Alternative Title: The grand finale that wasn’t really the grand finale. OR The one that did the Avengers thing before it was cool.
So, it’s 1967 or whenever this film was being made. The Godzilla movies were once a big deal, but ticket sales had been sunsetting, and it wasn’t the solid moneymaker it once was. Toho decided that maybe it was time for a change. Let’s give the Godzilla film series one big finale, then let’s move it from movies to a cartoon show. The kids love the cartoons, right? Except it’ll be anime. Because we’re Japanese. That’s what we’ll do! So they got all the people most responsible for making the Godzilla franchise what it was together, told them to give it a big send off.
Then all these guys, director Ishiro Honda, special effects producer Eiji Tsuburaya (supervising, his protege actually handled the work here, but still), composer Akira Ifukube, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, they were all sitting together, thinking, “You know? This will be the last Godzilla film. And even if, by some crazy, insane miracle that nobody can even dream of, something so infinitisemally possible it’s not even worth talking about, it’s not, it’ll still be the last time we’re all working together. We need to send if off in some great way. But how do we take this big, dumb series, and give it a finale that will make a proper impact?”
They found an answer. And that answer is to make it biggest and the dumbest. And not just of Godzilla. This is the Avengers of Godzilla films. The culmination of the kaijuverse. Godzilla already absorbed monsters from other films, but this one is the king of it. We don’t just get Godzilla and his rogue’s gallery here. This film is importing Kaiju from a whole bunch of movies in Toho’s shared universe. This is the crisis crossover, the end of this entire universe of stories.
And obviously, it worked. It wasn’t the highest reviewed at the time, but it resonated really well with the general audience, and brought in enough dough that Tojo shelved their plans to shelve the series, and had them doing a whole bunch of follow up films. Moreover, time has been far kinder to the film, and it ranks in the list of top Godzilla movies today.
It’s also a pretty significant turning point for the film. As previously stated, this is the last time a lot of the key creative minds in the Godzilla franchise all worked on one of its movies together. This is also, thanks to the big time jump, the final chronological story of the Showa era. So the handful of movies coming after this all took place beforehand. Meaning this is the one that gets to have the final say on what this segment of the Godzilla canon is to be.
So, what’s the Aether take on it? How does it hold up? Aether loves big dumb things, but is this the right kind of big and the right kind of dumb?
So the film is set in the far-flung, super futuristic, advanced society year of 1999. When we reach this point in time, years and years and years away from the current day it may be, we will have achieved world piece with all nations of the world getting along pleasantly. Technology will have advanced to the point that we can travel to and from the moon casually. And you know all those kaiju that are all sorts of trouble for us all the time? Like, destroying Tokyo every time we come visit? Well, now they’re all on an island. Run by the United Nations Science Team. Yeah, apparently the United Nations start actually doing something in the future, too. The future is a magical place. In any case, this island, Monsterland, has all sorts of technological things around it that gently work with the monster’s instincts to passively deter them from leaving the island, but the island has all sorts of food and good monster stuff for them anyway, except for all sorts of Tokyos to destroy, but you make do with what you have. As an aside, it seems that Mothra has had babies and died again, at least once in the interim, as the Mothra in this film is once more a larva. We need a counter for this.
Number of times Mothra has died: 3
We’ll be coming back to that. Believe me.
Anyways, our story centers on one main protagonist, Captain Handsome, and his crew, the Yellow Commandos. They are apparently the only marines left in the world, because they get called upon to do absolutely everything. Except they’re not even in the world. They’re on the moon. For some reason. They work for the UN Science Team. For whatever reason, the UN Science Team needs the only armed forces in the world. Captain Handsome’s sister recently got a new job working at the center that manages Monsterland. We’ll call her Miss Handsome. She’s not particularly handsome herself, but Captain Handsome is handsome enough for the both of them. Anyways, as all good big brothers do, Captain Handsome gives his sister a call on her first day of work to haze her a bit. And also to try to talk to Science Guy, but Science Guy isn’t there, so all he accomplishes is bothering his sister. But that’s a worthwhile project itself. Hey, if any of you reading this have sisters, make sure to give them a call and bug them. That’s doing God’s work. While Captain Handsome is talking with her (also, videophones. That’s another thing we’ll have in the future of 1999), the call is suddenly cut off, and a mysterious gas starts permeating the Monsterland Command Center. Nobody knows whats going on.
And apparently nobody goes to check it out for a while, because time passes. And then, all of a sudden! Rodan appears in Moscow, and attacks! But nobody cares, because it’s just Rodan. But then! Gorosaurus (who’s from a previous non-Godzilla film) burrows up through the ground in Paris, and destroys the Arc de Triomphe! That’s a problem! Baby Mothra attacks Beijing! Manda (also an shared universe import) strikes London! Godzilla shows up in New York City! This is bad! Monsters are attacking, simultaneously, the world over! The UN Science Team finally decides that maybe they should go see what’s up, so they send Captain Handsome and the Yellow Commandos to the Monsterland Command Center. So they hop in their spaceship and do that. To everyone’s utter surprise, the kaiju that are out destroying the world’s major cities are, in fact, not currently in Monsterland. But all the scientists are. They’re acting really weird, though. Very listless and single-minded. Miss Handsome greets them and takes them to meet one of the Kilaaks, who are aliens that look just like people except they’re wearing tinfoil. And also have mind control powers. Which explains what happened to the scientists. I’m having a really hard time spelling scientists for some reason. I competed in spelling bees in school. This is weird for me. Anyways, the tinfoil lady tells them that they want the Earth so humanity has to surrender or be destroy. Captain Handsome is like, “no” and shoots her. The Kilaaks have force field powers too, though, so it doesn’t work. The Kilaak tells all the scientists to kill them and then bugs off.
So, you know how, when innocents are being mind controlled into fighting heroes, the heroes will fight non-lethally, wanting to keep them alive? Yeah, the Yellow Commandos don’t roll that way. We get a big old shootout between the too forces. The Yellow Commandos are a highly trained military force. The scientists are a bunch of nerds. So the fight’s a little lopsided here. They try to capture Miss Handsome and some other scientist to take them back, but Miss Handsome manages to escape. The scientist they do get is a whole lot less interesting. But they escape with him, so they take him back to the UN Science Team for interrogation. Interrogation is being handled by Captain Handsome and Science Guy, who says that they’re keeping the scientist away from the secret police. Because apparently, in the future, the Illuminati just start operating in the open. The scientist says he doesn’t want to tell them anything, so they’re like, “ok, we’ll just take a smoke break and not watch you or anything”, and then the scientist jumps out of an umpteenth story window. That escalated very quickly.
Captain Handsome and Science Guy head down to investigate the body, but then a bunch of guys show up and starts shooting at them. But then the Illuminati shows up and starts shooting at those guys. This fight’s a bit more even, but the Illuminati start pushing them back. One of those guys starts sidling up at the scientist’s dead body and pointing a knife at his ear, but can’t do much before Captain Handsome clocks him. The the Illuminati save the day, and the Science Team starts autopsying the guy and notice a bead made of space metal surgically implanted under his ear. So that’s how mind control happens. Ghidorah, you should take note. At least they have to put something in us to mind control us humans.
So the Illuminati start installing themselves around the various transit hubs, and set up check points like those ones at the airport except way more annoying, checking people for suspicious surgical scars. Miss Handsome passes through one of those, and nobody bothers her because she doesn’t have a surgical scar. So this whole exercise is immediately pointless. Before she gets too far, an air raid siren goes off. But then it blasts an all clear, because it’s only Rodan and nobody cares. I think an airplane coincidentally explodes near him or something. Was having engine troubles beforehand, I guess. But then it starts going off again, but for real this time, because Godzilla just shows up! Godzilla starts wrecking stuff like he does best. Then Manda comes and joins the party, too! And everyone starts freaking out, because Tokyo is getting attacked by three monsters at the same time! But two of the monsters are Rodan and Manda, so it’s really only like being attacked by one and five-eights of a monster at the same time. Godzilla inflicts massive destruction everything in his path. Manda curls himself around an elevated rail, and crushes it. Rodan just kind of flies around. But then! Baby Mothra shows up, Kool-aid Manning herself through a giant office building! Tokyo is devastated! Miss Handsome shows up at the bunker all the UN Science Team are hiding out in. She starts making demands on behalf of the Kilaaks. Captain Handsome checks her over, notices she doesn’t have the surgical scar under her ear, and decides her earring must be the mind control device, and rips them right out of her ears! He’s not gentle about it either. It’s a good thing this worked, or else that would have been some awkward Japanese Thanksgiving dinners. The kaiju just kind of get tired and leave at this point. They question Miss Handsome, but she has no memory of her time under mind control.
The Science Team does investigate the mind control devices they got in hand, and notice some radioactivity coming off them. They track that to other areas around the world and uncover a bunch of radio transmission devices that can maintain the Kilaak’s mind control over a certain area. The Kilaaks send the UN Science Team a transmission, saying something along the lines of “Haha! While you all were distracted with all those monster attacks we did with our mind controlled monsters we moved into your planet! Prepare to hand everything over to us! P.S. Don’t hang around Mt. Fuji anymore. No reason.” The UN Science Team studies the devices and figures out that the transmission was coming from the moon. The Yellow Commandos board their space ship and fly off to the moon while the UN Science Team gets a military together to go fight the kaiju around Mount Fuji. This kind of goes about as well as you expect. As they’re flying to the moon, Rodan starts chasing the ship, and one of the Yellow Commandos goes “Hey, why are we running away from Rodan?” That’s not even me putting my own bias out there for comedic effect, unlike all the other times I’m burying Rodan. Even the in-universe character think he’s a chump.
Anyways, the Yellow Commandos go to the moon and see a flying saucer, and they’re like hey, maybe we should follow it, because we apparently planned out this mission without having any idea where to go once they get to the moon. So they follow it, and land outside the Kilaak’s base, but the Kilaaks have moon flamethrowers, which shouldn’t be a thing that actually works but I just looked up the dates and this predates the moon landing so maybe people believed the moon actually had something that can make fires be there. Anyways, they flamethrower the heck out of the Commandos spaceship. Luckily, the spaceship comes equipped with a moon tank, and they tank open the blasting door, which vents all the atmosphere and turns all the Kilaaks into rock snails. Captain Handsome surmises that the Kilaaks can only survive in humanoid form when they’re in an extraordinarily high temperature. I don’t know how he figured that out just from looking at a rock snail, but in any case, all the enemies are useless now. So they find the main mind control device and laser it and then all the kaiju back on Earth stop stomping the UN Science Team to oblivion.
The Science Team examines the rock snails and determine Captain Handsome is totally right, although they’re just dormant whenever they’re in this state, but also it means they’re weak to ice elemental damage, so they equip the spaceship with freeze missiles. They also reverse engineer the mind control deal and use it to send all the kaiju to rampage and Mt. Fuji, hoping to destroy the Kilaaks there. But then King Ghidorah shows up and is like “Hey, is there a mind control story here? I need to get in on that!” Because he’s an alien monster, the Science Team can’t do anything about the mind control the Kilaaks have him under. So we just have to hope that the Earth Kaiju can beat him. So he hops down. And he starts rampaging through them. King Ghidorah does pretty well for himself at first. But remember how this is an Avengers-style crossover? There are literally 9 of the Earth monsters, here. Well, 10 if you count Minilla. Which I don’t. And you shouldn’t either. So as I said, King Ghidorah is taking them all on at first, and holding his own. Have to give him respect. But then they start getting their hits in. Slowing him down. Forcing errors. And then Ghidorah has six kaiju dogpiling on top of him. Anguirus and Godzilla start stomping his necks into oblivion. Even Minilla gets his hits in. Ghidorah can’t stand to such an onslaught, and he falls, the Earth kaiju posing victoriously over his dead body.
Seeing the writing on the wall, the Kilaaks summon what they say is the ultimate monster, the fire dragon. The fire dragon appears as a large streak of flame in the sky, assaulting the kaiju before heading over to the UN Science Team and destroying their mind control center. Godzilla, finally free of outside influences, does what he does best and just kicks a big giant hole in Mt. Fuji, destroying the base and sending the Kilaaks inside into their rock snail stasis forms. The Fire Dragon is still around, but it’s a flying creature, which poses problems. See, Mothra is still a larva, so no flying from her. Baragon could maybe fly, but his suit is in very poor condition and Toho couldn’t show him moving or it would all fall apart. Rodan is Rodan. So the Yellow Commandos get in their spaceship, and begin an aerial battle with the fire dragon. They end up putting their freeze missiles to good use, and it turns out the fire dragon was just a Kilaak saucer. So it crashes, all the Kilaaks are in stasis, the invasion is over, Earth won, and all the monsters go home.
So, as you may guess from that description just now, this movie is pretty much all action, all the time, with only small breaks in between the action scenes. The monster scenes are usually short but frequent, up until the monsters assault on Mt. Fuji and battle with King Ghidorah, which is a definite highlight of the film. Even if Minilla is there. Moreover, the monster’s assault on Tokyo is a particularly good set of kaiju action, it really moves through with intensity and the destruction there is particularly satisfying.
The special effects on the monsters is a little hit and miss, as most of the suits and puppets used were recycled from other films, and as such were created under different budgets and are in varying conditions now. A couple of the suits were in such poor condition, you’ll barely see the characters moving, such as Baragon, who is present in a couple of scenes but just stands or flies around stiffly. Others, such as Mothra and Ghidorah, survived a lot better, and look just as good as they did in their original incarnations. Ghidorah is still pretty admirable for the amount of craft and coordination it must have taken for him to move the way he does. Godzilla’s got a new suit for this movie, and this is one of the better designs of the Showa era. He’s got a more menacing look to him and a more clearly defined bone and muscular structure while still retaining the more personable look he has in the more child-friendly entries.
Special effects around set design, though are particularly stellar. There are few on-location shots here, most everything is in either miniature sets for the monster action or sci-fi standards for the human shots, and most of it looks great. The miniature cities and landscapes in particular look fantastic, while the alien and human bases, although not at like, Star Wars levels of quality, still look a lot better than you’d expect for a Japanese sci-fi story. I can’t say the same for the Kilaaks, however. These are the epitome of cheese, and they call to mind every ridiculous late night sci-fi b-movie you’ve ever watched. It’s so bad it’s honestly distracting from what might be going on there, and the visual design of the aliens really detracts from the rest of the film.
The plot is, well, mostly an excuse. This ain’t no War and Peace. Evil aliens show up! They are bad! They do bad things! These are the good guys! Watch them kick the bad guys’ butts! There’s a lot of focus, as there usually is in Godzilla films, on the human side of things, but now it’s less drama, more action. I like action. But the human action isn’t exactly exciting here. It’s ok. Bunch of fight scenes and guns and lasers. It doesn’t feel especially inspired. Even back then, tons of movies had better action scenes. There’s a comforting sort of simplicity to the plot, overall though. It’s a filling popcorn flick. And it’s really a nice change after the previous handful of movies, which in retrospect, had plots that are a little overcomplicated for what they were. This one is not the thinking man’s Godzilla film. There are actually a couple of those. The first one was one, and we’ll get to another in a good long while. This one’s not one. But it is one that has a plot that’s easily absorbed, and moves at a really brisk pace, so it’s got a good sense of energy to it.
With most Godzilla films, how much you’re going to enjoy it really depends on how much you can tap into that part of yourself that gets very easily excited over simple things. Obviously, I’m very in touch with that particular part of me. This one is more that case than most. If you can connect with your inner child, this film can be a blast. If you’re hoping for some of the commentary and hidden meanings from Honda’s past Godzilla work, it’s not there with this one. This movie is all fun, all the time. I will say that I didn’t always enjoy this one. This is like the third time I’ve watch this movie, and the first couple of times, I felt the monster action was great, but the human side of it wasn’t holding up. This time, though, given that all I’ve been watching lately has been Disney cartoons and the past couple of Godzilla films, I actually had a blast. I guess that just calibrated me the right way.