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I’m a comic book nerd, so one of the reasons Godzilla movies appealed to me as a kid is because the monsters felt, at least to me, like superheroes. They each had their own unique appearances, “super powers” and special origins. Destroy All Monsters was like the watching the Justice League take on a world-shattering threat: Every unique monster from Toho’s past cinematic endeavors team-up for one major rumble. While there had been team-ups in the past (Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Invasion of Astro-Monster, specifically), this movie cranked the dial up to eleven, resurrecting every one of Toho’s giant monsters that still had functioning suits (and even a few that didn’t).
In the far-flung future of 1999, all the world’s monsters have been wrangled up and isolated on the highly fortified Monster Island. While it seemed like a great idea at the time, it only made things easier for the alien invaders called the Kilaaks to sieze control of them. Setting the monsters of the Earth rampaging across the globe, the Kilaaks only want one thing: World domination! Katsuo (Akira Kubo), Captain of the spaceship SY-3, won’t stand for any of this and plans to thwart the Kilaaks… with a little help from the giant monsters, of course.
After a two movie hiatus, Ishiro Honda returns to the director’s seat for his most epic monster flick yet. Gone is Jun Fukuda’s more modern approach, with Destroy All Monsters reverting back to Honda’s ’50s B-movie style. The Kilaaks, evil monster-controlling aliens in silly outfits, definitely channel the Xillians from Invasion of Astro-Monster in their way, with a similar scheme that achieves similar results. While Fukuda’s films were more in touch with the youth of Japan, often being gratuitously silly or childish, Honda jerks the franchise back into less juvenile waters. There’s plenty of violence amongst the human characters, with lots of folks getting shot, brainwashed oafs jumping off cliffs, a lady getting her ear torn up and even a brief autopsy scene. Monster humor is also severely limited, with Minilla puffing a smoke ring at King Ghidorah being about the only “funny” sequence.
Along with Honda, Akira Ifukube returns to provide the music. While Fukuda chose to go with more “hip” and “happening” tunes, and they were a refreshing diversion, nothing beats Ifukube’s booming and triumphant score. Even though it certainly does sound pretty much like all his other work, lacking any sort of individual identity distinguishing it from the rest, that doesn’t really matter. Ifukube’s name is as synonymous with Godzilla as Honda’s and Tsubaraya’s.
Being an Ishiro Honda installment, a great deal of focus is placed upon the human protagonists and their humanoid enemies. Expect a long stretch of time in the middle of the movie without any monsters, as the humans do their level best to overcome the sinister threat of the Kilaaks. I wouldn’t call it dull, as there are lots of campy sci-fi trappings to enjoy, such as the SY-3 spaceship, but it does drag a little. The humans also suffer in the personality department despite their abundance of screentime, not really standing out as much as characters from previous films.
But who gives a damn about them? This movie’s all about the monsters. Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima), Minilla (‘Little Man’ Machan), Rodan (Teruo Nigaki), Anguirus (Hiroshi Sekita), Gorosaurus, Mothra (in larva form) and Kumonga all get major roles during the final battle, ganging up on King Ghidorah (Susumu Utsumi). Manda is involved in much of the citywide destruction at the beginning of the film, but is mostly absent from the final battle. Then there’s Varan and Baragon, who are reduced to very brief cameos due to severe suit degradation. It’s basically Toho’s whole roster in one form or another, leaving Ghidorah pretty well fucked.
Varan, Baragon and Manda are essentially the cheering section.
The final battle is very well choreographed and exciting, with each monster that isn’t decomposing into a pile of foam rubber flakes getting a chance to strut their stuff. Anguirus gets a whole lot of action, which is surprising, as this is his first appearance since Godzilla Raids Again. Likewise, Gorosaurus, a bit player in King Kong Escapes, takes great participation in the final battle, showing off his “kangaroo kick,” as fans call it. This probably has to do with the fact that King Kong Escapes had only been made a year before, so his outfit was in better condition than all the rest.
An interesting note is that while Destroy All Monsters takes place in the future year of 1999, all the follow-up Showa films return to the present. So that means that, chronologically, Destroy All Monsters is the last film in Showa continuity. From that perspective, it’s a pretty grand finale (beats the heck out of Terror of Mechagodzilla). King Ghidorah finally meets his end after years and years of high-tailing it out into space whenever things began to look grim. Why future installments in the Showa series didn’t go along with this future timeline, I can’t say.
Destroy All Monsters is a very ambitious movie not to be equaled in its monster lineup until Godzilla Final Wars, nearly 40 years later (and even that one relegated most of the monsters to cameo status). Destroy All Monsters really encapsulates the Showa series, featuring the “trinity” of Godzilla creators, flavor from both the darker and lighter halves of the series and more monsters than you know what to do with. It’s a perfect, iconic Godzilla movie and, in a way, the only one you’ll ever need (if you’re just a casual fan, of course).