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In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing how everyone’s favourite giant, radioactive dinosaur turned from a titanic monster rising from depths of the sea and lumbering out of our collective nightmares created by the rise of the Atomic Age to, for all intents and purposes, a big, green superhero.
I took a mere three movies and eight years from Godzilla to go from a walking natural disaster to a fairly goofy, albeit still antagonistic, character.
The first two Godzilla movies are dark, sombre, and genuinely frightening.
The third, King Kong vs. Godzilla, was much lighter and more comical and based on the premise of watching two of the most famous movie monsters beat each other up.
Also, promotional images for the film heavily featured Kong spinning Godzilla around by the tail a la Mario 64.
This is not the goofiest thing Godzilla would ever do in the Showa-era (i.e. the 50s-70s, basically “classic” Godzilla; named for the formal name of the Emperor of Japan at the time).
Long story short, as the franchise continued, Godzilla got progressively goofier and more heroic and, with a few exceptions, the films themselves got more and more lighthearted and kid-oriented.
This era of the franchise culminated with a film that was initially intended as a potential grand finale to the entire franchise (clearly, that didn’t happen).
That film is 1968’s Destroy All Monsters!
By this point, Toho, the studio behind the Godzilla movies had comfortably settled into a formula for the franchise: aliens are planning to invade Earth for reasons with inconsistent degrees of satisfactory explanation, the aliens somehow mind-control the Earth monsters and set them loose, the human heroes find a way to undo the mind control and free the Earth monsters, and then Godzilla and whichever other monster he’s teaming up with this time around beat up the aliens’ monsters and save the day.
Destroy All Monsters! doesn’t upset this formula, so much as take it to its obvious conclusion.
In the wondrous future of the late 1990s (remember, the movie is from 1968), the monsters have been comfortably settled on Monster Island, which I’m told is just a name —
— until an all-female race of aliens called the Kilaaks get involved and mind-control, well, all monsters. Eventually, the monsters are freed, leading the Kilaaks to go to their Plan B, summoning King Ghidorah and setting him loose.
This of course leads to the climactic final battle between Ghidorah and, well, all monsters. Given that he’s outnumbered about eighty-six to one, he fares about as well as you’d expect, and the day is saved and everyone lives happily ever after.
Except, of course, for everyone who got smooshed by the monsters.
Destroy All Monsters isn’t necessarily the best Godzilla movie, and despite being intended as the grand finale of the Showa-era films, it’s actually still a pretty good place to start or to just be the one Godzilla movie you ever watch. It’s worth watching if only for the chance to watch, well, all monsters get their moment to shine.
It’s not the best Godzilla movie, but it is probably the most Godzilla movie.