The Showa Era of Toho’s Godzilla series had been ramping up the silliness for a while, now; you can probably track the progress of the series’ insanity with Godzilla’s Irish jig in Invasion of Astro-Monster.
For better or worse, it’s the ridiculous stupidity of the second half of the Showa Era I hold nearest and nearest to my heart. Why? Because they may be dumb, they may be bewildering and they may be goofy, but you can never, EVER accuse these films of being boring. And beyond Ishiro Honda’s 1954 original, there is really nothing duller than a Godzilla flick that takes itself too seriously.
The subterranean kingdom of Seatopia is PISSED. Having had enough of the atomic bomb tests of the surface dwellers, the Seatopians unleash their giant insect god, Megalon (Hideto Odachi), upon the people of Tokyo. To control Megalon, they require the sophisticated robot known as Jet Jaguar (Tsugutoshi Komada), which the Seatopians intend to steal from the family of inventors who built it. Jet Jaguar is not so easily purloined, as he grows to massive size to face the rampaging Megalon. At Jaguar’s back is Godzilla (Shinji Takagi), willing to help his new friend in battle. At Megalon’s back? A vengeance-hungry Gigan (Kenpachiro Satsuma).
Yeah f--k him up, Megalon! Curb-stomp that piece of s--t Ultraman wannabe!
The first thing I often hear people criticize about Godzilla vs. Megalon is the overall lack of Godzilla during the first 40-50 minutes of the film (which runs only 78 minutes total). It’s certainly true that Godzilla is treated as a guest start in his own film, as Godzilla vs. Megalon was conceived more as a vehicle for the new Jet Jaguar… a rather thinly disguised knock-off of the popular TV character Ultraman. While Godzilla’s inclusion is an afterthought at best (he seems to have only been included following script rewrites, ala Ebirah, Horror of the Deep), that doesn’t necessarily make this a boring movie, either.
Although the lies promised in the American movie poster would have been more exciting.
Toho seemed to have designs on a Jet Jaguar series, so they introduce a small central cast of very strong personalities, each boasting Saturday morning cartoon varieties of character quirks. Goro, for instance, is the rather mild-mannered robotics expert who built Jet Jaguar in his laboratory/secret base. His best friend is Hiroshi, a racecar driver and adrenaline junkie that elicits the most human-scale action sequences from the film. And lastly is the kid-appeal character, Goro’s nephew Rokuro, who just so happens to be a mechanical prodigy when it comes to building tiny vehicles.
The central cast is outrageously silly and, again, they feel like they’ve stepped directly out of a cartoon or comic book. You’re kind of left with the feeling that they were meant for more appearances and more action in future Jet Jaguar spin-offs or sequels, but that never came to pass (the end of the Showa Era of the Godzilla series is just around the corner, too). Their eccentricities keep things interesting when there are no monsters in sight and their convenient abilities make the action sequences more entertaining than they otherwise would be. There’s a very elaborate and absurdly goofy car chase, for instance, as Seatopian agents pursue Hiroshi and he uses various driving techniques of the cartoonish variety to lose them.
There’s an extremely soft edge to the film, solidifying it as a children’s movie, and again, playing up those Saturday morning cartoon angles. The Seatopian agents, while threatening, all use knock-out gas guns rather than the real things. When they do plot to kill the heroes, it’s a time-delay death trap (trapping them in a shipping container and dumping them down a crevice) that gives the protagonists ample opportunity to get away. The only real “edge” to the film is the manner in which the two agents die; a little grim considering the silly nature of everything else going on in the film.
Although it takes Godzilla a good while to actually participate in the film, once the big monster battle is initiated, it goes on. And on. And ON. I think the final battle between Godzilla, Jet Jaguar, Megalon and Gigan lasts at least a half hour. This fight DRAGS. So even though the Big G takes the better part of an hour to show up, he probably still ends up with more screen time in this film than he does in most of his starring pictures thanks exclusively to the prolonged battle. Also, a goodly portion of it is stock footage, so there’s that.
Director Jun Fukuda, who is probably best known for directing most of the sillier, kid-oriented Showa Era films, dials up the goofiness to an 11 for the fight scene and the entire battle is played strictly for laughs. If you’ve ever seen footage of Godzilla running and sliding on his tail to deliver a sucker kick, then you’ve seen the most famous part of this movie.
A scene so good it made the title sequence of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
But again, the zaniness is what makes the fight so interesting, as a half hour of dull monster punches and energy blasts would really wear you down. Fukuda changes things up as fast and furious as possible, trying out every new and weird move he can think of. What I liked most was that Fukuda tested out a number of “special moves” with the monsters, giving them all unique abilities to make them stand out. Whereas the monsters in the past just had something basic like “lightning breath” or “hurricane wings” or “silly string”, Fukuda overloads Megalon with lots of dynamic abilities; some of which look great, others not so much. He ends up being probably the most powerful monster in the series this side of Hedorah thanks exclusively to the number of powers he has.
If there’s anything wrong with Godzilla vs. Megalon, aside from the long wait for Godzilla to show up, I guess it’s that the script feels rather slapdash and not everything holds together so well. The villains steal Jet Jaguar to control Megalon, who seems to be pretty loyal to them regardless of the tiny flying robot hovering over his head. Goro then retakes control of Jaguar with a sudden override device he never mentioned until it became crucial to the plot. Worst of all is the explanation for how Jet Jaguar suddenly gains the power to grow to monster size. “Burning justice” sums it up. That’s Japan’s answer for everything.
Oh, is that what you think? It was his determination? Okay then, mystery solved. Let’s never question this random bullshit again.
If you take your Godzilla films too seriously, then I can see how Godzilla vs. Megalon might not be your thing. And if you really don’t give a s--t about Jet Jaguar, then yeah, the first 40 minutes of this movie can be a drag even with all the action and cartooniness. However, I for one find this to be one of the more rewatchable Godzilla flicks because it never slows down and the characters are all highly individualistic rather than boring reporters or stuffy lab coat scientists. It’s a rare thing for a Godzilla film to hold your interest when Godzilla isn’t on screen and Godzilla vs. Megalon manages that feat in spades.