After last week’s debacle let’s mix it up a bit, quite literally, with our first meeting between monster and metal. And who could be better to start us off than the king himself, Godzilla, as he faces off against his purpose- built equal, Mechagodzilla.
The 14th film in the Godzilla series (and by this point in his movie career it’s important to note that Godzilla, though still occasionally a bit of a dick in the “Please don’t smash my home” sense, is generally seen as more of a good guy) and after a few cheaper movies that really scrimped on the ‘production value’ Toho decided to throw a bit more money at our giant irradiated friend, as his twentieth birthday neared, and give the audiences a bit more bang for their buck. So with two new monsters added to the roster, a high-pressure spray bought for those little nicks to the neck and a whole mess of ridiculous silver space suits, it doesn’t disappoint.
On Okinawa, when a priestess of the island protector King Caesar (a giant Fu dog or Shisa-like dog/lion hybrid) has a vision of imminent destruction caused by giant monsters, and an ancient statue is unearthed with a prophecy inscribed upon it: ‘When a black mountain appears in the sky and the sun rises in the West, a monster will arise to destroy the world’, things start to get a little tense. Especially as the key to summoning King Caesar from his centuries-long sleep has been lost.
Before long, the signs appear: a giant black mountain-shaped cloud is seen and a mirage creates the illusion of a Western sunrise. And with that, what appears to be Godzilla rises from Mount Fuji; cue panic as, reverting to his old ways, the 500-ton git starts to punch his way through a million and one Airfix kits, and when his old friend Anguirus (a quadrapedal Kaiju that looks like a spiked dinosaur) turns up in a state of agitation and then has seven shades of rubber beaten out of him, it all starts to look a little suspicious.
Then, just to make it all a little more confusing for the people of Japan, another Godzilla turns up and attempts to put a stop to the rampaging Doppelganger. After a furious bout of Kung Fu punches (oh didn’t I mention, Godzilla knows a bit of Kung Fu), nuclear breath blasts and enough explosions to really prove that the king of Kaiju truly knows the meaning of collateral damage (and doesn’t give a damn), the rampaging Godzilla’s skin is melted off and it is revealed to be Mechagodzilla!
Yes! If you hadn’t already guessed, obviously a race of ape aliens (who for the most part stick to their human forms) dressed in those amazing seventies silver space suits I mentioned earlier have designed and built a giant robot Godzilla in an attempt to destroy the original and make way for their ultimate plan of conquering Earth. They are led by an evil commander who constantly puffs away on a thick cigar (who knew you could buy Cubans in space?) and had the foresight to design Mechagodzilla so it could be controlled by CB radio (screw buttons!).
But don’t worry, our usual bunch of rag tag heroes are on the case, this time with two professors (always good to have a spare) and a couple of INTERPOL agents. Just in the nick of time they work out that the statue unearthed earlier is actually the key to summoning King Caesar, so with it placed in the appropriate place and a quick musical number to get the hairy dog/lion/bat thing up and about, Godzilla gets a bit of back up and a final three-way showdown kicks off.
After a few disappointingly received predecessors, the crowd’s definitely turned up for this effort and although never a massive hit in the west (several title changes and a small release didn’t help matters), it has grown to be a fan favourite in the weird little circle of people who love stuntmen covered in rubber. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is just plain fun, with so many monsters (Anguirus’ cameo was a personal highlight) and characters the pace never slows down too much and with an odd little soundtrack and a massively manga-inspired look, it’s a joy to watch.
The monster battles are so full of frivolous kinetic energy and Technicolor exuberance that the fun is almost as palpable as the taste of red paint in everyone’s mouth as those blood jets start spraying from cut necks and dismembered limbs. And Mechagodzilla is a brilliant adversary, with his rainbow laser eyes, rocket launcher claws and the ability to fly; Godzilla truly meets his match when he goes up against this tin-can nemesis.
But obviously it’s not perfect – there are perhaps too many characters, and with superfluous characters creating too many plots it’s easy to get a bit lost when all you’re really paying attention to is how close Godzilla is to his next foe. King Caesar is… well, rubbish (bit hard to say that in comparison to all the other Halloween costumes on display, but it’s true) but the idea is clearly solid; the Shisa/Fu dog is an iconic piece of traditional architecture seen almost everywhere and if you think about it, it is bloody scary. But in reality as a monster suit, glueing fur to rubber and a dodgy tail just doesn’t work (King Caesar only ever turned up again some 30 odd years later in Godzilla: Final Wars). And if we’re being honest about it, buying a few gorilla masks and spray-painting them a different colour does not an alien make.
But a few extra cardboard characters and a dodgy looking dog/lion/bat/fur-lined mess doesn’t take away from the silly retro fun and the brilliance of a mechanised rocket-powered Godzilla having its arse handed to it by the irreplaceable original. A great example of why the king of Kaiju had already reigned for twenty years and has continued to do so ever since.