Alternate Title: The one where Godzilla gets lasered in the dick.
The Godzillaverse has a revolving cast of monsters in it, but there are a bunch that show up with consistency. You get four of the main ones appearing all together for the first time this film, with the monster who’s widely considered Godzilla’s greatest rival getting the big introduction. Heck, he’s even supplanted Godzilla in the title here! So you know he’s got to be a big deal!
So with the introduction of King Ghidorah and with bringing Rodan in to the Godzilla canon, this movie establishes a couple of set pieces and the way things work that other films in the series will continue on with. This is also the most pulp sci-fiish of the Godzilla films we’ve seen yet, also establishing a new trend for the series.
And, it’s also where the movie wades knee deep into the goofiness the old Godzilla films where known for. Which, it’s been moving in this direction. This isn’t out of nowhere. King Kong vs. Godzilla had a lot of parody and cartoonish moments. But this takes it a step further. Some parts here are just downright slapstick. And there’s no going back from that. Kids were making up a big share of the movie market in Japan at this time, and apparently, they don’t go for big, deep, metaphorical critiques on the nature of war like adults do. Go figure.
The film centers around a brother-sister duo. Media Girl is part of the production team behind one of those History Channel shows about aliens and weird conspiracy theories that my own sister spends too much energy on. Detective Bland is, well, a bland detective. The princess of the Ruffle Kingdom is coming to Japan for some reason or other, and Detective Bland is assigned to be her security. Also, it’s January, but there’s a freak heat wave going on so it’s like 80 degrees out. This never actually matters, but hey, global warming is bad, okay?
Unfortunately for the Princess, her uncle wants her dead for political reasons. These guys are the worst dressed. Absolutely the worst. Look at that picture up there. Imagine a whole country of them. So they put a bomb on her plane as it’s heading towards Japan. Princess is watching a meteor shower from the plane, when she starts hearing a voice telling her to get out. So she apparently bails from a plane in flight, just as it blows up. Did she make it out in time? Who knows?! I do, because I watched the movie.
One of the meteors from the shower lands in the mountains. Professor Murai, who is not Professor Miura from the last film even though he’s played by the same actor, has the same role, and their names are phonetically too similar to be comfortable, takes a team to go study it. Media Girl starts getting close with him over the course of her work trying to make her show about it. Speaking of shows, the Mothra twins from last movie, who we’re going to start calling the Shobijin because I don’t want to keep referring to them in the abstract, are going on a media tour. They appear on some who’s who show to talk about Mothra. Apparently, one of the Mothra larvae died between movies because she was a Mothra and dying is what they do. The other Mothra larvae is still going strong, though! Also, by the way, there’s a crazy person dropping prophecies in the middle of some plaza somewhere. Is that a thing people still have? Plazas? Media Girl wants to go get the crazy prophet for some material for her show, but Detective Bland recognizes the prophet as being his Princess, who had been thought dead. Princess’s uncle also recognizes her, and dispatches assassins. I hope have assassins someday. That seems like it’d be convenient.
Princess seems to have no memories of being Princess, and also claims to be from Venus. She says bad stuff will happen at Mt. Aso. So of course people start going there. And hey! Guess what! This movie isn’t just a sequel to Mothra vs. Godzilla, it’s also a sequel to 1956’s Rodan! I haven’t seen it, because I can’t will myself to watch a movie about Rodan, but from what I understand it was a film about a bunch of flying losers that ended with one of them crashing into the Mt. Aso volcano. But he didn’t die! He erupts out of it now, killing some random guy with his overpowering scent of general failure.
The Shobijin get on a ship to set sail for home, complaining that they’re getting too much attention even though they’re the ones that decided to go on TV. Princess shows up, saying that this ship shouldn’t leave. Everyone ignores her, except for the Shobijin who slip off and leave everyone else to die. And die they do, as Godzilla erupts out of the sea and blows the ship up, before turning towards Japan. Media Girl meets up with Princess and takes her to a hotel her studio does a lot of business with for an interview space. The Shobijin follow them there. Princess demonstrates a number of weird alien abilities. Detective Bland finally decides to start doing something, and shows up to maybe take the Princess to a doctor, because something’s not right there. But then the assassins show up! The Shobijin run interference until Detective Bland shows up to engage in right and proper gunfighting with them. Princess reads in the dark meanwhile. Because she has priorities.
Godzilla arrives in Japan and starts his usual business of glorious destruction, but then Rodan shows up and is mildly annoying so Godzilla starts to chase him around, heading into the mountains. The battle is a little odd. Rodan’s immune to Godzilla’s atomic breath and can fly, easily outdistancing any of Godzilla’s physical attacks. However, whereas full-grown Mothra had a whole host of options for dealing with enemies, Rodan’s just a pterodactyl. I really big pterodactyl, but he’s just that. He doesn’t have any special abilities or anything. He can peck, and he can ram, but that’s it, and either of those leaves him open to Godzilla. So they end up not really doing a whole lot to each other. Detective Bland takes Princess to a super-great psychiatrist that lives in the middle of nowhere. He hypnotizes her, she insists on being from Venus and says that she’s thousands of years old, but she lives in spirit form only possessing this body because a great evil monster destroyed her entire civilization in a single day. That monster has come to Earth, and he’ll do the same thing here!
Meanwhile, Doctor Murai notices that the meteor he’s studying is radioactive. And sometimes magnetic. Then it breaks open, and a fireball bursts out! And in what is really an impressive display of 1960’s special effects, the fireball begins shifting shape and taking form into a huge, three-headed monster. King Ghidorah has arrived.
So King Ghidorah can obliterate entire civilizations in a single day. But that’s a Venusian day, which is like a hundred earth days, so we’ve got some time to work with. He’s in Japan though, so he flies around breaking some Japanese stuff. Japan’s government decides that at this point, they’ve got two fearsome destructive monsters and also Rodan around, so maybe they should plan to do something about it. They convene. Professor Murai, Media Girl, and the Shobijin show up with a plan to have the Mothra larvae get Godzilla and Rodan to work together to fight King Ghidorah. Media Girl also lets loose in a public broadcast Princess’s exact location at this moment in time, which you might recognize as being the exact last thing you want to do when there are assassins out there after someone.
Meanwhile, the psychiatrist decided that if he’s determined she’s completely sane, and she’s still saying she’s from Venus, electroshock therapy is the answer. And his electroshock therapy machine is really a secret assassination device, apparently, because its amperage is set in a completely different room from the machine itself and goes up to a full six times the lethal dose. So of course, as they’re preparing to shock her into ‘sanity’, the assassins, guided by Media Girl’s dumbbutt broadcast, sneak in and set it to where it’ll kill her instantly. They almost succeed, too, except that Rodan picks up Godzilla and drops him on a power line at just that moment, shutting down the electricity just as the doctor sets it to her. The assassins break in, guns at the ready, but Detective Bland is there to fight them off. Then Murai and Media Girl show up, and the evacuation order is given, so things get a bit busy.
The Mothra larva shows up. At this point, the fight between Godzilla and Rodan has devolved into slapstick, and our heroes get out of the car to watch things going down. Mothra silks all over Godzilla, Rodan does a dumb muppet style laugh, so Mothra silks him too. Then Mothra starts talking to the two great beasties. Apparently they all have human intelligence and can speak a common language, which I really wish they couldn’t, because that really just seems to bring them down from being great mythical beasts. It doesn’t help that the Shobijin translate, and it turns out that Godzilla and Rodan have the mentality of high school girls. Each won’t team up with the other one until they apologize, and refuse to apologize themselves. Moreover, they won’t help the humans, because the humans hate them, even if the earth, you know, the place they live, is destroyed. Also Godzilla needs to go pick out his prom dress, and Rodan won’t shut up about that one boy band.
So let’s just all agree to forget that happened. Ghidorah decides to come see what all the cool kids are doing, and blasts his way through the local traffic, incapacitating all the assassins but one. Mothra, unable to get Godzilla and Rodan to help, attacks him on her own. She is still a larva, and King Ghidorah is a civilazation destroyer. It doesn’t go well for her. Godzilla and Rodan see her fighting on her own, and decide to help. Mothra backs off for a bit, and Godzilla, who has been the fiercest monster in Toho’s little universe thus far, gets bodied in seconds. King Ghidorah is for real. For good measure, Ghidorah blasts Godzilla in the dick a couple of times with his gravity beams. That’s how you know he’s evil.
Detective Bland noticed that the Princess has wandered off, and finds her a bit down the mountain, praying for the battle. The remaining assassin noticed she wandered off as well, and pulls his rifle and takes a shot at her. He gets a glancing blow on the head, which knocks the Venus spirit out of her, returning the Princess’s natural mind. Detective Bland and the assassin engage in a gunfight, with Detective Bland taking a shot to the arm, then losing his gun, finding himself at the assassin’s mercy. But then one of King Ghidorah’s stray gravity beams hits the mountainside, sending down a rockslide that sweeps the assassin away to his death.
King Ghidorah has proven himself thus far to be a more than even match for the three monsters. Although really, Mothra’s just a baby and Rodan is Rodan, so it’s really more like two monsters. And Ghidorah’s got the whole three headed hydra thing going on, so that’s pretty fitting. Rodan manages to irritate King Ghidorah enough to draw his attention away, while Godzilla hooks up with the well beaten Mothra larva and drags her into position to do something useful. Then, the three of them start coordinating their attacks, forming a much better opposition against Ghidorah. Battle goes on, Mothra manages to cover Ghidorah in silk, Godzilla shoves him off a cliff and pelts him with boulders, and Rodan… kind of flies around in the background. King Ghidorah decides that’s enough, and blindly flies off into space. Assumedly Godzilla and Rodan just screw off after that. In the end, Mothra and the Shobijin head back to Infant Island, Princess tells Detective Bland that the only thing she remembers from her time possessed is him because everything has to be a love story, and the day is saved overall.
The first thing that stands out to me about this film is just how much the special effects have improved here. For 1960’s standards, everything about King Ghidorah is absolutely amazing. The suit must have required a phenomenal amount of coordination between the guy actually wearing it and the puppeteers moving the heads, tails, and wings around, but it actually looks really natural in the end product. And I’ll say it again, the scene where he appears out of a fireball uses some CG that would not look out of place decades later, and is really a sight to see. Between King Ghidorah, Rodan, and Godzilla’s tail, they must have had a lot of wires on these monsters, and that fight scene was probably very complicated to handle, yet is all seems to go very smoothly. They also avoided the problem they had with Mothra vs. Godzilla, where the wires and treads on the monsters were too visibly obvious; I don’t recall seeing a single thing I wasn’t supposed to. So, good marks for the film there.
King Ghidorah’s design is really high quality as well. It hits a dichotomy where Ghidorah is this horrible evil creature, yet visibly he’s all about lightness and beauty, compared to the ugly nuclear-inspired creatures of Godzilla and Rodan who play the good guys of this film. King Ghidorah is gold all throughout his body, moves elegantly and trills melodically, compared to the thumping clumsy monsterness and earthy tones of his opponents, yet he’s the evil one and they’re the good ones, in defiance of conventional storytelling tropes.
I kind of enjoyed the goofy sci-fi human drama side of this, as well. Yeah, none of the shoot-outs are really action film worthy, and it does dive really deep into the dumb. We are a far cry here from the original film’s thoughtful take on the horrors of war and traumas of the survivors. You have to enjoy your films with lots of cheese to have a good time with this. And frankly, that’s going to be true for all the rest of the Showa era. We’ve crested Mount Goofy Cheeseballs with Godzilla, and there’s no going back until they reboot the whole thing in like 20 years. Still, with this one, I really appreciated that there’s more point to the humans being there than to just set the dumb monster fights in motion and inject social commentary. They have their own plotlines, motivations, and resolutions, even if it is very pulpy. To be fair, the human drama really wouldn’t make a good movie on its own, but it would make a complete one, and I think that’s a step in the right direction.
With all this, though, the quality of the film really hinges on that last big monster battle. The Godzilla vs. Rodan fight isn’t much worth talking about, and you don’t get a lot of good destruction otherwise. The big monster battle is a good one, and I enjoy it, but just like Mothra vs. Godzilla, it really makes you wait to get to the parts that you really want to see. I’m not a fan of that particular plotting structure. I like the Godzilla films because I like big dumb monster brawls and I like fantasizing about that cool fictional chaos and destruction that would be horrifying in real life but feels very viscerrally good to watch in media. This film doesn’t really deliver until the end. Events happen at a really fast pace, so again, if you can enjoy the cheesy human side of things, this isn’t going to be a boring movie, but it doesn’t really feel like it tries to hit its stride until late on.
That said, this is one of the most important Godzilla films in the franchise development, both for introducing those heavy sci-fi elements we’ll be seeing again and again in times to come, as well as bringing four of the five main Godzilla monsters together for the first time. This film establishes a lot that later films will be following up on, and the franchise wouldn’t be the same without it.