Saturday, December 3, 2022

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

In the future of 1999, the Earth is at peace, and all kaiju safely live on Monster Island, away from civilisation. Things take a turn for the worse when the outside world loses contact with the island, and suddenly there are reports of monster attacks all across the globe. Mothra in Beijing, Rodan in Moscow, and Godzilla in New York. It's soon discovered that an evil alien race are behind the attacks, and humanity must fight harder than ever to save the planet...

After disappointing financial returns to previous Godzilla films, Toho decided to put the series on ice for a while. Destroy All Monsters was intended to be the grand finale, pulling out all the stops with as many monsters as they could. But it became such a runaway success that the Showa era continued for another 7 years.

Destroy All Monsters is famous for its sheer spectacle, and grand monster fights. Previous entries usually had two monsters, maybe three or four for a special occasion. But here there's a grand total of nine! Or eleven, since there are a couple who really get shafted, and appear in little more than cameos.

The setting is a great one. Not only are we in the futuristic year of 1999, in a society that has gained world peace, there is also safety from kaju thanks to Monster Island (or Monster Land). The latter is a cool location, and established well (though the security measures were a bit mean! Poor monsters), but quickly discarded when the monsters are brainwashed. And as for the world itself, it's barely focused on, and no different to the usual. There's little about it that's futuristic, but that would actually prove to be depressingly realistic.

Where I had issues with Destroy All Monsters was in its story. I only mind a little that it's basically a retelling of Invasion of Astro Monster, but what I do mind is how basic it all is. The film gets right into the action very quickly, beginning to build up an interesting mystery before immediately throwing all its chips on the table and unleashing the monsters.

The film also struggles with stakes. After a strong intro showing the rampaging kaiju, we then go almost a full half hour with only humans, and it feels like we're watching a random espionage/sci-fi. We're told of the stakes, but never really feel them. The world never feels like it's in any real danger.

The characters are tolerable, but fairly dull. The plot is so breakneck that it never stops to develop them, even superficially. They are so uninteresting that so far this is the only Godzilla film I've seen so far where the story made me check out till the monsters showed up again.

While the Kilaks don't have much personality, certainly not individually, I did like their darkly blunt sense of humour. Their motivations however leave a little to be desired. They want to conquer the earth, just because. No greater reason, nor build-up or intrigue, they just rock up and attack Earth.

The monsters are all reasonably benevolent here, but trashing a few cities under alien mind control. Only Ghidorah is truly villainous, though he too is being brainwashed by the Kilaks, so it feels less personal and satisfying seeing him get a final beatdown than if he were more in control.

With the amount of monster screentime we were getting early on, I did wonder how the movie would sustain this. The answer turned out to be it doesn't. We go long stretches without any monster action, to the point where I began feeling deprived.

Destroy All Monsters really only has one battle, singular. But it sure is a special one! It's one of the best monster fights in the entire series. Although calling it a fight might be misleading. It's more of a one-sided beatdown, as all 10 good kaiju, lead by Godzilla, beat the absolute shit out of Ghidorah, destroying him once and for all. We even have an unseen human acting as a monster wrestling commentator.

While Godzilla does appear in the film, it's a bit hard to consider Destroy All Monsters to be a Godzilla entry. The film is never really about him, though out of all the monsters, he is still the best. His son Minilla appears too, much to my delight! He is the cutest kaiju of them all. He's surprisingly the first to show up for the final battle, and blows an adorable smoke ring as the finishing blow.

Mothra has an alright role, but is only in her larval stage, and never a glorious moth. Manda and Kumonga (a snake and spider, respectively) have decently sized roles. Kumonga is a little redundant in the final battle, spraying web just like Mothra, but a giant spider can never be a drawback.

Gorosaurus, a T-rex who previously appeared in King Kong Escapes, has a brief role, but makes the most of it with a great attack against Ghidorah.Baragon and Varan also appear, for ludicrously short cameos. There are enough monsters in the final product that their presence isn't missed, but talk about false advertising!

The look of the Kilak's is pretty neat, even though we never actually get to see them as aliens, barring a quick flash. They're an all-female group who dress in glittery robes and showercaps. It's a lost art seeing aliens actually dress the part.

The effects here are standout. Many monsters are redesigned, and look really neat, and lifelike. The costumes are cheesy, but fun. And the sets can be gorgeous, particularly the alien lair near the end. The city destruction is surprisingly detailed this time round during the aftermath. The location for the final battle is pretty simple, being a normal valley surrounded by blue sky, but that's part of the charm in the Showa era!

The score by Akira Ifukube is great as always, with a nice mix of old and new, with some thrilling tracks to enjoy.

Destroy All Monsters ranks surprisingly low for me in the Godzilla series. I know, I'm shocked too! But for all the issues I had with it, it's still a 60s kaiju film. Maybe not the best as far as I was concerned, but still worth checking out. And for many it is one of the best. And even the worst Godzilla film is at least worth something (unless it's two and a half hours long, anyway)...

1 comment:

  1. This one is my personal favorite of all the Showa Godzilla movies. I prefer the alien villains over the villains that mar earlier entries such as Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster (usurpers to a royal throne), the gangsters from Mothra, and the capitalists from Godzilla vs the Thing. :)

    All in all, the story (I have to agree) is pretty weak, and I never have figured out why we're setting it in 1999 when we've seen future tech equal to it in the Monster Zero movies.

    Favorite scene: Tokyo under attack by all those monsters (seen up close and in the background) including Mothra, Manda and Godzilla. That's an impressive amount of choreography and destruction for one scene.