In the Godzilla FAQ, written by Brian Solomon, he writes that there was no where for Godzilla to go but up after the entertaining, but undoubtedly bad, Godzilla vs Megalon and the other two hit or miss versus movies that came before it. And he is absolutely right because the Showa Era was, by this point, in full decline. Films that had once been full of meaning and art or tongue-in-cheek high effort blockbuster action had declined into stock footage rip-offs of themselves. But, for all the odds and his own track record stacked against him, in 1974 Jun Fukuda made his Godzilla magnum opus: Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla.
When Godzilla starts attacking his friends and humanity, it is presumed he has returned to his evil routes until he is revealed to be a machine wearing Godzilla’s skin – Mechagodzilla – sent to Earth by aliens in order to conquer it. And the only way to stop it is to fulfil an ancient prophecy wherein Godzilla must team up with another monster, King Caesar, to save the world from this technological terror.
What makes Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla work is how it keeps the strengths of Fukuda’s previous Godzilla films such as the incredible action, the spectacle and fast paced plot, while relieving the audience of his past weaknesses, such as his reliance on stock footage and unengaging stories. One could say another weakness of his were his lacklustre human characters, which Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla also has. But what sets them apart from the characters in his previous movies is that here they are archetypal characters amped up to eleven that don’t pretend to be anything other than devices to get monsters to fight each other. And yes, while we should aspire to want films with actual real characters in them that exist to serve beyond the means of the plot, highly exaggerated architypes were what this film needed to succeed. It needed an over-the-top scientists with a miracle gadget to save everyone at the end of the film, just as it needed one of the most unapologetically evil villains ever in order to achieve the level of cheesiness required for audiences to buy into this insane plot without rolling our eyes, as we might have in lesser entries.
And succeed it does; not since Son of Godzilla has a Fukuda entry into the franchise had such heart. Unlike the hardly aspirational Godzilla vs Gigan, for instance, one can really see how much more effort went into making Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla a film that the production team could be truly proud of. And what helps with this is that it kept the one and only objectively good thing that Godzilla vs Megalon achieved: Wearing its heart on its sleeve and being unafraid of what it is. And what is this film? A big monster brawl. Devoid much deeper meaning, but the perfect example of how to make the perfect shallow Godzilla film, without falling into the same traps as Fukuda’s previous two entries had of being complete shlock.
In many ways, the film is reminiscent of an Ishiro Honda entry, given the larger budget, a plot reminiscent of his earlier works, and a tighter focus on the human characters than what Fukuda had done before. And yet it still feels distinctly like a Fukuda entry, and not in the slightest like a rip off of any of Honda’s work – beyond the franchises played out alien invasion plot, that is.
The highlight of this film is most definetly the finale wherein Godzilla and King Caesar fight Mechagodzilla – a foe so powerful that he can easily handle them both at once. At his disposal are wrist rockets (watch out), toe rockets, knee rockets, laser eyes, laser mouth, laser chest, a rotating head, a force shield and the ability to fly. Couple all of this with one of the most unique and iconic designs for a mechanical monster in the franchise, and Mechagodzilla easily enters the hall of fame as one of Godzilla’s most terrifying and challenging foes. And while the film’s other monster, King Caesar, is a little less amazing to look at, he has the unique ability to deflect Mechagodzilla’s many projectiles back at him which lets him at least stand apart from the other background monsters in Toho’s roster, even if he is otherwise a little unremarkable. With these two monsters and Godzilla himself in the same scene at the same time, it makes for one of the best and most satisfying fights you’ll find in a Showa Era Godzilla movie. On top of this there are some surprisingly good cinematic shots in this movie – particularly of the more violent scenes of Mechagodzilla drawing blood from his opponents or when he is bombarding them with missiles. And this only goes to highlight how much the filmmakers stepped up their game for this project. Some of these shots make what is a relatively low budget Godzilla movie feel just a tiny bit more epic in scale, but it still goes a long way.
Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla is undoubtedly Fukuda’s greatest achievement within the Godzilla franchise. It goes without saying that this is one of the stand-out movies of the Showa Era, rightfully so, in spite of it possessing a questionable and slightly too silly of a conclusion wherein Godzilla defeats his mechanical counterpart by turning himself into a giant magnet. Although given that the pay off is Godzilla decapitating his enemy in such a way that awakens my inner child, I can’t say was too bothered by the sudden absurdity of the climax.
Needless to say, I highly recommend Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla. It’s a must watch for all Godzilla fans, and just fans of giant monster movies in general.
At the end of every Godzilla review I rank the films I have reviewed so far from best to worst. Find the updates list below:
- Destroy All Monsters (1968)
- Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
- Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974)
- King Kong vs Godzilla (1963)
- Mothra vs Godzilla (1964)
- Godzilla (1954)
- Ebirah Horror of the Deep (1966)
- Son of Godzilla (1967)
- Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)
- Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
- Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971)
- Godzilla vs Gigan (1972)
- All Monsters Attack (1969)
- Godzilla Raids Again (1955)