I was a big Godzilla fan in the 80s, when the Monster Movie of the Week seemed to play every hour of every day of the week. Although I can't precisely remember every monster and every battle, I fondly remember "Godzy" (as my mom would call him, both of my parents are sci-fi fans) beating the rubbery stuffing out of his opponents. Sometimes he had allies (Rodan), sometimes he had recurring enemies (King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla) and sometimes he just blew stuff up a lot.
Appreciating a Godzilla movie requires the viewer to adjust his expectations. Godzilla movies aren't about great acting, linear plots, or special effects. The Japanese movie industry understands its audience--if you're going to buy into a gigantic atomic-breathing humanoid lizard, pretty much anything goes. "Anything" includes robots, aliens, robots built by aliens, size-shifting robots (Jet Jaguar ROCKS!) and tiny singing faeries. And don't forget the giant moth.
Trying to make the Godzillaverse make sense is a huge mistake, as evidenced by the failure of the American version of Godzilla in theaters. There's nothing quite like creating a titanic lizard and then not giving him atomic breath because "that just wouldn't make sense."
Godzilla 2000 is the Toho studio's response to the American movie. Which is to say it is both better and worse.
By the time we get to Godzilla 2000, the big lug has been around long enough to create two rival investigating forces. On the good guy side we have the Godzilla Prediction Network (GPN) led by Shinoda (Takehiro Murata) and his daughter Io (Mayu Suzuki). The GPN team (if you can call them that) is accompanied by Yuki (Naomi Nishida), who is trying to get a good picture of Godzilla for the local newspaper. Ironically, nobody can get a good close-up of Godzilla because he emits enough radiation to ruin photography. Which really does make one wonder…shouldn't just being in proximity to Godzilla fry every human being in a hundred mile radius?
The bad guys consist of the Crisis Control Intelligence (CCI) agency, led by Katagiri (Hiroshi Abe). The two groups have a bit of history: Shinoda used to work for the CCI before he left due to their "violent tendencies." Where GPN seeks to examine and understand Godzilla for the good of mankind, the CCI wants to blow him up into big, radioactive chunks.
If you haven't figured it out yet, much of the movie centers on this philosophical argument as to how to treat Godzilla. It's pretty clear that Godzilla doesn't care either way, as he comes rampaging ashore in a quest to find Japan's power sources. Why? Because in a not very subtle way, Godzilla is a parallel for the dangers of atomic weapons. At least he was, when Godzilla first graced the screen. Godzilla is the result of our warmongering and he retaliates with a vengeance by attacking atomic plants.
The CCI takes the direct approach, accepting any human casualties that might be necessary to take Godzilla head on. Tanks, mines, armor-piercing missiles…none of it works, because Godzilla regenerates at incredibly high speed. That little tidbit of information greatly interests the GPN, who names Godzilla's DNA (Regenerator-1) and seeks to use it to save humanity. Well, maybe eventually. In another movie.
The unearthing of a meteorite by the CCI eventually interrupts Godzilla's rampage. Sure enough, the meterorite, which is millions of years old, awakens when touched by light. And that meteor is in reality an alien spacecraft with DNA mimicking capabilities. It immediately makes a beeline for Godzilla.
This alien being/ship is known as Orga, and it goes through several phases. First it starts out as a particularly feminine looking saucer. Then it transforms, for about thirty seconds, into a large jellyfish. This scene is so short and irrelevant to the movie that it seems like something was cut. Finally, Orga turns into a big guy in a rubber suit. And then we're back to the Godzilla movies from the 80s, where guys in suits slap each other silly until one of them falls down.
Godzilla has been redesigned for this film to make him look more feral looking. For the most part, it works. His dorsal spikes are particularly vicious, his fangs jut out over his lips, and his eyes are perpetually fixed in a cruel glare. Orga, on the other hand, looks ridiculous. He's a big, floppy-fisted monster with barely enough motion to move his gigantic oversized claws.
I never appreciated the physical acting required for Godzilla. When it's a rubber suit, the emotion that can be conveyed must be over-the-top pantomiming. This actor doesn't have it.
Godzilla has arms. Past Godzilla movies have made sure Godzilla ripped things apart with his claws, mauled his opponents, or twitched in agitation. This version of Godzilla doesn't have much to do but sort of wave his arms around slightly. It makes him look pretty foolish when he's trying to be scary or in pain or.
The other problem, and this is a big one, is how Godzilla uses his breath weapon. In other Godzilla movies, he reared backwards and you got the sense that breathing atomic fire took a lot of effort. When the flames blew out of his mouth, it seemed like a true exhalation of atomic destruction. In this movie, Godzilla looks vaguely constipated, waves his head about, and then the flames sort of fall out of his mouth.
Throughout the first half of the movie there is some amusing dialogue (or at least, amusing translations), some real moments of tension, and a lot of human stupidity. During the second half, the humans pretty much stand around and watch the city get blown up real good.
Of all the characters, Katagiri steals the show. When staring down Godzilla eye-to-eye, Katagiri simply lights a cigarette and says "I've never been this close to Godzilla before." But as well all know, nobody stares Godzilla in the eye and walks away without glowing.
The movie spirals into bizarre territory at the end, with Orga trying to absorb Godzilla, who strangely complies (there's a whole Orga/female Godzilla/male thing going on too, ICK). Scientists spout about Regenerator-1 genes, military generals philosophize about aliens from outer space, and Shinoda tells his daughter in a voice over about how Godzilla keeps protecting humanity because there's a little bit of him in all of us…
Meanwhile, in the background, Godzilla sets the entire city ablaze with his radioactive breath.
This movie is more like two movies, bridging the original Godzilla film with the later Monsterama battles that Godzilla has become known for. In fact, it's more a homage to all the Godzilla films that went before. All in all, a worthy successor to the Godzilla series and certainly more respectful of its origins than the American version.