Just as a note, I watched the fullscreen, English dubbed version of the film. Not the optimal format for viewing a Godzilla film, so I’ll try not to count that against it.
As the “grand” send-off for the Showa series and the last movie before a ten year break for Godzilla, it was actually pretty good. By “pretty good” I mean “watchable”. As a matter of fact, the movie really isn’t about Godzilla at all. It’s all about the mad Dr. Mafuni, the revenge of the Black Hole aliens and (mainly) Titanosaurus. Godzilla only shows up twice. First to fight Titanosaurus in Tokyo (Titanosaurus is recalled from battle rather quickly after the fight began) and then at the end to battle Titanosaurus and Mecha-Godzilla.
Godzilla’s role in the film is miniscule at best; he’s only there to provide a fight scene and is treated as the Protector of Earth more than ever. He even works alongside the humans in the final battle with Titanosaurus; holding his enemy from behind so that the humans can blast him with Super Sonic Waves. It’s very strange to see Godzilla consciously cooperate with humans. The only other time I can recall him doing so was in Godzilla vs Hedora. And even then I didn’t like it.
As far as Titanosaurus is concerned, he looks awesome (for a Showa series design). He’s very unique in appearance and surprisingly colorful (the oranges and dark greens contrast rather strangely). He’s also very big, taller than Godzilla in fact. But as a kaiju, he’s pretty lame. His only special attack is his Hurricane Tail, but compared to the Hurricane attacks of winged kaiju (specificully Rodan) his Hurricane Tail is utterly weak. In fact, he has to turn his back to his enemy to even use it. The only thing he has on his side is height and a very powerful jaw/neck combo (he lifts Godzilla into the air and swings him around with only his jaw). Titanosaurus is undoubtedly the star of this movie but is far too boring for the role.
Then there’s Mechagodzilla. Without question this design is much better than his original one from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. He’s more detailed than before and quite impressive. Still looks like he has a pot-belly, though. They recycle his All-Out Attack from the last movie in the final battle, but this time Godzilla fairs much better. In probably the best part of the final fight, Mechagodzilla just goes nuts and launches every weapon he has at Godzilla. Last time it nearly killed him, but this time Godzilla goes berserk and just rushes through all the missiles and lasers, hell-bent on getting his hands on Mechagodzilla. A nice spin on what could’ve turned out to be a boring copy of the final sequence in the last film.
But despite that last scene, the final fight is just way too silly and poorly executed. They through Godzilla around like a rag doll (the scene where Titanosaurus picks him up with his jaw is the worst). There are good moments in the battle, but there’s way too much silliness. And I guess that’s the major flaw with most of the later Showa films.
Far too much of the movie (three fourths of it) revolve around the human drama, which is taken straight from a Saturday morning cartoon. Dr. Mafuni is so hackneyed and weak it’s like watching a parody of a character rather than the genuine article. And dubbed or not, the acting in this movie was BAD. The girl who played Katsuro must’ve been a commercial actor or something because she adds no feeling to the part. Even her suicide sequence is unsatisfying.
The worst part about the human drama and the excruciating bulk of the film is that nothing really happens. The Black Hole Aliens find the head of Mecha-Godzilla and hire Dr. Mafuni to help rebuild him and control Titanosaurus. All this happens in the first 10 minutes. The next hour is spent watching some idiot detectives waste my patience trying to figure out everything I already know and hit on Katsuro.
But this isn’t a total waste of time. The final battle, despite the silliness, is quite satisfying. Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla both have impressive suit designs. They even get a rather long scene where the two just go nuts on Tokyo and destroy almost everything. It also should be noted that, despite corniness, this was a departure from the substantially more kid-oriented Godzilla films. No Irish Jig, no speech bubbles, no talking Minya, no flying with the atomic breath…just all-out fighting. Katsuro’s suicide, despite being poorly acted, was rather heavy considering the content of earlier Godzilla films and refreshing. It should also be noted that the direction is really pretty good. The background history sequence of Dr. Mafuni is done with narration over black and white photographs which slowly show the scientist getting older and gradually losing his grip on reality. Very nicely directed, though poorly acted.
Then there’s Godzilla walking into the sunset, silently telling the world goodbye. The scene would’ve been perfect if it wasn’t for a quick shot of stock footage. The stock footage was of a completely different Godzilla suit, and you notice it very blatantly. From what I’ve read, The Terror of Mechagodzilla was never intended to be the last film in the Showa series, but the gradual decline in Godzilla’s popularity made it that way.
Anyway, it’s not the best the Showa series has to offer (like Destroy All Monsters or Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, for example) but it most definately isn’t the worst (Godzilla’s Revenge, Godzilla vs Megalon). If Mechagodzilla is your favorite Godzilla villain then this film is for you. If not, then you’re better off watching other films in the franchise and getting to this one later.