In just a few more weeks, Godzilla Singular Point is finally hitting Netflix, and that means we’re getting a brand new version of one of our favorite super robot pals, Jet Jaguar. To celebrate, we’re looking back at his origin story in Godzilla vs. Megalon, and finding a movie that is, for better or worse, the embodiment of the dumb-fun monster movie.
Treating monster films as nothing but dumb schlock that’s all big silly fights and nothing beneath the surface is nothing new. From the genre’s origins all the way up to western hits like this year’s Godzilla vs. Kong, there’s always going to be a place for a monster movie that trades depth—or in some cases even logical coherence—for the wide-eyed spectacle of monster-on-monster action. Who needs brainpower when you can have cities being leveled by larger-than-life titans, anyway? Godzilla’s cinematic career is no exception to this, of course, but 1973’s Godzilla vs Megalon might be the ultimate example of a film that rides or dies on how much you can appreciate some giant-sized shenanigans and gleeful silliness over any semblance of seriousness.
A film that feels almost in equal parts embraced (especially for its special guest star and its final fight sequence) and reviled (for its lackluster plot, over-reliance on reused footage, and its absurdist elements) by the big G’s fandoms in the years since, Godzilla vs. Megalon really is the kind of film to know your expectations for going in. It never presents itself as trying to be more than the sum of its parts (parts that are, admittedly, stretched to breaking at times), but if you go in expecting the franchise to say something about the world like its greatest entries are capable of doing, well, what you’re going to find here is instead something more on the lines of “What if Godzilla dropkicked a fool, and it was so nice he did it twice?”
Godzilla vs Megalon’s threadbare plot mostly pulls us away from Godzilla as a focus. After their underwater civilization is ravaged by humanity’s nuclear testing—the same tests that gave us the King of the Monsters in the first place—the vengeful Seatopians, lead by Emperor Antonio (Robert Dunham), unleash their monstrous god Megalon to destroy the surface world. While Godzilla and his pals on Monster Island are sidelined by shockwaves from a recent nuclear test, the Seatopians target a Japanese inventor named Goro Ibuki (Katsuhiko Sasaki). They want to use Ibuki’s latest invention, a humanoid robot named Jet Jaguar, to control Megalon’s path of destruction on Earth. As Goro and his assistants wrestle with captivity to regain control of Jet Jaguar—and the JSDF struggles to stop Megalon’s assault on Tokyo—eventually, Goro succeeds and uses Jet Jaguar’s control system to get the robot to call Godzilla for help. After Jet Jaguar inexplicably gets his Ultraman on and grows to monstrous size, the robot and the King of the Monsters team up to tag-team brawl both Megalon and Godzilla’s then-recent rival, Gigan (mostly via footage reused from 1972’s Godzilla vs Gigan).
That’s… it, really. Godzilla vs Megalon just doesn’t really have much going on to justify its already pretty threadbare 80-minute runtime, as it flits about between the unconvincing threat of the Seatopians and Goro’s attempts to break free of their captivity to regain access to Jet Jaguar. The focus on Jet Jaguar—infamously created as part of a children’s contest by production studio Toho to design a new monster for the franchise—makes the movie feel less like a Godzilla film and more of a pastiche of Ultraman’s greatest hits. As much fun as the robot is, it’s hard not to have it feel like it’s almost out of place for what Godzilla was at this point in his history, well into his arc of evolution from monstrous, horrifying threat to one of Japan’s biggest heroes. Even then, the film struggles with what it wants to do with Jet Jaguar when it brushes up against the liberal re-use of prior footage, as production buckles under the intense asks of Godzilla’s resurgence in the cultural conscience post-King Kong vs Godzilla.
And yet, when you put aside the bits of Godzilla vs. Megalon that don’t quite gel (which is, admittedly, quite a significant chunk) there is still something there, deeply primal in its base simplicity, that makes elements of it charming. The last fight between Jet Jaguar, Godzilla, Gigan, and Megalon is a messy delight, and the first time the film feels like it actually has any kind of kinetic energy to it after its meandering build-up. Even if you put the infamous dropkick aside—in which Jet Jaguar pins Megalon so Godzilla can slide in on his tail like he’s spitting in the face of whatever god physics answers to in order to deliver a two-footed kick right to its chest—it’s a wonderful bit of monster-on-robot-on-monster action. After making 80 minutes feel more like 120, it feels like Godzilla vs. Megalon finally just goes “Well, you like the fights, don’t you?” The movie never aimed higher, and at least it delivers.
Whether the legacy it left on the franchise in this regard—the perception of the monster movie genre as nothing more than shock and awe, and silly rubber suits smashing against each other—has been an entirely positive thing is a different question altogether. On the one hand, Godzilla vs. Megalon’s cultural cache in the years since means monster movies, Godzilla or otherwise, always face that uphill battle of whether or not they want to be more than spectacle. On the other, it’s a reminder that franchises as big as this, as varied as this, have space to sometimes just go for the cheap thrills that make blockbusters the joy they are. No matter how you feel about Godzilla vs Megalon’s flimsiness, or Jet Jaguar’s bizarre origin in its threadbare roots, there is something satisfying about a giant robot and the King of all Kaiju shaking hands after a job’s well done and calling it a day, no matter how serious you take your monster movies.
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