The previous installment, Godzilla vs. Megalon, had pretty much reached the zenith of silliness for the Showa Godzilla series. I think by that point, many fans had been “sillied out” and even the kids who loved Godzilla were getting too old for that sort of stuff. So for these final two installments in the original series, the Mechagodzilla films, Toho opted to take Godzilla in something of a more “serious” direction. Now, when I say “serious” I mean by the standard of this series. We’re still dealing with space gorillas, giant lion-dogs and robot dinosaurs, here.
The evil Black Hole aliens have come to Earth with conquest in mind. They know that to conquer the Earth, they must first defeat its guardian: Godzilla (Isao Zushi). To aid them in this approach is their most diabolical creation: Mechagodzilla (Ise Mori). Once Anguirus is toppled by the robot, Godzilla must receive backup from a new partner: King Caesar (Kinichi Kusumi). But first King Caesar has to wake the fuck up.
As the special 20th Anniversary project for Godzilla, Toho rolled out a bigger budget and more spectacle than in their last few installments which were more, uh, “cost efficient”. While Ishiro Honda doesn’t return for the anniversary, Jun Fukuda keeps chugging along. While Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla still possesses all of Fukuda’s trademarks in regards to the series, it almost feels like he’s trying to channel Honda in his own way. It’s definitely one of Fukuda’s strongest offerings, which is good, since it’s also his last film in a series.
It IS similar to Godzilla vs. Megalon in a way, though. Much like how that film was really about setting up Jet Jaguar, relegating Godzilla to a guest appearance in his own movie, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla does the same but with King Caesar. The whole movie is all about him and his elaborate back story involving the royal family of Okinawa, a complicated prophecy with multiple signs and a painfully protracted musical number needed to wake him up. This is a King Caesar movie first and foremost which is a bit of a jab, considering this is SUPPOSED to be Godzilla’s 20th Anniversary tribute. In fact, after the battle with Mechagodzilla is over, Godzilla just unceremoniously slinks away into the ocean without anyone noticing. The final minutes of the film, and the final shot, are all centered around the characters discussing King Caesar and his greatness.
Man, fuck that stupid dog.
Does King Caesar live up to his own hype? Er, no, not really. They spend an hour building him up and when he finally awakens he gets a couple shots in against Mechagodzilla before getting trapped in rubble (at which point Godzilla shows up to save him). His powers and skill set are on the lighter side, too. He’s very fast and agile, but his only notable ability is that he can deflect energy beams with his eyes. King Caesar is just an all-around disappointment and even his “team-up” with Godzilla is hardly that. He sits out most of the fight once Godzilla arrives and only joins forces at the very end to engage in a sucker punch. And yet, he steals the credit for defeating Mechagodzilla, at least from the main cast.
But enough about that dumb mutt. Let’s talk about Mechagodzilla. He’s one of Godzilla’s most iconic adversaries, ranking second to King Ghidorah. Mechagodzilla’s Showa era incarnation is my favorite across the three eras. Here, he’s a villainous cyborg controlled by the Black Hole aliens and is unquestionable a bad guy. The Heisei and Millennium era films would rework him into a heroic character (or lifeless mecha, whatever) and while that made sense for those generations (as Godzilla was the bad guy in those movies), I still prefer my Mechagodzilla to be evil.
He’s brutally overpowered, too. With laser eyes, an electric dynamo in his belly, missile-fingers and a force field, he doesn’t have too much trouble fending off Anguirus, King Caesar and Godzilla. In fact, the only reason Godzilla beats him is because he pulls an inexplicable new power out of his ass (Godzilla can apparently turn himself magnetic whenever he feels like it). The monster battles in this movie are some of the best, thanks to the larger budget, and they’re also some of the most brutal. When Mechagodzilla (disguised as Regular Godzilla) breaks Anguirus’ jaw, there’s a huge spurt of blood. And when he blasts Godzilla in the neck, there’s a geyser of the red stuff. On that gory note, when the Black Hole alien leader gets shot in the neck, he gushes black blood everywhere.
Also, he turns into a space gorilla.
The big problem with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is the middle of the movie. The film is bookended by two excellent fights, but the meat of the flick drags like you wouldn’t believe. It follows a group of humans I don’t give a shit about (a reporter, an archaeologist, a metallurgist and two other guys) trying to figure out the prophecy of King Caesar and accidentally stumbling upon the base of the Black Hole aliens in the process. And there’s isn’t the only human subplot, either, as another one involves the royal family of Okinawa who are ALSO going on about fucking King Poodle. The Princess of Okinawa or whatever the fuck she is even has a vision about a giant monster wrecking her island and, for reasons I don’t understand, it is a vision of King Ghidorah. He isn’t even IN this movie!
Despite those setbacks, Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla is actually a great flick. While its attempt to steer the franchise back toward something slightly more serious is too little, too late, it’s a nice tonal break from the goofiness before it. The bigger budget makes for some excellent battles and the Black Hole aliens are some of the more interesting extraterrestrial baddies in the series (particularly because of their cigar-chomping, brandy-swirling leader).