1975 ushered in the end of the Showa era of Godzilla films and can you really blame it? Look at the how much science fiction, horror and “monster” movies were changing by the mid-to-late ‘70s. 1975 also brought us Jaws, while 1977 would bring us Star Wars, 1979 contributed Alien and so on. The modern “blockbuster” era was beginning and B-movie style films like the Godzilla series were looking more and more embarrassing in comparison.
Terror of Mechagodzilla was not meant to be the last film in the original Godzilla series, but the writing was on the wall and after it snoozed through the box office, Toho killed all their future Godzilla projects and closed up shop on the franchise.
The Black Hole aliens aren’t about to give up on their conquest of Earth and this time they’ve teamed up with the mad earth scientist Dr. Mafune (Akihiko Hirata). With the help of his daughter (Tomoko Ai), Dr. Mafune recreates Mechagodzilla (Ise Mori) for the aliens, this time eliminating its various design flaws. Also using their combined knowledge of giant monsters, Mafune and the aliens seize control of the aquatic menace called Titanosaurus (Katsumi Nimiamoto). Godzilla (Toru Kawai) will have to stand alone against these two threats (though the humans will help a little).
Terror of Mechagodzilla is not a grand finale. Like I said, it wasn’t meant to be the end of the franchise, so there isn’t any pomp or circumstance to Godzilla’s departure. It’s just another installment in the series, rehashing some ideas (and the main villain) from the previous movie and is, honestly, a forgettable effort. So if you were expecting a big bang at the end of the Showa series, you might be in for a disappointment, as the series putters out on a whimper rather than a roar.
Just as Godzilla vs. Megalon was a Jet Jaguar movie and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla was a King Caesar movie, with Godzilla only showing up for a fight at the end, Terror of Mechagodzilla is all about Titanosaurus. Director Ishiro Honda tries to turn this rather infuriating formula on its head a bit, as Titanosaurus (the star of the film) is the enemy rather than ally of Godzilla. There’s a little leeway, as Titanosaurus is mind-controlled throughout the final battle of the film, leaving his true disposition/alignment uncertain.
That doesn’t save the fact that Titanosaurus is one of the most boring monsters in the Toho roster and in no way capable of carrying a film. He’s nothing but a vaguely fishy-looking dinosaur with a long neck and is even blander in appearance than Gorosaurus. He has no ranged attacks save for the ability to create hurricane winds with his tail and his only useful ability seems to be a powerful jaw. There’s a reason this guy has never made a comeback, not even for Godzilla: Final Wars.
Mechagodzilla is back for a second helping, so it’s got that going for it. He’s much the same as he was in the previous film, though with a few upgrades. In one of the better moments near the end of the final battle, Godzilla attempts to defeat Mechagodzilla the same way he did in the last film; by tearing off his head. Mechagodzilla is revealed to have a secondary head underneath and in a “GOTCHA!” moment starts zapping the shit out of Godzilla with it. He’s ultimately destroyed through cooperation with the human cast, so much like Hedorah, there’s “debate” over whether Godzilla could have defeated this incarnation of Mechagodzilla on his own (just kidding; nobody debates this shit).
This would be Ishiro Honda’s final Godzilla film allowing him the last word on the series he started in 1954. It isn’t even close to one of his best offerings, but it’s a far cry from his worst, too (endeavor to remember that Honda also directed the reviled All Monsters Attack).
As a staple of Honda’s style, there’s a lot of human drama and tragedy. Dr. Mafune’s daughter, Katsura, has her mind and her life inextricably linked to Mechagodzilla, meaning if one dies so must the other. She commits suicide in the arms of her lover (Katsuhiko Sasaki) in the final scenes and it’s a pretty grim way to end such a silly movie. The suicide scene (which was cut from the English version I saw as a kid) is more memorable than most of the other stuff in this movie and makes for one of the better human subplots we’ve seen.
Terror of Mechagodzilla isn’t the best way to end the Showa series. It has its exciting points and Honda does try to changeup the formula where he can (it was fun to see Godzilla go it alone against two opponents, forgoing his usual sidekick character). But you can really tell that the steam has run out in this franchise and it’s for the best that Toho put the series to bed for 9 years. If the fact that this is a non-finale perturbs you, just remember that “Destroy All Monsters” is chronologically the last film in the Showa series (as it takes place in the future). So during your Showa marathons, you could always watch that one last and walk away with a glimmer of satisfaction and closure.