I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no telling whether the next Godzilla film is going to be any good. The quality has fluctuated so much thus far that I’ve given up trying to guess. It is with this newfound inner peace that I approached Invasion of Astro Monster, released the year after Mothra vs. Godzilla & Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Since the latter movie saw the conversion of the catastrophic lizard, previously embodying post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki nuclear tension, into a good guy, this film looks to the newly discovered ‘Planet X’ for adversaries, accompanied naturally by a monster; King Ghidorah (again). This planet-hopping plot is coupled with borrowing the tone from the American B-Movies of the space-obsessed era and pulling it off brilliantly. In fact, Godzilla & his apparent sidekick, Rodan, are basically secondary to much of the main plot, which focuses on the interplanetary relations and human side-plots. In previous instalments these human plots have been tiresome; carelessly passing the time before the main event, but here they’re actually enjoyable in themselves. It’s hitting the mark with the tone that makes it work – it’s not taking itself entirely seriously but it’s barely ever trying to be funny. To say it’s well written would be a lie, but it’s an engaging plot with some surprises and it thoroughly entertains.
The large number of effects in this film can rarely be accused of being good, but the visible strings, plastic UFOs, and action figure stand-ins for characters somehow work with the general campiness for reasons I can’t accurately place. Despite this, the production values in the ‘real life’ scenes feel far higher than the horrible handheld camera work in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Everything is much more controlled and it feels like care was put into the making, albeit with a limited budget, rather than it feeling like a rushed cash-in. However slight it may seem on paper, I think it’s the most important difference between this and some previous entries, affecting the feel of the whole film. Despite not being at the centre of the plot, Godzilla and Rodan do eventually get a number of great scenes. Godzilla’s ever-changing nature sees him now rather agile, fighting like a boxer who’s taken 20 caffeine pills and leaping around all over the place. Fair enough I suppose. The oddest, and therefore greatest moment of the film comes when, with Planet X’s greatly reduced gravity, Godzilla celebrates a successful fight with a bizarre floating dance that lasts a few seconds longer than it ought to. The general personification of Godzilla, and Rodan to a lesser extent, is admittedly ridiculous but still great.
Further confirming my realisation that there’s no way of knowing whether these films will be good, this is better than Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster in practically every way despite featuring the same monsters (Mothra was omitted due to budget issues), and being made immediately afterwards. There’s no point in picking fault with the silly science talk, or the effects, this is a fantastic B-Movie, entertaining from start to end, and as such my favourite Godzilla sequel yet.