Written by: Jun Fukuda, Takeshi Kimura, and Shin'ichi Sekizawa
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Starring: Katsuhiko Sasaki, Hiroyuki Kawase, and Yutaka Hayashi
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďGet Godzilla! You'll find him on Monster Island!"
Iíve been on a Godzilla kick lately, and, in a perfect world (one where time is infinite and having a job is optional), Iíd review them all. Instead, Iím just settling for pointing out the highlights (like King Kong vs. Godzilla) when I can. To that end, itís only fair to also point out the lowlights like Godzilla vs. Megalon. The second of two efforts that would eventually be panned by MST3K (which perhaps hints at the depths to which the franchise eventually sunk), this 1973 entry finds Godzilla in peak mascot form. No longer an avatar for mankindís nuclear sins, the King of the Monsters found himself repurposed as a kid-friendly hero trotted out to fend off a challenge from whatever monster Toho concocted to destroy Japan every year.
Like many of their American B-movie counterparts, Toho quickly looked to the skies to book Godzillaís challengers, a development that essentially helped solidify the Kingís face turn. He may have been an asshole, but heís our asshole, and at least he protected us from SPACE MONSTERS. Occasionally, though, Godzilla had to repel a force from below, which is the case with Megalon, a sea-god worshipped by Seatopia, a long-lost civilization looking to rise and conquer the Earth. Only a trio of humans stands in their way: Goro (Katsuhiko Sasaki), his nephew Roku (Hiroyuki Kawase), and mutual friend Hiroshi (Yutaka Hayashi), who detect strange seismic activity and happen to be at work constructing an android, Jet Jaguar, which can conveniently communicate with monsters.
If Tohoís intentions werenít clear enough by this point, this clarified them pretty damn well (not that they really needed much clarifying after All Monsters Attack, a film whose monstrous exploits are the product of a childís imagination). Godzilla is firmly Kidís Stuff now, a notion you either accept or part ways with at this point in the series (where the number of kid-friendly episodes greatly outnumber the few serious entries). While itís tough to swallow considering his truly horrific origins, Godzillaís reconfiguration isnít unlike the monsters that preceded him and those that followed: in horror movies, you either die a villain or get resurrected enough to see yourself become the anti-hero. It just so happens that the Godzilla franchise took that to the extreme by pandering directly to children.
Even accepting that fact, approaching Godzilla vs. Megalon on its own terms can be a real chore at times. By this point, the series had become so rote that even attempts to shake up the formula still feel mechanical. I actually love the setup here (Iím a sucker for lost civilizations, so the faux-Atlantis stuff is a great hook, even if the Seatopia natives are essentially a bunch of vanilla cultists in togas), but itís tough to ignore that it feels like just about every other Godzilla movie from the previous ten years (give or take the occasional oddball entry). Structurally, you can set your watch to many of the developments, only thereís only a smattering of Godzilla, who takes up the Mothra position of spending most of the movie in the ocean before finally making a landfall during the climactic showdown.
Thereís a behind-the-scenes reason to explain why Godzillaís essentially grafted onto the proceedings. Again, a comparison to professional wrestling is in order: Toho held a contest that had kids create a robot design that was set to star as their new babyface in their latest Kaiju picture, and the honor went to the drawing that became Jet Jaguar. However, the promoters at Toho got cold feet about letting a rookie main event, so they decided to let him tag-team with the champ in an effort to get him over with audiences. Usually, Iíd be wary of that sort of thing, but, in hindsight, it seems like a good idea because I imagine a film headlined by Jaguar and Megalon would have been even more forgettable than the final product.
As is often the case with this franchise, itís the final battle that gives this film its flavor, and Godzilla provides most of it. The tag team format is somewhat unique, if not a step down from the bigger rumbles involving multiple monsters in previous films, but Toho really nails the psychology of what this type of match should be. Jet Jaguar makes for an excellent babyface in peril, getting the absolute shit kicked out of him by cheeseball heel Megalon (seriously, of all of Godzillaís foes, heís one of the goofier onesóI think itís the drill hands). Once he essentially makes the hot tag to the King, you have to imagine it blew the roof of theaters, whose audience would have similarly been delighted by the run-in of one of Godzillaís old foes (ďgood god almighty, thatís Giganís music!Ē).
The battle also features the moment where Godzilla may have jumped the shark with a cheapo flying kick maneuver that was immortalized in the opening credits of MST3K for years (and, later, by the internet in .GIF format). Itís a ridiculous looking effect that speaks to how the franchiseís deteriorating production values compound the other problemsóGodzilla vs. Megalon might still be in glorious, comic-book-styled Tohoscope, but its pages are a bit frayed and faded, with few of its effects (outside of Megalonís destruction of a dam) inspiring much awe (it also xeroxes some panels in the form of recycled footage from previous films).
That said, itís difficult to see this as the absolute nadir for the franchise, if only because itís nigh indistinguishable from the films that immediately preceded it. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka famously thought that Godzilla vs. Hedorah ruined the franchise, but itís not like this film (or its predecessor) did much to right the ship. Indeed, Godzillaís Showa era is in its death throes here, primed to give one last, roaring death rattle with the creation of Mechagodzilla in 1975. The King of the Monsterís somewhat unremarkable bout with Megalon is more of a footnote that at least provides a snapshot of how charmingly goofy the series had become. If nothing else, Toho created a bold, colorful world, full of gods, monsters, and the occasional heroic robot; in many ways, it was the first comic book universe to make it to the big screen--it just happened to skip the actual comic book medium. Rent it!
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