By 1968, the sons o’ fun at Toho were running out of ideas on what to do with their monster movie franchise. In “Destroy All Monsters,” the studio assembled nearly all of their beloved Tokyo-stomping monsters and recycled earlier movie plots regarding extra-terrestrials using the monsters to conquer the Earth. The result was a noisy, raucous mess that will appall the serious cinephile and delight the inner 10-year-old cocooned within the most seriously cynical of adults.
The film opens in the year 1999, when the United Nations has established a base on the moon – which is, oddly, populated nearly entirely by Japanese astronauts. The Turtle Bay diplomats have also segregated the world’s most dangerously oversized monsters in a section of Ogawasara Islands known as Monster Land. All is copacetic until the denizens of a hitherto unknown planet known as the Kilaaks – who look like Japanese women wearing heavy eye make-up and are dressed in sequined capes and shower caps – decide they want to take over the Earth. The Kilaaks get control of the monsters and send them all over the planet to destroy the major cities of the world: Rodan topples the domed cathedrals of Moscow, Godzilla incinerates United Nations headquarters in New York, Gorosaurus emerges from beneath Paris’ Arc de Triomphe and Mothra wrecks a train heading to Peking. The Japanese astronauts return to Earth and make it their mission to find the Kilaaks’ base on this planet – but the wily aliens play a trump card with Ghidorah, the flying three-headed monster who single-handedly takes on the Earth’s monsters.
In watching “Destroy All Monsters,” one gets the feeling that no one associated with this film has any clue on how real people behave. Astronauts take on law enforcement duties, people facing the seepage of poison gas through a door open the portal to its fullest to allow the gas to consume them, and military intelligence is caught by surprise as oversized dinosaurs turn up by surprise and stomp away at cities. The filmmakers also seemed to believe that audiences will not be able to tell the difference between toy spaceships and cardboard miniature metropolises and the real things.
Still, having Godzilla, Godzilla’s son Minilla, Rodan, Mothra, Ghidorah, Manda, Gorosaurus, Anguirus, Spiga, Varan and Baragon in the same film is not a shabby consideration – even if Varan and Baragon only turn up in the final seconds and if the Toho version of King Kong is conspicuously absent. (The Japanese studio couldn’t arrange for licensing of Kong for this film, hence his omission.) While the monsters are not on screen for too many long stretches, they make the most of their presence by gleefully destroying the worst of 1960s urban planning. And let’s be frank: the scene where Godzilla emerges from New York’s East River and aims his death breath at the United Nations headquarters complex is probably the most invigorating slice of monster-induced vandalism in movie history.
Is “Destroy All Monsters” great filmmaking? Nah. Is it great entertainment? If your idea of fun is oversized Japanese monsters fighting each other and wrecking the world, you bet this is lunacy is entertainment to the nth degree.