“Terror of Mechagodzilla” – A.J. Hakari

As all good things must come to an end, it’s only natural that even fire-breathing lizards deserve to hibernate. We all know that the ’70s weren’t the last fans saw of Godzilla, but at the time, Toho knew that a respite was nigh. The big guy’s exploits began running out of steam, deviating too much from his destructive roots and casting him as second banana in his own series. So for his first break in almost two decades, how did the house that Godzilla built send off its flagship franchise? By doing absolutely nothing. If anything, Terror of Mechagodzilla encapsulates all that went wrong with the series, instituting a dull-as-dishwater story and depriving kaiju buffs of the only reason they picked up the flick to begin with.

The film opens with a recap of Godzilla’s victory over Mechagodzilla, a fierce fight that almost cost the Big G his life. A group of scientists scour the ocean floor for what’s left of the titanium titan, only to cross paths with an ancient beast known as Titanosaurus. The monster’s return after ages of rest is the work of, what else, alien invaders, using the technology of disgraced Dr. Mafune (Akihiko Hirata) to gain control over the critter. Worse yet, they’ve set about rebuilding Mechagodzilla, preparing for an overhaul Tokyo will never forget. But waiting in the wings and ready to rumble is Godzilla himself, geared to defend Japan one last time in a fight to the finish against two of the toughest opponents he’s ever faced.

For as protective as Toho is over their precious property, Terror of Mechagodzilla isn’t as fond a farewell as you might expect. In fact, it doesn’t even feel like they wanted to let go to begin with. Reportedly, economic troubles forced Godzilla to take a time out more than what direction the series was taking. That would explain how there’s no sense of finality to the film; you could’ve released it unaltered three movies earlier, and it’d fit in the timeline just the same. On the one hand, I can understand if Toho wasn’t ready to say die and wanted to assure fans that, yes, Godzilla would live to destroy another day. But so laid-back is the movie that its puts forth nary an effort to shake things up, to add some much-needed zing to a series running short on excuses to keep going. It makes the same mistake as Invasion of Astro-Monster of leaving Godzilla too much by the wayside; the green one doesn’t even show up until over halfway in, and at 83 minutes, that leaves precious little brawling time.

Still, what little justice is done to Godzilla in screen time, Terror of Mechagodzilla makes up for in how he spends it. From the moment he appears (in one of his coolest entrances ever) to the final melee, Godzilla is in pretty prime shape. It’s hard to imagine the big guy looking any better than he does here; he looks great, moves like Ali, and comes across with the right touch of humor. The villains are also in great form, with Mechagodzilla packing some serious heat and Titanosaurus wreaking plenty of underwater havoc. When this trio does battle, sparks fly in a free-for-all any monster fiend will have a blast with. It’s too bad it comes at the end of an insufferably plodding stream of B-movie pablum that will have even the most stouthearted of kaiju fans begging to be roasted by Godzilla’s atomic belches. The movie is straight-up boring as sin, and between the often nonsensical plot and the particularly dense heroes, it’s tempting to turn back on the road to the final fight.

Terror of Mechagodzilla saw an end to Godzilla’s Showa era, in which Toho tried a little bit of everything with the monstrous icon. He had his high points (Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster) and his lows (Godzilla vs. Megalon), but no one can deny the impact he left on sci-fi cinema. Terror of Mechagodzilla may end with the Big G swimming into the sunset, but nine years later, he’d return to school a new wave of fans in the art of destruction.

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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