Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, April 4, 2014

Series Report Card: Godzilla (1973)

13. Godzilla vs. Megalon
Gojira tai Megaro

If “Godzilla vs. Gigan” was the most average seventies Godzilla movie you could imagine, the next year’s “Godzilla vs. Megalon” is the franchise officially entering its “No longer giving a shit” period. The film is the second most kid-targeted of the series since “Godzilla’s Revenge” and only narrowly avoids the same juvenile level. The script is incredibly thin and the story is borderline incoherent. The film might be the cheesiest Godzilla movie ever made, which is no small feat. Having said all this, if watched through the eyes of a child, a certain joy can be derived from this ridiculous movie.

In the early 1970s, Japan and other nations have started performing subterranean nuclear bomb test. That is, burying nukes deep underground and setting them off. This pisses off the underground civilization of Seatopia, made up of the remnants of Lemuria and Mu. In retaliation, they do two things. First, their surface-dwelling agents steal inventor Goro Ibuki’s advanced robot Jet Jaguar. Secondly, Seatopia sends their god, the giant beetle Megalon, to the surface to wreck havoc. Jet Jaguar is used to direct Megalon towards the surface’s cities. However, Goro, his young nephew Rokuro, and their race car driver friend Hiroshi regain control of Jet Jaguar. A force for good again, the robot recruits Godzilla to help fight off Megalon. The Seatopians double down, sending Gigan in as reinforcements. Thus, an insanely goofy kaiju tag-team wrestling match ensues.

You might have noticed that plot is complete nonsense. The motivation behind the underground nuclear tests isn’t elaborated on. After being introduced at the beginning of the film, the subject is hardly ever mentioned again. Considering we didn’t even know Seatopia was down there, maybe sending a giant monster up to wreck our shit is a somewhat unreasonable reaction. Furthermore, how does an ancient, underground Earth society have contact with Nebula-M? When the Seatopians want to borrow Gigan, they just call the giant cockroaches up. It’s an incredibly thin way to get a fourth monster in the movie. Finally, I suppose this next point of contention is nitpicking but… If Seatopia is a “Mole People”-style subterranean civilization, why are they called Seatopia? Doesn’t that name bring to mind images of Atlantis? You’d expect their god to be a sea serpent or a giant octopus, not a cyborg beetle.

Let’s talk about Jet Jaguar. First off, he resembles neither a jet nor a jaguar. What, or rather who, he resembles is Ultraman, Red Baron, Toho’s own Zone Fighter, or any number of tokusatsu heroes that were popular on Japanese television at the time. Toho was no longer an innovator in the science fiction genre but rather following popular trends. When you look at him, it’s unsurprising to read that Jet Jaguar was created by a grade schooler. His bright colors, ridiculous grin, and derivative design definitely seem like something a seven year old would cook up. What’s also unsurprising is that “Godzilla vs. Megalon” was originally planned as a solo Jet Jaguar movie. The focus is kept on him to the determent of the other creatures in the film. If we’re supposed to root for the robot, why does he spend half of the movie under the control of the villains? Jet Jaguar can more-or-less do anything. He gains sentience and grows to giant size just because he wants too. Toho’s plans to spin the character off into his own franchise were obviously premature. Modern fandom regards the character poorly and he is one of the few Godzilla kaiju to never make another film appearance.

Like the previous entry, “Godzilla vs. Megalon” is bogged down with stock footage. We see the same melting tanks form “Mothra vs. Godzilla” for the third time. Megalon exploding part of Tokyo hails from “Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster.” This is especially noticeable since we never actually see the giant monster interact with the city. Godzilla’s belly flops into the ocean, as in “Godzilla Versus the Sea Monster,” again. Monster Island is flooded with yellow fog again, from “Destroy All Monsters.” Most egregiously, footage from “Godzilla vs. Gigan” is reused and not just when the title monster makes his reappearance. Megalon strikes jets out of the sky. However, keen eyed viewers might notice Gigan’s claws exploding the planes, not Megalon’s. Did Toho think the kids in the audience wouldn’t notice or were they really that strapped for cash?

Speaking of kids.... The human plot of “Godzilla vs. Megalon” is focused squarely on the kiddies. Goro’s invention seem more for the benefit of little Rokuro then anyone else. Rokuro enters the film riding on a ridiculous pool toy, a paddle-boat that resembles three cartoon fish attached to each other. Despite nearly dying in a whirlpool the day before, Goro lets Rokuro ride off on a mini-bike the next day. In the house, giant blocks hang from the ceiling on chains, pictures of race cars painted on them. The little boy winds up fighting off the Seatopian agents, even using a remote controlled airplane to save the day. There are no female characters in the film at all, presumably because girls are icky. At least the monsters don’t talk to Rokuro and help him through his personal problems.

There’s a lot of stuff in “Godzilla vs. Megalon” to roll your eyes at. There’s also plenty of stuff to enjoy in it. When not focused on the little kid, the human plot is endearingly loopy. From what we see of Seatopia, it’s completely ridiculous looking. The society features a mo’ai theme for no particular reason. Women in lingerie, pointy hats, and see-through dresses dance before an idol of Megalon. The commander of Seatopia has a distinctive look, combining a white toga, a tiara, go-go boots, a seventies porn ‘stache, and Sean Connery-levels of body hair. For a fact, the guy wouldn’t look out of place in “Zardoz.” That all we ever see of Seatopia is one set is a testament to the film’s tiny budget.

The silliness doesn’t end there. The lead Seatopian agent has a head of feathery Oscar Wilde hair. The other agent wears a full beard and is disposed off by unimportant supporting characters. Though he has no reason to, the agent explains Seatopia’s evil plot in detail to a bound Hiroshi. This leads to the film’s most deliriously amusing moment. Hiroshi jumps in his car and races off, pursued by the villains. A motorcycle soon joins the pursuit. The chase scene takes place on an open road before heading down a flight of stairs, a truly bizarre stunt. It then ends with a car smashing through a building, leaving a perfect Looney Tunes-style shaped hole. Moments like this is “Godzilla vs. Megalon” at its most absurdly entertaining.

Megalon is an unlikely creation. He resembles a tokusatsu monster of the week. Despite being a giant insect, he stands on two legs and has a human-like build. He appears to be an organic being yet has mechanical drills for hands. The big bug can also shoot exploding, acidic spitballs from his mouth. Either way, Megalon isn’t a very smart monster. He winds up saving the film’s heroes, bouncing the container holding them back onto land, to safety. Later on, he is indirectly responsible for the Seatopian agent’s death. When Jet Jaguar switches sad, Megalon begins to fly around in confusion, striking funny poses with his drill-hands. Like Jet Jaguar, Megalon would never appear again in a Toho film. Unlike Jet Jaguar, the beetle god is too bizarre not to be lovable and remains a fan favorite.

After nearly an hour of set-up, “Godzilla vs. Megalon” can finally get to its main attraction: The Kaiju Brawl. Jet Jaguar holds his own against Megalon for a while but, when Gigan shows up, he proves outmatched. Luckily, Godzilla finally makes his entrance not long after that. A four-way battle begins featuring some truly hilarious highlights. The monsters communicate via hand signals. Godzilla and Jet Jaguar shake hands while Gigan and Megalon clang their claws together. Jet Jaguar is tossed back and forth between the evil monsters, his body stiff the whole time. There’s much ridiculous fisticuffs, the monsters kicking and punching one another. Jet Jaguar is hammered into the ground, buried up to his shoulders. Gigan puts his claw to the robot’s neck, as if threatening to slit his nonexistent throat. When Godzilla tries to rescue him, the evil monsters pin the hero monsters in with a circle of fire. Amusingly, the Godzilla suit actually catches fire. The robot tosses Gigan into the air, allowing Godzilla to shoot him down with his atomic breath. A broken claw later and Gigan flees, like the giant Cyborg Space Chicken he is. The finishing move performed on Megalon is by-far the movie’s most notorious moment. Jet Jaguar holds the enemy monster in place. Godzilla takes a running start, sliding onto his tail, slamming into the monster with his feet. The movie recognizes this scene’s inherent value, replaying it a second time.

Jun Fukuda’s workman-like direction is non-intrusive, never getting in the way of the movie’s ridiculous action. Riichiro Manabe contributes his second Godzilla score. The Godzilla fanfare from “Hedorah” is revived, the low trumpets still seeming out of place. However, most of the movie’s score is devoted to Jet Jaguar’s theme song. The playful music certainly seems like something out of a seventies toksatsu show. It even gets inane lyrics at the film’s end. Though fans might remember the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” version better…

“Godzilla vs. Megalon” was supposedly shot in all of three weeks, which is fairly evident. All the city destruction scenes are reused from other films and the final battle takes place in the nondescript country-side. At least Godzilla got a new suit to replace the badly worn previous one. The movie wasn’t successful in Japan, thankfully sinking any plans for a Jet Jaguar solo series. In America, however, the film received a heavily-advertised theatrical release. A year later, it was even shown as prime time television on NBC, hosted by John Belushi in a Godzilla suit. This was both a blessing and a curse. The film kept Godzilla popular over here well into the seventies. On the other hand, the movie is probably widely responsible for the Godzilla series’ stateside reputation as nothing but campy, goofy action spectacles. As poorly made as the movie’s insane content is, I can’t hate “Godzilla vs. Megalon.” The script might be shoddy, the production values might be miniscule and the effects might be cheesy. Yet the movie is never boring and is frequently wildly entertaining. [Grade: C+]

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