Vincent Canby observed Godzilla's character shift in his New York Times review of Godzilla vs. Megalon when it was released in the US in the summer of 1976: "The dragon has become Saint George." His opinion is undoubtedly accurate; the heroic Godzilla who defeated Megalon is very different from the monster that destroyed Tokyo in 1954. And even if some viewers, critics, and even some of the film's creators regret the character development, there is still value in this sequel, which is now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The beetle-like Megalon is sent torment the surface world in Godzilla vs. Megalon as revenge for mankind's underground nuclear testing by the subterranean nation of Seatopia. The Jet Jaguar robot, a colorful and self-programming creation of a teenage scientist, goes to Monster Island to ask Godzilla for assistance. Moreover, the Seatopians request assistance, and Megalon partners up with Gigan, a resurrected opponent. Inevitably, a fantastic tag-team contest follows.
There are legitimate criticisms to be made of Megalon's convoluted message and weak plot. In spite of the fact that nuclear testing torments the Seatopians, Godzilla—the personification of nuclear brutality and technological irresponsibility—stands to vanquish them. This is not meant to imply that the movie is pro-nuclear. After the US conducted Cannikin, a five-megaton underground nuclear test in 1971, many people today express concern that further testing may wipe out the earth. Also, the pro-nuke tag seems overly sensational for such a weak narrative. That contradicts itself nonetheless.
In fact, Godzilla vs. Megalon falls short of the heights of the 1960s, which featured some of the best cast lineups of the entire franchise (Nick Adams and Akira Takarada steal 1965's Invasion of Astro-Monster), the best scripts by Shinichi Sekizawa, and the most impressive effects work of the Showa-era Godzilla films. Another issue is the overuse of stock footage in the movie, which effects director Teruyoshi Nakano regrets because his new material for the movie is remarkable. It's crucial to keep in mind the historical setting of Godzilla vs. Megalon, though.
The second golden era of Japanese cinema had ended by the beginning of the 1970s. The days of big studios (including Toho, Daiei, Toei, Nikkatsu, and Shochiku) producing numerous films with expensive production values are long gone. The 'Crazy Cats' comedy, 'International Secret Police' thrillers, and 'Shacho' ('Company President') movies were the fruits of Toho's golden decade in the 1960s. Several series were finished by the 1970s, several studios had shut down or drastically changed their output, and there were fewer theaters. The causes of this fall are numerous and intricate, but the disastrous development of television was a significant factor.
Given this situation, it is a credit to Godzilla's tenacity that the series continued on until the 1970s, despite some setbacks. By the time of Megalon, Toho had undergone a reorganization, with a company called Toho Eizo producing the Godzilla movies. However, the finances for these entrants were smaller than those of the 1960s, necessitating the usage of stock material from earlier films.
The Toho Champions Festival was founded in 1969 by Toho on the Toei Manga Festival model, confirming the new target demographic for Godzilla's films: kids. Up until 1978, the festival, which was held roughly three times a year, included animated shorts, children's television shows, and restored vintage Godzilla movies. The Champions Festival served as the world premiere for every new Godzilla movie released between 1969 and 1975, including Godzilla vs. Megalon.
Taking into account these factors, let's put its production and narrative problems on hold and analyze the whole situation: A delightfully bizarre film, Godzilla vs. Megalon. The entire movie has a tremendous sense of humor, as if director Jun Fukuda dialed up all the comedic talent he'd utilized in his previous Godzilla movies (the wonderful Ebirah, Terror of the Deep, and Son of Godzilla, all from 1966). From the ridiculous vehicle pursuit that would not be out of place in Jacques Tati's 1971 film Trafic to the last shot of Godzilla and Jet Jaguar shaking hands, this is a brilliantly and (importantly) purposefully ludicrous movie.
The reason this movie merits a second opportunity is best exemplified by that handshake. The epic friendship between the enormous robot and the radioactive dinosaur serves as a brilliant illustration of the bond between unusual partners in this children's film. Godzilla vs. Megalon "demonstrates the virtues of friendship, between humans as well as monsters, and it is compassionate," according to Vincent Canby in his review.
Despite having fewer films each time, Godzilla's succeeding film series has always been more tonally and artistically consistent. Although though these later runs have included some notable movies (such as Godzilla vs. Biollante in 1989 and Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack in 2001), the '90s movies in especially appear uninspired. The 1954 original is a world away from Godzilla vs. Megalon, yet that striking contrast helps explain why the first series endured for as long as it did in a swiftly evolving market.
Godzilla vs. Megalon is well worth a second viewing, whether it's as evidence of how the original Godzilla series may develop or just as a sincere family movie.
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