“Invasion of Astro-Monster” – A.J. Hakari

Depending on your devotion to Toho’s golden child, Invasion of Astro-Monster is either one of the best or worst Godzilla pictures. In any case, it’s a pretty abrupt departure in style from the previous movies, since the Big G’s presence here is quite possibly at its most downplayed. The aim here is to create a more standard, ’50s-style B-movie, with Godzilla just chilling in the background. But while the experiment isn’t without merit, some fans could view this as being shortchanged out of a well-deserved monster mash. I’m inclined to agree, for as often as Invasion of Astro-Monster weaves its quirky magic, it bores viewers to tears with some of the most sluggish action in all of kaiju cinema.

Previously unbeknownst to Earth’s astronomers, a strange new world named Planet X has been found orbiting Jupiter. Astronauts Glenn (Nick Adams) and Fuji (Akira Takarada) are assigned to investigate, and not only do they finds signs of life, they discover that these inhabitants are in a pretty big bind. Day and night, Planet X comes under attack by a being known as “Monster Zero” — which soon reveals itself to be none other than King Ghidorah. Having seen the damage they’ve caused on our world, the people of Planet X request to borrow Godzilla and the giant pterodactyl Rodan to lay the smackdown on their unwanted guest. Earth agrees to pitch in, but it’s not long before Planet X shows its true colors and sics all three monsters on the populace, leaving scientists racing to wrestle back control before worse comes to worst.

I’ll admit, being disappointed with what Invasion of Astro-Monster doesn’t do makes it hard to enjoy what it does accomplish. With this and the following film, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, efforts are made to bring Godzilla down to earth, to depict him with a great deal more neutrality as a force of nature. It’s a welcome alternative to the franchise’s habit of flip-flopping Godzilla’s ultimate allegiance, which the films have always had a difficult time justifying. Also, the story has more of an emphasis on science fiction, which I actually enjoyed on the outset. But the film can only coast for so long on its handy supply of genre conventions, at which point fatigue sets in and leaves the characters to talk their way through the final act. The movie becomes almost excruciatingly boring, made worse by the fact that Godzilla’s hardly in the damned thing.

Aside from his interstellar battle against Ghidorah (complete with a notoriously cheesy victory dance), the big guy’s nowhere to be seen. You get the impression that director Ishiro Honda wanted to make a completely different film but was forced at gunpoint to throw Godzilla in the mix. Invasion of Astro-Monster becomes inherently less fun to watch when it treats its biggest draw like a chore, its scant sequences of monster action suffering accordingly. At the same time, though, I hate to rag on the film too much, since there are a lot of little things about it that I had a ball with. The climactic clash had its entertaining moments, with Godzilla stomping, Ghidorah electrifying, and Rodan whipping up a veritable whirlwind of devastation. The various sci-fi touches also appealed to my inner B-movie buff, from the story’s delightfully nonsensical pseudo-science to actress Kumi Mizuno, who rocks the “Bettie Page meets Flash Gordon” look with fetching flair.

In the end, the sum of Invasion of Astro-Monster’s parts are more pleasing than its whole. Due to its decreased Godzilla coverage, some fans have cried foul and declared the film unworthy of the great green one’s presence. I didn’t enjoy Invasion of Astro-Monster, but I wouldn’t be so quick to swear it off, for there are enough diverting charms to entertain the most fickle of kaiju fiends.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

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

Leave a Reply