I must offer two apologies, one of them to a real person. That being Okawara Takao, the director of Godzilla vs. Mothra and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, the 1992 and 1993 entries in a franchise that was still going strong as you please when he stepped away for a year to make Orochi the Eight-Headed Dragon in 1994. I have on multiple occasions accused Okawara's directorial vision of being unusually pedestrian and functional, more concerned with making sure that the script takes place in front of the camera properly than with doing anything to significantly elevate the material about the level of genre mechanics or create and real sense of tone. But boy, those things are enough to make vs. Mothra and Mechagodzilla II look like exquisite, iron-clad works of intelligence and filmmaking nuance next to what newbie Yamashita Kensho brought to 1994's Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, his second and final work as a director. Faced with an admittedly impossible script by Lupin III veteran Kashiwabara Hiroshi, Yamashita's instinct in each and every moment is to grease the film up in a slick veneer of Hollywoodised production quality that feels phenomenally out of place in a Godzilla film; one doesn't realise how quintessentially and irreducibly Japanese the basic visual construction of these goofy monster movies actually is until you're suddenly faced with one that openly and even blatantly copies not just narrative beats but stylistic cues from the previous year's Jurassic Park. Even at its crappiest - and it is almost certainly the crappiest-looking VS film - SpaceGodzilla has an eerily overproduced sheen that rips away all the human feeling from all of its characters, the regular people and the skyscraper-sized monsters alike.

The other apology goes to Baby Godzilla, the newborn kaiju from Mechagodzilla II; needlessly cute, I accused it of being, but it still had some kind of realistic grounding to it, and it honest-to-God felt like the juvenile version of that film's fully grown Godzilla. SpaceGodzilla, meanwhile, renames it Little Godzilla and now it looks like this:

A design for which the word "cute" is hopelessly insufficient, not too mention much too complimentary. It also raises the question of why Godzillas are the one species in the history of life on Earth for which the juvenile grows to look less like its adult form as it ages. Something to do with radiation, I have no doubt. Happily, Little Godzilla will spend most of the movie trapped in a crystal cage and therefore have virtually nothing to do with the plot, serving primarily to cement continuity between this film and the last, lest the viewer note its absence and wonder if Godzilla devoured the infant in a freakish act of cannibalism between films.

Now, all that being the case, SpaceGodzilla is almost universally regarded as the worst of the VS Series, which is a verdict that I can't begin to imagine disagreeing with. The intensity with which some viewers express that opinion is, however, somewhat overblown; in a franchise that offered up the blistering depths of Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla vs. Megalon, and the horrifying vehicles focused on Little Godzilla's uglier and more spurious predecessor Minilla AKA Minya, SpaceGodzilla isn't really the most stupid and is miles from the least competent of Godzilla's vehicles. Its greater sins are its unfocused weirdness, its shocking lack of imagination (though impeccably designed, SpaceGodzilla is about as lazy a monster as something so convoluted in conception could manage to be), and visual effects that are visibly cramped and rushed following Kawakita Koichi's far more sprawling work on Orochi the same year.

And above all else, a story that starts off spinning out of control and only gets worse as it goes along. The cleaned-up version: the UN is trying the giant robot angle again to stop Godzilla, this time building the tank/jet mecha hybrid M.O.G.E.R.A (Mobile Operation Godzilla Expert Aero-type; some versions add a U for Universal between the G and E; it is, in any case, a revised version of the robot from Toho's 1957 sci-fi picture The Mysterians), which to all available evidence is a hell of a lot less powerful than their Mechagodzilla from the year prior. At the same time, a black op is being tested out surreptitiously, codenamed Project T: Saegusa Miki (Odaka Megumi), the psychic with a unique, longstanding connection to Godzilla who has served virtually no meaningful purpose in any of the four films in which she has so far been featured, is being forced into using her ability to control Godzilla through a device on its neck that converts Miki's psychic communication into neurological commands. Both of these plans have to be put into quick turnaround when the Cosmos (Imamura Keiko and Osawa Sayaka), priestess-fairies of Infant Island and the protector monster Mothra (who cameos, as a whole bunch of little SpaceMothras), appear to Miki with knowledge about an impending threat. As NASA has already learned thanks to a destructive run-in with one of its ships, a new monster is hurtling through space: seems that all of the Godzilla DNA flying out of Earth's atmosphere in this run of films has managed to fall into black hole, where it mutated, combined with an organic living crystal, and turned into a vile hybrid beast that will surely destroy the world if neither M.O.G.E.R.A. nor Godzilla can stop it. Fortunately for humanity, SpaceGodzilla's first action is attack Little Godzilla, and this makes Big Godzilla a much fiercer opponent than Project T handlers could ever hope for.

What I have not included there is the random romantic subplot between Miki and one of the soldiers working with her, Shinjo Koji (Hashizume Yun); the vendetta plot that finds Major Yuki Akira (Emoto Akira) trying to kill Godzilla with a coagulant bullet that he shows off like a dozen times, since the monster killed his best friend back in 1989; or the bit with the Yakuza. In fairness, you could spent a lot of time recapping the plot of SpaceGodzilla and never come up to the Yakuza subplot, because it comes out of fucking nowhere and ends abruptly, with the most curious sensation that the film has gotten so bored of the generic sci-fi thriller boilerplate its characters are running through that it just wants to do something else for ten minutes.

I cannot blame the film for this impulse. A lot of what happens is punishingly boring: it's the longest Godzilla film made to that point, by only a slender margin of literally seconds, and it drags on like it has a good half an hour or more on the rest of them. The addition of outright melodrama to the human narrative is a peculiar shift for the series, particularly in its more vigorously sci-fi driven '90s incarnation, and Yamashita's spectacular lack of awareness of how pacing works leaves the film dragging desperately through its complicated maneuvering of Godzilla, SpaceGodzilla, and M.O.G.E.R.A. into Fukuoka for a climactic monster battle that is certainly among the most striking in any Godzilla film - dramatic crystal structures point every which way, adding some fascinating contrasts of light and color - but is flat and inert in its actual fight choreography, and plagued by the unfortunate decision that SpaceGodzilla's secret weapon is the ability to hover indefinitely (at which point, M.O.G.E.R.A. splits into two parts, so the tank can go after the now-flying enemy).

Still, SpaceGodzilla looks pretty great - a crueler, alien Godzilla with giant crystal shoulders that ought to be stupid, but are not. And Godzilla has lost the puffy chest muscles that made it so hard for me to take the last suit at all seriously, even as its thighs just keep getting fatter. Is that enough? Lord no, it's not enough. The scattershot narrative and frequently bargain-basement special effects need a lot more than one great and one satisfactory monster suit. Some more focus and genuine feeling in the human story (which is, at every turn, canned and phony) would certainly have helped; less of the pointless add-ins like the M.O.G.E.R.A. tech with the vanishing German accent, the sudden development of Miki's telekinesis that ends up contributing nothing, or the odd '60s jazz tang to Hattori Takayuki's score would have helped even more. This is a ditzy, over-polished film that is at once too serious and too silly to function as a legitimately good film or an enjoyably campy one. If it has any merit at all, it is that it deepens Godzilla's character, making the monster both a terrifying threat (its emergence from the sea is tense and epic at a level that nothing else in the film comes remotely close to achieving), and a vaguely sympathetic anti-hero. It feints at the superhero Godzilla of the '70s, but in a very different register of mood altogether, and it promises a version of the creature that could be a fascinating character in some movie. But not this one.