Third installment in the ’90s revival of the original seven-title 1965-71 series starring the titular giant jet-propelled flying turtle is somewhat more elaborate than its predecessors but delivers basically familiar pleasures for fans of the old-fashioned Japanese monster genre. New effort features an increased emphasis on the mystical connection between the colossal battling beasts and human beings that is nicely in tune with the millennium, while special effects are good by model/miniature/animated standards, even if they can’t measure up to state-of-the-art Yank CGI norms. Daiei production was released in Japan in March to a solid $ 15 million B.O. gross thus far, but offshore prospects remain limited to the usual fest, specialized and video venues.
Flashbacks to the 1995 series restart, “Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe, ” recapitulate Gamera’s destructive visit to Tokyo at that time, which left various characters with lingering nightmares. Ayana, a teen whose parents were both (inadvertently) killed by the armor-plated, fire-breathing behemoth, takes advantage of an opportunity for vengeance by raising a flying reptile she finds hatched in the countryside and names Iris; tentacled creature is a relative of the dinosaur-like Gyaos birds who are Gamera’s mortal enemies, and responds to Ayana’s commands.
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First big action highlight has Gamera wiping out most of Tokyo’s Shibuya district in a fire fight with a marauding Gyaos. Following is an unduly prolonged and talky midsection devoted partly to ruminations about the ambiguous moral status of Gamera: Is he the enemy, as the government contends, or is he actually on humanity’s side, despite his massive destructiveness? Fans in good standing know the answer, and Gamera proves it all over again in a grisly mano a mano with Iris at Kyoto Train Station which, in usual fashion, escalates into a battle in which most of the city goes down with the loser.
Directed, written, shot and with special effects by the same hands that fashioned “Guardian” and its inferior successor, “G2,” new item is a shade grittier and hipper than those two, as it includes a freshly designed and more threatening Gamera, a tad more gore, serves up genre in-jokes (“Why is Japan continually being attacked by monsters?” one official complains), and even gets political by intimating connections between Gamera and Japan’s fighting spirit, to the point of specifically rejecting the idea of U.S. help in favor of fighting its own battles.
Midway sag notwithstanding, director Shusuke Kaneko handles it all efficiently, and a follow-up is heavily indicated by an ending that promises a massive confrontation between Gamera and a veritable squadron of Gyaos birds converging upon Japan from around the world.