“Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster” – A.J. Hakari

By the time Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster rolled around, Godzilla had pretty much lost all of his effectiveness. Gone was the terrifying symbol of nuclear destruction; in its place was some dude in a suit that trampled Tokyo once in a while. But instead of stubbornly sticking itself in the cinematic mud, Godzilla’s retainers had the good sense to tweak the character as the films changed with the times. Ghidorah is dumb popcorn entertainment and proud of it, incorporating just enough goofiness so as to keep viewers interested without going too over-the-top.

All across the world, strange and drastic climate changes are taking place. But contrary to Al Gore, a group of scientists attribute the wonky weather to outside, possibly alien, forces. Meanwhile, a missing princess (Akiko Wakabayashi) reappears in Japan, claiming to be from Venus and warning people about the planet’s impending destruction. Unfortunately, her words have come too late, for not only have Godzilla and the flying dinosaur Rodan returned, a new creature has thrown his hat into the ring as well. Hatching from a fallen meteorite is King Ghidorah, a three-headed dragon that swiftly lays waste to everything in its path. But there’s only room for one monster in town, and it’s just a matter of time before the towering titans, along with Mothra’s last living offspring, collide in a kaiju-style battle royale.

It’s only reasonable that viewers afford Ghidorah a modicum of absurdity. Aside from the original Gojira, none of these films were really meant to be taken seriously. They’re the Japanese equivalent of American disaster movies, more concerned with action and special effects over story and character development. The trick is not to be overcome with too much silliness, but thankfully, Ghidorah manages to keep this area consistently in check. Sure, there’s a million little things one could nitpick about the production. The costumes worn by those from the princess’ homeland were apparently conceived by the bastard son of Shakespeare and Willy Wonka. I was also confused at how nonchalant people seemed to be once Godzilla and Rodan went on the rampage, never evacuating until the damn things were at their doorstep. Plus, while the story isn’t actually all that bad by Godzilla standards, you can tell a lot of padding took place. It takes the princess almost an hour to tell people about Ghidorah, filling the preceding time with vague warnings that serve no purpose but to stretch out the running time.

But while these parts could’ve easily overwhelmed the production, Ghidorah comes across, for the most part, as endearingly kooky. Such annoyances become part of the film’s overall charm, and there are just as many little instances that put a smile on your face. Godzilla makes a nighttime entrance, rising from the ocean, that’s pretty badass no matter how goofy the rubber suit looks. There’s also a great scene where Godzilla throws a hissy fit when he first sees Rodan, smashing buildings left and right in a hilarious, “Not this crap again!” type of moment. The balance between the monster fights and human melodrama is also a little more stable, with the rather bizarre plot doing a solid job of building up the brawls that give the film an action-packed send-off. The final battle is some good stuff, with Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra’s kid each doing their part to lay the smackdown on the gilded Ghidorah.

Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster came about just as the Godzilla series was really making the jump into kid-friendly territory. Luckily, Ghidorah isn’t too childish of a venture, embodying enough of a cheesy spirit to maintain the fun that comes from watching this mad monster party unfold.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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