Today’s Random Tokusatsu: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Today’s selection: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973, dir. Jun Fukuda)

Subgenre: Kaiju

Available from: Media Blasters (if you get lucky, you might get one of the leaked versions with audio commentary!)

Odd that this gem of a title came up on my random movie generator, as I was just defending the film earlier today. You see, Godzilla vs. Megalon is the go-to example when discussing reviled Godzilla movies, and I think it gets sort of a bad rap. It’s campy, sure, but in a fun way, and I enjoy movies like All Monsters Attack (with its Frankenstein-like mish-mash of stock footage), Godzilla Raids Again (with its interminable ice-shooting sequence), and Sony’s Godzilla (with its lack of Godzilla) far less. Not that I would ever dislike a Godzilla movie, though.

Quick summary for those not in the know: Godzilla vs. Megalon is about people from the underground kingdom of Seatopia getting PO’d about nuclear tests (in a surprisingly nonchalant anti-nuke message), so they send their giant beetle monster to take over the surface, also enlisting the monster Gigan from the M. Hunter Nebulans (the best budget-cut-makes-onscreen-alliance since the Klingons and Romulans). The Seatopians are also concerned about the humanoid robot Jet Jaguar (a name that continues to confuse everyone 40 years later), so they send agents after the robot’s creator and family, accounting for requisite human-level drama. The whole thing ends with a showdown between Megalon & Gigan and Godzilla & (suddenly giant) Jet Jaguar, though really Godzilla’s only there for brand recognition.

Godzilla vs. Megalon is a frequent and easy target due to its wide exposure in the US. It had a TV premiere hosted by John Belushi, an American comic book adaptation, and the dub was in the public domain on home video, even winding up on Mystery Science Theater. Even the website for the dark & gritty Gareth Edwards reboot has a Jet Jaguar joke hidden in it. When discussing Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Megalon is almost unavoidable in the US (probably more popular here than in Japan), so it makes sense, for someone who’s seen only that movie, or only it and the original, to be dismissive. For the fans with a chip on their shoulder about the treatment of the original, struggling to have the first Godzilla movie be taken seriously, Megalon must be a constant thorn in their side… but not inordinately more than any of the movies of the 1970’s. I mean, is a beetle monster with drill hands that much sillier than Godzilla turning into a magnet because he was hit by lightning?

Jet Jaguar is thrown out as an Ultraman clone, and in a way he was, but that’s ignoring the small fleet of Ultraman copies on Japanese airwaves at the time. One of the interesting things about Toho’s sci-fi films is that they roll with the trends: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla took from Planet of the Apes, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah took from Terminator, even the original Godzilla took from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Godzilla vs. Megalon is far from unique in this regard, and at least Jet Jaguar is more iconic than groan inducing, like the temple sequence in Godzilla vs. Mothra.

So, yeah, it’s a disposable, kid-targeted, campy movie with no great character arcs, no heavy themes, and no female characters. Yes, it has a flying kick. The budget was not very high, and it was made quickly, so miniatures are virtually nonexistent and some footage is recycled from other films. Of all this I concede, but I also don’t think that this makes it inherently rubbish, as the movie is at least briskly entertaining for the most part. In the face of lower budgets, gravitas was traded for zany fun, and this particular film is madcap enough to keep entertaining on a level above the likes of say, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster. In summation, I don’t think Godzilla vs. Megalon is the worst of the Godzilla series, and might not even make the bottom five.

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