We have now moved out of the “okay” Godzilla films and into the “good” ones. From this point on, every Godzilla film left is highly enjoyable for me and has more pros and cons. And to start us off, we have what was supposed to be the end of the Godzilla series, “Destroy All Monsters.”
Like I briefly mentioned in my “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” review, the original creators of Godzilla were actually getting pretty tired of making Godzilla movies by the mid to late-1960s and started believing that Godzilla and his monster friends had moved too far away from their original intention with the character. Instead of being a symbol for the horrors of nuclear weapons and a warning to the world, now Godzilla was far more of a kid-friendly “save the planet” hero who even had a son at this point. So in 1968, the creators set out to make the ultimate final chapter in Toho daikaiju universe that would satisfy fans and Toho, and end the legacy of Godzilla on a high note.
Of course, this is not what happened, since Godzilla is too damn popular to keep down. But that didn’t stop Toho from pulling out all the stops with “Destroy All Monsters,” as they brought back damn-near every monster that had ever been in a Toho film up to that point, even monsters that had been killed were resurrected just for this occasion. This also has the most grand and expansive story of any Godzilla film and has one of the greatest moments of any monster movie with its final battle at Mt. Fuji. If there was ever a daikaiju film fitting of the epic genre, this would be it.
Set in the far off future of 1999, we’re quickly introduced to this whole new world filled with monsters. The nations of the world are at peace with each other, striving to rid the world of hunger, war, famine, and disease, and now identify as one people instead of multiple nations. We’ve build a base on the moon, which is now a central launching point for space exploration, as well as the first line of defense in case of an alien attack (at this point, the Earth has been attacked by at least six or seven forces from outer space, so you cannot blame them). As for all the monsters on Earth, they’ve been rounded up and captured on one island in the Ogasawara Trench, nicknamed Monster Island, and are under constant surveillance in case they try to attack or break free. On the island, we have monsters such as Godzilla, Anguirus, Rodan, Mothra, Gorosaurus (from “King Kong Escapes”), Baragon (from “Frankenstein Conquers the World”), Godzilla’s son Minilla and about five other monsters, all now treated like animals in a zoo.
Right off the bat, I love this premise. Ishiro Honda’s films had always emphasized a few key things, including the peaceful cooperation between the nations of the world, and space exploration. This film not only takes those concepts to his greatest conclusion, but amplifies it by giving it a futuristic look. We’ve invented phones that allow us to talk to people on the moon in a video conversation, there are city wide defense mechanisms, and traps to keep the monsters from escaping. This takes everything that the Toho monster films had been building up over the last decade and brings it all together.
My only complaint is that I would have liked to see or hear about how they captured certain monsters, in particular Godzilla and Mothra. With Godzilla, did they lure him to Monster Island and captured him once he was there, or did they weaken him somehow and then take him to the island? As for Mothra, how did they get her away from Infant Island? How did the fairies and natives of Infant Island react to having their God taken away from them by the outside world? We never see the twin fairies in this film, so we never get any sort of answer. Then again, it is a minor nitpick to an otherwise great setup for Honda’s idea of a worldwide utopia while monsters are still around.
One day though, there’s a disturbance on Monster Island. Communication to and from the outside world is cut off, the whole island is flooded with a strange yellow gas that makes all of the workers and monsters pass out, and the mountain at the top of the island explodes open to reveal something hollow on the inside of the island. The world headquarters immediately start to examine what happened on Monster Island.
But before they can do anything about it, the Earth monsters suddenly start appearing all over the world, attacking most of the major cities around the globe, including Rodan attacking Moscow, Mothra taking down Beijing, Gorosaurus/Baragon destroying Paris (the narration says Baragon attacked, but it was Gorosaurus’ suit), and Godzilla heading to New York City. Strangely enough, Tokyo was left alone even though it was the closest major city to Monster Island.
Again, I love this sequence. To suddenly go from Monster Island being attacked by an unknown force to seeing these monsters all over the planet, destroying some of the biggest landmarks in the world, seems so simple and easy to take for granted now, but feels so satisfying. Watching Rodan fly over the Kremlin and Godzilla blow up the U.N. Headquarters in New York brings a smile to my monster-loving face.
The World Headquarters sends in their best group of pilots on the moon, flying in the spaceship Moonlight SY-3, to investigate Monster Island, retrieve any human survivors, and if possible learn what happened that caused the monsters to get loose.
When they arrive, they find several of the scientists and crew of Monster Island, perfectly content and acting like nothing is wrong. The scientists say they still have control over all the monsters from here, but that they weren’t the ones who unleashed Godzilla and crew on the world. That honor belongs to the alien race that has conquered Monster Island and brainwashed all the scientists, known as the Kilaaks, a group of human-looking women wearing sparkly white robes and shower caps.
The Kilaaks say that they’ve come from a small planet between Mars and Jupiter and intend to take over the world using our own monsters against us. Their specialty is using their advanced technology for mind control purposes, which they’ve used on the scientists and the monsters.
The Kilaaks are pretty standard in terms of invading aliens in these monster films. They want to take over the planet but try to do so as peacefully as possible. They only see humanity as being in the way of their goal. The only difference is that the Kilaaks are okay with mind controlling humans instead of destroying them, and seem to be okay with humanity as long as they control everything about us. That and they’re all women, which I think is a first for Toho alien invasion movies.
Anyway, the pilots of Moonlight SY-3 engage the workers of Monster Island in a gun fight and barely escape with one of the lead scientists to question him back in Tokyo. But before he has a chance to say anything, he throws himself out a twenty-story window in the most hilarious way possible, going down like he was signaling a right turn. After another gun fight ensues, the human characters get their hands on the dead body of the lead scientist and find strange silver orbs behind his ears, which they’re able to deduce was the device the Kilaaks used to control him.
After a series of odd events, involving the world working together to find dozens of mind control devices the size of coconuts planted all over the globe by the Kilaaks, the next major event occurs in Tokyo when it appears that the Kilaaks are on the run. Suddenly, the entire city is under attack by Godzilla, Rodan, Manda (from “Atragon”) and Mothra. The monsters waste no time and start destroying major parts of the city, causing the city wide defense system to kick in and attack the four monsters.
This scene takes any citywide destruction scene from previous monster films and cranks it up to 11, especially with how each monster goes about destroying the city. Rodan flies over everything causing sonic booms, Manda constricts his long body over everything, and Godzilla sets the city ablaze and literally punches buildings into oblivion. Then there’s the all-out assault by the military with bombs and missiles coming from every direction. This scene throws everything it possibly can at the screen, and it’s all set to Akira Ifukube’s wonderfully catchy music.
While the majority of Tokyo is destroyed in the attack, the World Headquarters did find out something interesting. The reason the Kilaaks waited to attack Tokyo was so they could build their underground headquarters near Mt. Fuji during the initial worldwide attacks. Now that their new base of operations is complete, they now have all the monsters in or around Japan to protect their territory.
This leads to an all-out attack by the world’s defense force around the Mt. Fuji area, as they search for the hidden Kilaak base. Of course, the Kilaaks have come prepared and send in Godzilla, Rodan, and Anguirus to attack the military, leading to another good battle scene. While it isn’t as balls-to-wall as the fight in downtown Tokyo, this one does involve ground troops and showcases Anguirus kicking around some tanks, as well as more of Ifukube’s music that never gets old.
But at the end of the attack, Moonlight SY-3 does find something of interest – a Kilaak space ship that appeared to be heading towards the moon. Thanks to the moon base, they’re able to figure out that the Kilaaks have an underground moon base that was set up prior to their Mt. Fuji base.
This leads to some of the best practical effects of the entire series as Moonlight SY-3 infiltrates the Kilaak’s moon base. The Kilaaks activate a barrage of fire and flames in an attempt to blow up the spaceship, while the shot of their headquarters being exposed to the vacuum of space is eerie and haunting in how stark and colorless it is. The pilots find the device that has been controlling the monsters and, after a tense scene trying to crack open its shell, disable the machine and escape just in time to see the moon’s craters fill up with fire and explosions.
Moonlight SY-3 returns to the moon base with the device and tells Earth’s scientists that the control of the monsters has been taken away from the Kilaaks. Shortly after this, the scientists use the technology on Monster Island to control the monsters themselves and prompt them to head to Mt. Fuji to search for the last stronghold of the Kilaaks.
This leads to the most memorable sequence of the movie and one of the highlights of the entire Godzilla series, as each monster arrives one-by-one to Mt. Fuji, a radio announcer gives overly-dramatic narration to each monster popping up until there are about a dozen monsters in the same area. There’s something heart-warming seeing all these kaiju in the same shot. Maybe it’s because of the amount of effort in scaling, setting, and cinematography that went into making this scene. Maybe it’s because of the beautiful backdrop of Mt. Fuji that adds to the atmosphere. Or it could be this is just the introduction to what’s about to happen.
It turns out the Kilaaks have one last trick up their sleeve, as they’ve always had control over one of their own monsters – King Ghidorah. They summon Ghidorah to fight all of the Earth monsters, saying that he is so powerful he’ll have no problem killing every last one of them.
This leads into the final monster battle between every Earth kaiju and King Ghidorah at the base of Mt. Fuji, a sequence that always brings a smile to my face. It’s an all-out brawl between nearly a dozen monsters, with each monster fighting Ghidorah in their own way. Mothra and Kumonga, a giant spider from “Son of Godzilla,” use their webs to slow down the space dragon, while Rodan uses hurricane-force winds, and Godzilla and Gorosaurus taking the fight directly to the three-headed monster.
But the two stand-outs in this fight are Anguirus and Minilla. Anguirus doesn’t seem to care how strong King Ghidorah is and takes ever opportunity to bite Ghidorah’s necks and bring it down to his level. This doesn’t work out for him, as King Ghidorah literally starts flying around while Anguirus hangs on for dear life, leading him to fall from about a mile up in the sky and to get his back crushed by the golden monster as soon as Anguirus climbs out of his hole.
For some reason, these two have it out for one another, because they both go out of their way to mess with the other.
Minilla, on the other hand, is hilarious in this fight. While he doesn’t directly engage King Ghidorah, he does visually react to nearly every move throughout the fight. I love when they cut to Minilla right before Anguirus hits the ground after his bit fall, Minilla covering his face like he doesn’t want to watch what’s about to happen. He’s like the kid of a professional athlete who cheers on his dad and his friends, but doesn’t want to see anything horrific happen to them. Except that same kid is a monster, which makes it oddly more adorable and funny.
Honestly, if “Destroy All Monsters” was just two guys talking in an empty room for an hour and followed it up with this fight scene, I would still love this movie. It is so all-out insane and drenched with monster goodness. Every monster gets a time to shine and it is honestly a pretty brutal fight, with the aforementioned fall for Anguirus, the damage done to one of King Ghidorah’s necks by Anguirus and how the Earth monsters finally finish off Ghidorah after Gorosaurus supposedly breaks its back with a kaiju-sized kangaroo kick and the monsters just start laying it on thick.
And the cherry on top is that Minilla gets the killing blow, using his smoke rings to strangle the life out of the final head of King Ghidorah. Funny and badass.
My only complaint with this entire sequence is that it isn’t the end of the film. The Kilaaks send in one last weapon to try and wipe out humanity after King Ghidorah is defeated, known as the Fire Dragon. Moonlight SY-3 is sent into to fight the Fire Dragon in a sequence that pales in comparison to the fight on Mt. Fuji. It’s an okay chase scene, but it is at a terrible place in the movie. You’re not going to top the final monster attack, so just end with that.
Anyway, Godzilla locates the Kilaak base, kicks in the glass dome to wipe out the remaining Kilaaks, the Fire Dragon turns out to be a Kilaak spaceship and is defeated by Moonlight SY-3, and the monsters return to their island and everything returns to normal.
“Destroy All Monsters” is everything you could possibly want in a Toho daikaiju finale made by the men who created the daikaiju genre. It is insane, fun, memorable, and has some of the best special effects and music of the entire series. There are points where it feels repetitive, especially leading up to the assault on the Kilaak moon base, and it is unfortunate that the fight on Mt. Fuji wasn’t the final action sequence, but I can forgive all of that for the great monster battle against King Ghidorah. I also love that it brings together everything that Honda wished to emphasize in his movies to create his version of a perfect world. As a supposed finale to the Godzilla series, you couldn’t ask for a better one than “Destroy All Monsters.”