Godzilla vs. Megalon epitomizes the “best of times, worst of times” period of Godzilla films in the early 1970s; it exhibits the pure kaiju camp that makes these years so memorable, while also displaying the human snooze-fest that renders them equally forgettable. Jun Fukuda returns as director, having previously helmed Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), Son of Godzilla (1967), and Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966).
Director: Jun Fukuda
Runtime: 86 minutes
Japan Theatrical Release: March 17, 1973; Toho
US Theatrical Release: July 11, 1976; Cinema Shares
To be sure, his work on Megalon is not inferior per se, but suffers from significant budget cuts; the monster suits appear ragged, miniatures are minimal, cityscapes replaced with cost-saving empty fields, and stock footage from previous Toho films over-utilized.
Godzilla vs. Megalon starts explosively with an underground civilization reckoning with a potential doomsday. They are known as Seatopians and are descended from ancient Atlanteans; now thanks to humanity’s nuclear testing on the surface, their society is threatened once more. As recourse, they command their giant cockroach god, Megalon, to beat some sense into humankind.
From there the kaiju story takes a familiar path: Megalon levels Japan –> Godzilla comes to save the day –> Megalon calls for backup (Gigan making a welcomed return) –> Godzilla calls for backup (the magnificent Jet Jaguar) –> Godzilla & Co. save the day.
Regarding Jet Jaguar, the mech’s introduction is truly a highlight in an otherwise predictable feature. Riding the Ultraman wave sweeping Japanese tokusatsu media, Jet Jaguar is Toho’s own sleek, chrome, friend-to-all-children super robot. It is the center of the film’s b-plot; two scientists invent the robot who (along with their child sidekick) is kidnapped by mysterious agents. By the end, this story converges with Godzilla’s when Jet Jaguar develops sentience and the ability to grow to daikaiju size.
The battle that ensues between Godzilla, Jet Jaguar, Megalon, and Gigan is spectacularly staged. Director Jun Fukuda throws his cards on the table with this finale; the final third of the film is entirely dedicated to the rumble. Each kaiju shines with opportunities to display jaw-dropping powers and attacks; Megalon spitting lava rocks and Godzilla laying down a massive tail-gliding dropkick are franchise classics.
Further selling the fight choreography is the convincing performances of the suit actors; each pair of allies develop convincing rapport with the other. They don’t outright speak to each other as in Godzilla vs. Gigan; no, this is more reminiscent of the “monster talk” from Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. It is pure camp and pulled off with charming, memorable effect.
Godzilla vs. Megalon therefore lands in the middle of the pack for Godzilla movies. The human elements are among the dullest of all entries, but the kaiju action is among the best. Fortunately, the shorter run time makes up for the former; stick it out and you will find the conclusion well worth it.
by Vincent S. Hannam