I'm really happy to have finally seen the original Return of Godzilla (and own it, too, no less!). Having said that...
RoG is an interesting film, but not an exciting one. The film moves at a slow pace, although it feels deliberate - unlike the '85 cut, which, to me, felt rushed and lacking information. RoG takes its time to introduce the cast and set up the upcoming events, and so develops a certain restless, ominous atmosphere (though not as strong as I was hoping). Unfortunately, few of the characters are given much development, despite several hints and beginning threads. Goro's kind of a jerk, but we don't get to see much development from there. Hiroshi Okumura develops a hatred for Godzilla, but nothing at all comes out of this. His sister, Naoko, is simply "there". Hayashida is kind of interesting, with his perspective of Godzilla both objective and a little mythic, but on his own this doesn't get far. It would have great to see his wiser attitude contrast with Hiroshi's potential vengeance, or see Hayashida become a peace-keeper (or something) between Goro and the Okumuras. The one character that does seem handled well is the Prime Minister. This is occurring to me as I write it, but the Prime Minister's perspective contrasts with all the other main characters, in that while they've all been waiting for this moment (Hayashida), or at least got caught up in it and are now trying to make the most of it (Goro & Hiroshi), Godzilla's appearance is easily the last thing the poor Prime Minister wanted to deal with. In spite of this, the Prime Minister steps up to the task, and gives the utmost consideration to the ensuing events. I have to sympathize with him; he has to balance three superpowers at once (Godzilla, the USA, and the Soviet Union), and it's kind of a wonder he keeps things under control as much as he does - which makes it hard to watch when Godzilla arrives and the missile launches anyway.
Godzilla's arrival and march through Tokyo are, of course, the big draw for the film; but this is also where the film may stumble the most. Godzilla is fairly animalistic in this film: he is driven by a need to feed, rather than some intangible sense of wrath. His walk through the city is surreal more than it is frightening - which is interesting to watch, but far less enthralling than a bona fide rampage would have been. Make no mistake, the city sets are quite impressive, as are the military's assault at the bay and Teruyoshi Nakano's pyrotechnics in general; the suit is also one of my favorite designs, despite its occasionally hindered mobility and some jarring shots with the cybot. However, none of these effects are enough to really excite at any point, even when the Super X arrives to do battle with Godzilla (and, honestly, what purpose does the Super X actually serve to the narrative?). Watching Goro, Hayashida, and the Okumuras try to escape the building in the meantime gets tedious as well.
I think RoG feels kind of experimental, as if Toho was testing the waters for the character and his franchise. There's obviously political relevancy to the plot, and there's a lot of potential in the characters and the general atmosphere; but I feel like there's something lacking to give the film the "oomph" it needs (not unlike my thoughts towards G2K, curiously). Don't get me wrong, I did like the film; but I was kind of hoping I'd love it, and instead came away feeling it was just highly adequate. I'm delighted to have it in my film collection, nevertheless. Hopefully I'll warm up to it more on future viewings.