Saturday, August 14, 2010

Attack of Legion

Gamera 2: Advent of Legion
(Gamera: Legion Shūrai, 1996)

DVD Description:
Released by ADV (2003); additional material: trailers, TV spots, interviews, short film

Directed by Shusuke Kaneko

Starring Toshiyuki Nagashima, Miki Mizuno, Tamotsu Ishibashi, Mitsuro Fukikoshi, Ayako Fujitani, Yusuke Kawazu, Yukijirô Hotaru

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The second of the Heisei Gamera series advances another step in bringing a semblance of stark reality to daikaiju films, despite its vivid element of fantasy and the more complex—and distinctly alien—countenance of Gamera's newest threat. Some comparisons between The Advent of Legion and Godzilla vs. Destroyer, made the previous year, seem inevitable, since both movies feature relatively small insect-like creatures, which swarm the respective title monsters in both films, as well as huge counterparts that engage the title beasts in battle. In the technical department, Legion outshines Destroyer in almost every respect, though it lacks the emotional heart that tends to make the Godzilla film more endearing.

begins a year after the climax of the previous Gamera film, with Japan still licking its wounds after the assaults by Gyaos. In northern Japan, a meteor crashes to earth; shortly thereafter, strange, insect-like creatures that consume all forms of silicon begin to appear in and around the city of Sapporo. A gigantic, flower-like structure appears in the city, which scientists realize is a type of biological launchpad, meant to scatter the "seeds" of the insect-like creatures, which are named Legion, all over the planet. Before the eruption can occur, Gamera arrives on the scene and destroys the flower. A gigantic "queen" Legion attacks Gamera and wounds it, then flies off to construct a new flower in the city of Sendai. This one erupts, utterly annihilating the city and by all appearances destroying Gamera as well.

The military learns that Legion is attracted by electromagnetic energy and constructs a grid of electrical towers to draw it away from the cities. Asagi Kusanagi, who is psychically linked to Gamera, realizes that Gamera is not dead and uses her mental energy to revive the creature. Gamera returns to engage Legion in battle, and is again seriously wounded. But drawing on a previously unknown power (which is further explored in the following film, The Revenge of Irys), Gamera destroys Legion and then vanishes, leaving humanity to ponder the incredible power that might one day be turned against them.

Advent of Legion benefits largely from the prevalent atmosphere of physical darkness, from its eerie, nighttime opening in the snow-covered mountains of Japan, to the well-staged nighttime attacks of the queen Legion later in the film. The sense of urgency is palpable as the clock counts down to the explosion of the second flower in Sendai, and the destruction of the city is portrayed as a true, horrific tragedy, far more serious in tone than the devastation typically wrought in your average giant monster movie. Once again, director Shusuke Kaneko and special effects director Shinji Higuchi pair up to present the existence of giant monsters to be as believable as any destructive force of nature. With essentially the same team that made Gamera, Guardian of the Universe, Legion is the logical next step, with a strong story and visuals that improve on the already impressive work from the previous film.

Kow Otani again provides an atmospheric score, of essentially the same caliber as the previous film's — more than adequate, yet less distinctive than his best work (Toho's Godzilla - Mothra - King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack in 2001). Cast-wise, a few key characters from Gamera I, such as Yukijiro Hotaru as former-inspector-now-security-guard Osako and Ayako Fujitani as Asagi Kusanagi return to provide continuity; Miki Mizuno, daughter of popular daikaiju-film actress Kumi Mizuno, also joins to cast in a lead role as scientist Midori Honame.

Although the ending feels rather contrived, Legion rates, overall, as possibly the best of the Heisei Gamera films, with all the dramatic and technical elements coming together to make a consistently superior monster movie. It does suffer the inevitable curse of being the middle film of a trilogy, with much of the fanfare going to the first and final installments — which is not to say the fanfare is not well deserved. Gamera, Guardian of the Universe is a novelty for the giant steps it takes in presenting an all-new, high-quality Gamera film, and Gamera: Revenge of Irys takes the special effects of the series to even greater heights. Dramatically, I don't believe Irys is quite as solid as Legion, suffering some of the very same shortcomings as GMK, which relate to the "mythologized" aspects of the monsters' origins, the one area of storytelling where Kaneko seems to fall a bit short.

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