*Warning: Mild spoilers*
"Godzilla x Mechagodzilla" had a tough act to follow; the nearly perfect "Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah". And, while good, "GMK" is still the high water mark of the Millennium series, probably including the Hesei series as well, so expectations and comparisons are hard to ignore. However, director Tezuka definitely picked up a few new tricks since the just-okay "Godzilla x Megaguirus", and follows up "GMK" excellently.
In short, like the other Godzilla Millennium series, this one starts the G mythos over from square one with only the original binding it. However, unlike many other movies, in this one, the original Godzilla actually was killed by the Oxygen Destroyer, and the current Godzilla is just a new one (where he came from, however, they never reveal, a matter I'll discuss later). So, to counter this new threat, the "Anti-Megalosaurus" division of the JSDF builds a new weapon, named Kiryu, nicknamed Mechagodzilla, out of the bones and DNA programming of the old Godzilla's bone remains. It quickly proves itself a match against the new G, but later the original G programming in the DNA runs amuck. But, after that's taken care of, and Godzilla himself appears on land, Mechag is rearmed and ready for a final battle!
First, the good: And get ready, 'cause it's a long list.
The story dangerously treads ground similar to the stories of the main human protagonists in "G 2000" and "G x M". However, here they're used in unique and different ways. The story of Akane, the main pilot of MG who messed up an early battle with Godzilla and got several fellow soldiers killed, is similar to the one of the main character from "G x M". But, instead of out for vengeance against G, Akane is out to find a reason to live and prove to herself she can do a good job. And Professor Yuhura and his daughter are much like the scientist and daughter of "G 2000", but don't follow G around. And those three characters interact in interesting ways. And most importantly, the story between them and for each one individually was strong and well acted, particularly Yumiko Shaku as Akane, who is great in this movie (and good looking too). The supporting characters, from the pilot who lost a brother to Akane's mistake, to the political leaders, do good jobs as well.
The story is serious without being too grim (although that works really well in "GMK"), and I really felt for the characters. However, they really only started to come together at about the 45 minute mark, and could have used a little more closure. Nevertheless, the story and characters are strong, especially for a Godzilla movie, but don't quite match the drama of "GMK". Another interesting fact is that I actually felt for Mechag as a character! Knowing that his history is actually as the resurrected first Godzilla, forced to fight against one of his own, and eventually having something of a life and working with the distressed and determined Akane made all the cool moves, damage and things he does during the final battle make him that much cooler. He's also, I think, the best-looking Mechag to date: the personality of the first one (only not evil), plus the cool weapons of the second one to the tenth power!
Also nice about the story is that it fleshes out the new world, what with talking about previous monster attacks, and giving the new "AM" division of the JSDF some history as to why they have maser weapons and the technology to develop something like Mechag.
And speaking of which, the special effects are great. The suits and models move well, the missiles and masers are cool, and computer effects are used to enhance reality instead of contrast with the models. This is also the best incarnation of the Millennium G suit; it goes back to black and gray coloring, his fire is blue, and he's more mobile and shows more expression than ever. And of course, combine all this with great, cohesive effects, and you get a near-perfect final battle! This is one of the best, most knock-down, drag out monster fights of any Kaiju movie, ranking up there with "Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris" (but more gratuitous) and the final battles in "GMK", "Destroy All Monster" and "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" in my opinion. The great directing, cinematography, and special effects all combine to form one great fight.
And finally, Godzilla himself is really good, but not great, in this movie (this will lead into the movie's faults). As said, the new version of the G Millennium suit is the best, although the eyes are a little too big. And it's nice that his colors are back to normal too. But, as many have said, G himself is little more than a MacGuffin, something the other characters react to in this one. I have to say, that while I do prefer it when G motivates the story, the coldness to him kind of works here, as it's like he's just an impersonal force of nature they're reacting to. However, that does somewhat reduce the story to nothing more than a reaction. Plus, the people don't react quite emphatically enough to the appearance of a new Godzilla: they don't even question where he came from!
Also, during the first fight with MG and some battle scenes, G just stands there when he's getting hit by missiles and weapons like an empty suit! They fix this for the last battle, but it's still annoying. Also, the movie does falter a bit, as G is much weaker in this movie than he was at the tip top of evil-ness in "GMK".
But, Godzilla is far from a pushover. He takes cheap shots at MG, tears up the town, and there are some beautiful shots of him in this movie that just capture the essence of what I love about Godzilla. To me, the best of these is when Godzilla has just attacked a squadron of planes, and he's walking towards the camera, smoke billowing behind him, and a piece of debris from a jet falls in front of him, hits the ground, explodes, and lights up beneath him. G looks so malevolent and powerful...man, it's gorgeous! And the movie is just filled with "Woah!" moments like that, like when Mechag flies in and slams into G.
However, the movie owes a lot to "GMK" for some of that, because there are some scenes, such as the "night-vision" view of G from the tanks, or Godzilla attacking the airplanes, that are almost lifted straight out of "GMK", and are down with less impressive effects, and thus feel less powerful (although, in a nice addition, when G blows up the planes, he does it from far away, and you can see people scurrying in the foreground). Also, the ending is kind of sweet and sour, because while they do defeat Godzilla, he just kind of wanders off like he's tired of fighting. However, that does tell you just how powerful Mechag is!
Finally, as many have asked, why do we need a new Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla when it's been less than ten years since the last one? I'm afraid they have a point, and Toho gets points deducted for not being original. However, this one is so much of an improvement over the previous ones, even without secondary monsters (including Rodan), that I'm willing to excuse a lack of originality in concept for originality and cool-ness in the final battle.
All in all, "Godzilla x Mechagodzilla" is a more gratuitously destructive, "popcorn" movie than "GMK", and is easily the second best of the Millennium series. It's not perfect, or as dramatic as "GMK", but is to me the second best of the Millennium series, and possibly better than any of the Hesei. An enthusiastic 7/10!