Strange things begin to happen after a large Meteor crash lands in northern Japan. Firstly, despite there being a landing site, the meteor is nowhere to be seen. Then electrical cables are reportedly stolen, and then two bumbling security guards witness a strange insect like creature smashing beer bottles in a warehouse. This then, of course; leads to a giant flower blooming in Sapporo. So why is it only now, that after one whole year since he was last seen, that Gamera decides to appear?
Released in 1996, and directed by Shusuke Kaneko; Gamera 2: Advent Of Legion is a giant monster movie from Japan and the tenth installment in the Gamera film series, serving as the second entry in the Heisei Gamera Trilogy. The film sees the return of the core crew from the first film in director Shusuke Kaneko, writer Kazunori Itō, composer Kow Otani, and special effects director Shinji Higuchi. But unlike the first film; the only major cast members to return are Ayako Fujitani, and Yukijirō Hotaru; with the rest of the cast being made up of Miki Mizuno, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, and Tamotsu Ishibashi to name but a few. Interestingly enough, several members of the supporting cast have appeared in other Monster Movie related franchises, from Godzilla to Ultraman. The film’s title is also a bit of a mystery, as there are several translations, and production titles which include:
- Attack of Legion,
- Attack of the Legion,
- Advent of Legion,
- Invasion of Legion,
- Gamera vs. Legion,
- Assault of the Legion,
- Assault of Legion,
- The Real Guardian of the Universe,
- And possibly a few more too.
But as I know this film best as Advent of Legion, that’s the one I am choosing.
The story so far: A year ago, two giant monsters appeared. One a giant bird called Gyaos, and the other a giant flying turtle called Gamera. The authorities initially decide to attack Gamera, despite several mysterious historical texts stating that Gyaos is the bigger threat. After Gyaos gets too big and starts eating people however, they turn their firepower on Gyaos, which is finally defeated thanks largely to the efforts of Gamera. It’s also revealed that Gamera shares a connection with a human girl too. So, you’re now all caught up; now into the next one.
Advent of Legion starts off by being both mysterious and getting straight to the point. It features the sudden appearance of a large meteorite, but then adds mystery by showing strange occurrences, before leading up to the reveal of the creatures. Yes I said creatures as Legion is made up of two distinct species. It’s very much a ‘hive minded‘ species in that it features human-ish sized workers, and of course one super large Queen. This then leads to Gamera coming to save the day, but this time around, it’s a real struggle for the Guardian of the Universe.
Here’s a question. Now, I know there is no precedent to the following question given there has been no event in reality to come up with an answer, so this may come across as rhetorical. But, given the context of the film, it’s one that needs at least asking if not fully answering. If as a nation, you are attacked by a giant monster, you would presumably decide to combat this threat, you would do what you could to defend yourself right? But then, if another monster appears, and the two start engaging; which one do you concentrate on removing first?
It’s a bit of a difficult thing to really say without rambling on; and the good thing about movies is that they are a break from reality, so you can have goodies vs baddies, with the goodies concluding the film and moving on. But in the case of monsters, it’s a bit trickier to quantify.
Giant monsters are by there own definition, huge. They are big creatures, and both or more are at least equally capable of doing large amounts of damage. Even if they are good, they can’t help but move in a way that causes city wide destruction. It’s as Ishiro Honda said “Monsters are born too tall, too strong, too heavy, they are not evil by choice. That is their tragedy” This suggests that monsters cannot see the world through our eyes, and therefore don’t understand the destruction they are causing, because the can’t. To this end then, how can you determine that if monsters were to attack a major city; which one was good, and which one was bad? Surely then if they are both capable of the same amount of destruction, but multiplied by how many there were, surely the goal would be to remove both, not just the one you assume would be bad?
Why am I asking these over bloated questions (thanks for sticking around so far)? Gamera 2: Advent of Legion is one of the only, if not the only monster movie produced, where the military is a key factor to the film’s entire plot, in particular how the film concludes. Many monster movies of course feature a large military presence, as the nation under threat mobilizes to defend itself from the rampant creatures. Many characters and plots to these films of course do lead to some military involvement in some fashion, and some characters are of course military personnel. But in the case of this film, when the attention (which in fairness is actually pretty limited) is not on Gamera; it’s on the military response.
They are there right from the start. They are seen investigating the meteorite, they are called in to the beer warehouse, they storm the Sapporo Subway with soldiers and explosives to combat the Legion. They even come up with the name Legion, which is of course a reference to the person possessed by evil spirits in The Bible. Pretty much all of this happens before Gamera makes his first appearance. From then on, we get more military involvement, from further studying the creatures, to the evacuation of Sendai, to the eventual final battle with the Legion Queen. All this involvement from day one, it’s something you cannot miss; and as Gamera’s involvement does seem to be very sparse; you begin to wonder, if this film is really meant to be a Gamera movie in the first place?
He is of course very much in the picture, but again he is rarely seen at all. He takes his time in appearing, and his quick response to the events on Sapporo creates a question, as to whether or not he has had previous experience with the Legion, as he quickly knows what to do, and tries to do it again in Sendai. He of course returns triumphantly to battle the Legion once more, to defeat the great threat. But given the military response thus far, you can begin to feel like you are missing out on a potentially more unique, modern monster movie classic in the making, not reliant on established characters. It’s as if Gamera is in it purely for promotion, rather than content.
The real standout of this film though with it’s military presence, is that for the final battle it gets to do something, largely unseen in most monster movies; that of the monsters and military teaming up. Well I say teaming up, it’s more of one deciding that they might help out the other, who is doing most of the real leg work. To this end we see the military killing off the Legion Soldier swarm, as well as launching missiles to destroy some of Legion’s (are they claws, or are they more like mandibles, or pincers?) claws, allowing his attacks to get through. This sight is very rare in monster movies, as we the audience want to see the monster’s fight. There’s only a few Godzilla films I can think of where something similar takes place (as for other monster movies, still unsure). These include (but are not necessarily limited to):
- Godzilla vs. Gigan,
- Terror of Mechagodzilla,
- Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla,
- Godzilla vs. Destoroyah,
- I think that’s all of them…
The only real alternative comparison’s though to what you see in the final battle of Advent of Legion, is say when the military gets involved in the first three Transformers movies, or when James Bond manages to get help from a force of marines or soldiers in taking over the base of an evil villain.
The choice to go in the militaristic direction doesn’t though shun away some of the series key themes of course, as it still packs some very science fiction-y plot points for clarity, as well as carrying elements of fantasy and ancient history, whilst still carrying a nod to the series longtime key demographic of young children. Many of these themes though are shown in short bursts, with most of them being used to pad out the soundtrack. Although the military theme’s do take over once more, and in turn create one of the series best shots, and best pieces, as tanks are seen on the move through the streets; which is a really cool yet powerfully realistic image.
Gamera 2: Advent Of Legion, much like it’s predecessor, is both an interesting and terrific monster movie. It’s decision to go down the militaristic route pays dividends, as it sets out to be as different as it can be, and do things rarely unseen in the genre so far. However it does sort of have this lingering question in the background as to whether or not it actually needs to feature the series titular monster, given his sparse appearances in the film. But when Gamera does appear, it’s still a fantastic sight, as the avenging super heroic monster returns to save the day. Plus, certain plot devices and important details from this film do help setup what is yet to come. And what comes next; is one of the best/greatest monster movies ever made!
Good review. I’ve owned the Heisei Gamera trilogy on blu ray for quite some time and still haven’t started it. Sounds like this entry might be a little slow, but worth the buildup.
Pretty much, and definitely.