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Godzilla vs. Megalon

Godzilla vs. Megalon

Gojira tai Megaro

Jun Fukuda

Japan, 1973

Credits

Review by Matthew Derby

Posted on 13 February 2013

Source DVD (dubbed version)

Categories The Compleat Godzilla

For many Godzilla fans and film critics, Godzilla vs. Megalon is an unqualified creative failure, a crude turd of a film churned out by Toho in a crass attempt to reinvigorate the flagging Godzilla brand by piggybacking on the popularity of Ultraman, Kaimen Rider, Super Sentai, and other programs geared toward younger audiences. It neatly represents all of the worst qualities of the daikaiju genre: Shallow acting, questionable special effects, recycled footage, and corny dialogue are the glue that binds Godzilla vs. Megalon together, and the oddball inclusion of a giant robot that looks suspiciously like Ultraman to fight alongside Godzilla further drives home the point that this is the film that officially broke the Godzilla franchise’s back, creatively and monetarily (it was the first in the series to earn less than expected at the box office). Godzilla fans can hardly be blamed for feeling robbed—Godzilla vs. Megalon unceremoniously dispenses with the reclusive and enigmatic nature of the green colossus featured in earlier films, characterizing him instead as a pumped-up tag team wrestler who talks smack to his rivals using a sort of crude sign language and finishes them off with showy flourishes like the piledriver or the tailslide kick. The stoic titans of Monster Island, in other words, have been overthrown by their Olympian counterparts, and their struggle, however more clearly relatable to us, seems greatly diminished.

The premise of the film is that a civilization that has lived peacefully at the bottom of the ocean for three million years, having created their own sun and oxygen, has become angry at the sudden profusion of nuclear testing going on above them. These Seatopians call upon their guardian robot or monster or… something called Megalon to rise up and wreak havoc on the Earth’s surface, a task that the bug-eyed, drill-handed beast seems to have been dying for eons to carry out. This seems to be a solid plan to the viewer, but it’s not enough for the Seatopians. They also want to steal an advanced robot from a group of scientists on the surface so that they can better guide Megalon to destroy the city of their choice. The robot, named Jet Jaguar and controlled by some sort of infrared whistle that requires line of sight with the robot to work, is harder to steal than the Seatopians thought, because it develops its own intelligence and increases tenfold in size to battle Megalon (how the Seatopians didn’t see this coming is anyone’s guess). Seatopia’s backup plan? Call in the space monster Gigan. Jet Jaguar, in response, calls on Godzilla and it, as they say, is on.

Despite its hokey unevenness, I’ve watched Godzilla vs. Megalon more frequently than any other film in the series. It’s the Godzilla film I recommend first to anyone interested in the franchise, because even with all of its shortcomings – many of which it aggressively acknowledges and plays up to great effect – it manages to deliver on its promise in a way that only a handful of the other films do. Where many of the Godzilla films get lost in the lengthy plot-heavy windup to a final showdown between legendary beasts, Godzilla vs. Megalon is chiefly concerned with the final tag team battle itself, and it moves quickly and efficiently to the site of the conflict and hovers there for nearly half the film’s runtime, patiently building up the tension as the monsters (and giant robot) assemble and clash. The event is formatted and choreographed exactly like a classic wrestling match, right down to the larger-than-life taunts by the battling foes. The extensive hand-to-hand combat looks goofy and outrageous, but instead of hiding this fact with quick camera cuts and oblique angles as many of the previous films do, the filmmakers here seem to actually call attention to the rubbery flaps and seams in the monster suits. We’re finally free to watch this epic battle for what it is—a carefully and elaborately staged spectacle where men in terrific costumes pound one another into submission. It’s the film in the Godzilla franchise that finally gives us permission to laugh ourselves to tears even as we’re swept up in the absurd drama of these clashing brutes.

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