With Gamera 2: Attack of The Legion, screenwriter Sazunori Ito and director Shusuke Kaneko return to deliver a sequel to their successful Gamera: Guardian of The Universe (1995). Can the second film in the Heisei Gamera trilogy improve on the first reboot film? Let us find out in our review.
[This film is available on Blu-ray in the Arrow Video’s Gamera: The Complete Boxset]
One night, Science instructor Midori Honami (Miki Mizuno) and her group of students, who are on a fieldtrip near Sapporo to watch a meteor shower, witness a huge meteor crash in the nearby mountain area. The following morning, the SDF finds the crater but are unable to recover the meteor for research – the meteor has seemingly disappeared in thin air. At night, two security guards, much to their horror, discover large insect-like creatures stealing glass bottles from the warehouse full of Kirin beer.
Not long after that, after the mysterious creatures attacked a metro, an enormous and equally mysterious plant starts to grow on one of Sapporo’s landmark buildings. The SDF, led by Colonel Watarase (Toshiyuki Nagashima), decide to blow the thing up, not realizing that the explosion would annihilate most of Sapporo. And then, after being AWOL for over a year after his fierce battle with Gyaos, Gamera (Akira Ohashi) resurfaces.
Gamera 2: The Attack of legion is – and this is not meant as a negative – a ‘disguised’ super-hero film. This super-hero element is most evident in the narrative structure of Gamera 2, a narrative structure that faithfully follows the beats of a typical super-hero narrative – i.e. an initial victory, then a dangerous setback, and ultimately a definite triumph. What Gamera 2 and, for that matter, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, Gamera’s origin story, reveal is that some Kaiju films are nothing but a special form of super-hero cinema.
While the second reboot film, in contrast to the first, is devoid of any obvious politics, we are able, by virtue of two sentences expressed in the film, to answer the ‘political’ question we left open in our review of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. Gamera does not serve humanity but life on earth as such – he is earth’s guardian. If humans were to let industrialization run its course and bring all fauna and flora into peril, Gamera would turn on humanity and exterminate the human culprits. In other words, if humanity protects the cyclic dynamic of life on earth, humanity has nothing to fear from Gamera.
Even though some special effects are unconvincing, the special effects in Gamera 2: The Attack of legion do not disappoint. Not only are the practical and the computer-generated special effects better quality-wise in comparison with the first reboot film but they are also more smartly integrated into the visual flow of the cinematographical composition. This more effective integration does not only heighten the visual realism of the fantasy as such but also makes the narrative more believable. While bad special effects did not hurt the cinematic pleasure of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, the better integration of the special effects does turn Gamera 2 into an even more pleasing Kajiu experience than his predecessor.
Yet despite the better special effects and the more convincing set-pieces, Gamera 2 offers less set-piece sequences than its predecessor. While some might say that the sequel provides a better balance between exposition and action, we think that a snappier exposition and more prolonged action sequences would have made Gamera 2 even more enjoyable and satisfying. Especially the final set-piece would have benefited from a longer runtime.
While the composition of Gamera 2 resembles the composition of its Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, the subtle cinematographical differences make this composition a more refined and more satisfying experience. In Gamera 2, shaky framing is more often strategically applied to strengthen the tension of a given sequence, dramatic tensive sequences feature more energetic camera movement, and, in some cases, dramatic sequences have a faster pace.
Another difference with the previous composition is that Gamera 2 is less reliant on overly bombastic and dramatic music for infusing tension into the unfolding of the narrative. Some of the most tensive sequences in Gamera 2 are precisely those sequences that, to exude a more horror-like atmosphere, thoughtfully balance the expressive dimension of the visual with more subtle musical accompaniment.
But the use of less bombastic musical accompaniment also has its downsides. As the musical accompaniment is not used to accentuate the cinematographical flow or rhythm of the narrative, Gamera 2 feels less energetic than its predecessor. And while not relying on the music to impress the spectator allows the set-pieces as such shine and impress, the final set-piece could have used the oomph of such bombastic music to truly shine and marvel.
While Gamera: Attack of Legion is a great sequel that provides what Kajju fans desire, this sequel struggles to deliver this action in an as thrilling manner as the first reboot film did. While the sequel has a more refined cinematographical composition and has more believable set-pieces, the changes at the level of the musical accompaniment ultimately causes the final showdown to lack the bombastic marvel that it deserves.
Cine-note 1: What has, sadly, remained the same in the composition of Gamera 2 is the overuse of dramatic zoom-ins. These zoom-ins are, in many cases, unnecessary and rather ineffective in fulfilling their function, i.e. heightening the dramatic effect.