The following are my all-time favorite Godzilla films:
- Godzilla Raids Again (originally Godzilla’s Counterattack, 1955)
- King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
- Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
- Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster (originally Three Giant Monsters: Earth’s Greatest Battle, 1964)
- Monster Zero (originally Great Monster War, 1965)
- Godzilla 1985 (originally Godzilla, 1984)
Godzilla Raids Again is the very first Godzilla sequel, which was first released here in the States as Gigantis: The Fire Monster. (Apparently, the American distributor felt that audiences didn’t want to see an “old” monster, so he tried to trick them into thinking Godzilla was a “new” monster by giving him a new name. But this didn’t fool anybody.) Not long after the events of the first Godzilla, another Godzilla appears – and this one’s engaged in an ongoing feud with yet another atomic dinosaur called Anguirus (who looks like an Ankylosaurus). So far as I know, this is the only sequel to include any characters from the original movie; the recurring character here is Professor Yamane, who shows us some flashback footage from the first Godzilla’s attack on Tokyo. Yamane also points out that the only thing that could kill Godzilla is no longer available since the man who invented it – Dr. Serizawa – is dead. So after Godzilla and Anguirus lay waste to the city of Osaka, the Japanese military tries to bury Godzilla alive in an iceberg.
While it still contains a note of darkness, this film is drastically more light-hearted and optimistic than its predecessor; it’s also a bit too slow and boring in the original Japanese cut. On the other hand, the American version runs more quickly and is a bit more engaging, but it’s also much dumber. This isn’t helped by the fact that all references to the original film are removed; Dr. Serizawa and the Oxygen Destroyer are never mentioned, and even Professor Yamane is treated like a completely new character. Also, the sound effects people replaced Godzilla’s trademark roar with that of Anguirus, making the two monsters sound identical to each other. The dubbing is also extra-cheesy here, sounding extremely cartoony at various points (like when the radio guy starts saying, “Danger!” and when the main guy says, “Oh, BANANA OIL!”).
Ghidorah, Rodan and Godzilla in Monster Zero (1965)
Nevertheless, this is still one of my favorite Godzilla films. It’s the first time we ever get to see Godzilla fight another monster, and that fight scene is pretty awesome. Plus, I like how this one follows a small fishing company as it struggles to stay in business while all this stuff is happening. I like how in the first movie, all the main characters are scientists and government investigators who are sombre and depressed, while the main characters here are blue-collar workers who somehow manage to stay cheery amidst all the doom and destruction. It’s not realistic at all, but it’s still pretty interesting to watch. Finally, I enjoy the fact that this is the only other Godzilla movie that was ever made in black-and-white.
Godzilla wouldn’t appear again until 1962 in King Kong vs. Godzilla. The big lizard is accidentally released from his iceberg by a nuclear submarine, and he goes on yet another rampage. But this time, a big businessman abducts King Kong from his home on Faro Island and uses him to fight off Godzilla. At first it doesn’t go so well for Kong, who doesn’t really stand a chance against Godzilla’s radioactive breath. The two monsters run around, spreading chaos in different parts of Japan (and these sequences are basically remakes of the original King Kong and Godzilla) until they’re finally thrown back together again. During their second and last confrontation, Kong proves that he can take whatever Godzilla dishes out – especially when he’s been struck by lightning. The plot leaves much to be desired, but the most important thing in a movie like this is that it delivers a spectacular wrestling match between the two most iconic giant monsters in movie history, and it fulfills that requirement all the way. My only complaint about this one is that while Godzilla looks great, King Kong looks terrible. That giant ape suit just isn’t very flattering. But if you can look beyond that, the rest of the film is lots of fun.
During the 7-year hiatus between Godzilla Raids Again and King Kong vs. Godzilla, Toho produced several other giant monster movies, including Mothra (which is about a giant moth and the beautiful twin fairy women who worship her as their Goddess) and Rodan (which is about two mutant pterodactyls tearing shit up with their supersonic wings). After the success of King Kong vs. Godzilla, Toho decided to start making crossovers with all of their original monsters. This led to Mothra vs. Godzilla, in which the moth lays a giant egg that gets lost at sea during a typhoon. The egg washes ashore on Japan, where a greedy businessman claims ownership over it. Mothra’s twin fairies try to convince this guy to give them the egg back, but he refuses and kidnaps them instead. This really pisses Mothra off, but things get even worse when Godzilla wakes up from his battle with King Kong and starts stumbling around, looking for breakfast. When he notices Mothra’s egg, he tries to eat it – and that’s when the shit hits the fan.
If the idea of a giant moth and two little fairy women sounds too bizarre to be in a Godzilla film, you might be surprised to learn that somehow, it all seems to work here. Mothra, her fairies and her babies are such likeable characters that you can’t help but root for them. That’s right; the giant monsters in this movie aren’t just monsters, they’re characters. They have real personalities, feelings and motivations. Godzilla’s just a grumpy guy who’s working off an interrupted sleep cycle and who wants something to eat; Mothra’s just a concerned mother trying to protect her children and her worshipers; and Mothra’s babies are…well, just babies. Furthermore, this film also features some of the very best cinematography and fight choreography you’ll ever see in any Godzilla film. It’s definitely one of the best entries in the entire history of the franchise.
I think my all-time favorite sequel from the original Godzilla canon, however, is the very next film, Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster. This is the turning point in the series where Godzilla becomes a defender of the Earth rather than its potential destroyer. A three-headed space dragon named Ghidorah shows up and starts burning everything to the ground with its yellow lightning breath. Then one of the baby Mothras shows up, and she tries to get Godzilla and Rodan to help her kick Ghidorah’s ass. This leads to one of the most endearing scenes in any Godzilla movie ever, where the three monsters actually talk to each other (while being translated for the human audience by Mothra’s twin fairies). Godzilla and Rodan explain that they don’t give a shit about what happens to mankind, they just want to be left alone. So Mothra goes to face Ghidorah herself, and she gets her ass handed to her. When Godzilla and Rodan see that, they get royally pissed and beat Ghidorah like he owes them money. It’s one of the best monster throwdowns ever made!
Ghidorah was soon followed by Monster Zero in 1965. This is the first film in the franchise to establish the idea of Godzilla needing to defend the Earth from alien invaders. It’s also the point in the series when things start to become just a little too cheesy. The aliens, for instance, just look ridiculous; the only thing that makes them threatening is their ability to brainwash Ghidorah, Godzilla and Rodan and force them to do whatever they want. Despite all that, I still love this movie, and I appreciate the fact that it stars Nick Adams (who was a semi-popular B-movie actor at the time). When Nick speaks his dialogue, he’s actually speaking English. What’s more, the Japanese actors around him are actually speaking Japanese, and I don’t think the actors really understood each other that much. Yet they all do such a good job of making it look like they understand each other perfectly, and their characters are genuinely likable (even if they are two-dimensional). Sadly, the Godzilla films that followed Monster Zero in the late 1960s and early 1970s are so low-budget that they re-use stock footage from both this film and Ghidorah. They also make Godzilla far too silly and cuddly. They’re still enjoyable films, but only in a late night “horror host” sort of way (i.e., the sort of thing you might see hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark).
My absolute favorite film in the franchise, however, is Godzilla 1985, which opens the second canon of Godzilla films (from 1984 to 1995). This is the only other film in the entire series that I would consider a “horror film” like the original Godzilla. It disregards every sequel that had ever been made up to that point and is more or less a direct sequel to the 1954 film (though in some ways it also resembles a remake). I can also talk about this particular entry in the series for a very long time, so I’ll review it in a longer post later. I’ll simply point out that it’s the first Godzilla film I ever saw, and it’s the last of the franchise that I really care about. I never got around to seeing most of its sequels because they were never released here in the States until the 2000s, and by then I wasn’t really interested in seeing them anymore. Whenever I get a craving for some Godzilla, I usually watch one or more of the films I’ve mentioned here in this post.