyaos. His power will be put to the test when he battles the enormous Super Gyaos toward the end of the film.
Gamera was never big like his movie rival Godzilla. Sure, a lot of people heard of him as the super turtle, but that's it. Gamera was always treated as a joke back in the day. The 'hero to all children,' remember that? The Showa films are so outdated that it's almost not even funny. The Heisei trilogy changed everything about Gamera, starting with this film. What a great start, everything is established. Gamera has an interesting back- story along with Gyaos. They could have made him darker, but stayed true to his roots. Gamera is a heroic monster, and the film displays that well. One cannot forget to mention the compelling story and characters that go along with it.
|One of the best scenes in the film, awe-inspiring|
If the characters of this trilogy were flat, there would be a problem. The problem with the Heisei Godzilla films was that there were hardly any interesting characters to root for. The focus is divided between Mayumi, an expert on birds, and Asagi, a girl who gets linked to Gamera later in the film. First off, Mayumi. Definitely the best character in the film. Reminded me a bit of Miki from the Heisei Godzilla films. She's definitely a protagonist you could root for. Asagi, well, when you have a kid/teen as a focus, it could go either way with these type of films. If you've seen any post Gamera vs. Gyaos film, you would know what I mean. Thankfully, she's interesting enough. Granted her character isn't explored that well, she was good. The link between her and Gamera wasn't fully explored. So this thing got her to be linked to Gamera.....how does that work exactly? It's one thing that should have been explained better. Other characters such as Asagi's dad were well enough. The worst character was Inspector Osako. He was put for comic relief, but just fell flat, really flat. Besides that, the characters hold up the film well when there isn't any monster action, something the majority of the Heisei Godzilla films didn't do.
Let's get on with my favorite part of this review, the monsters. The Gamera suit is just fantastic. I will repeat, FANTASTIC. The detail is amazing, and the shell looks great. Gyaos on the other hand is more mixed. The prop looks really fake sometimes. Other times it looks really menacing and convincing, such as the cage break scene. The Super Gyaos is definitely an amazing sight to behold, but it's Gamera who shines in this department. The final fight between the two was climatic, a very good fight. It didn't rely on beams, (Heisei Godzilla era) but brought back the classic Showa slug-fest with a modern look. It's fantastic stuff. Thanks to modern special effects, some things really shine. Gyaos' cartoony beam from the retro days is gone in place of a more realistic one. There are some bad special effects sequences, such as the missiles, they looked way too CGI. Gamera's fireballs look fantastic however.
The soundtrack as expected was pretty good. Could have been better, it has nothing on any of the Heisei Godzilla films. The most stand-out theme was near the beginning, the Jaws-like one. The film succeeds in having a dark atmosphere, even horrific sometimes. (The scene where an unseen Gyaos attacked two men was amazingly horrific.) One must stare in awe at Gamera's first appearance in the city. It feels like a Godzilla film, but the overall destruction is better and more satisfying than the majority of Godzilla's destruction scenes. I like how it doesn't focus fully on the buildings getting destroyed, something a lot of the Heisei Godzilla films do too much.
Overall, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was the beginning of what was to be known as the greatest Japanese monster movies ever. Gone are the days of being a mere cash-in to Godzilla, the turtle was now fully his own character. The film succeeds in having a dark, dramatic atmosphere, compelling characters, and excellent monster action. It doesn't feel slow or dragged out, it's a solid film. It's the weakest of the trilogy, but still the perfect start to reviving everyone's favorite giant turtle.