That’s the regular adult in me talking. But as a child (and honestly, even now) nothing could beat the unadulterated joy that came from seeing one’s favorite monsters tear a city up. My introduction to kaiju (giant monster) movies was thanks to my uncle who used to bring me VHS tapes when he visited from Japan. (And I think because my first Godzilla movie was actually Mothra vs. Godzilla, I unintentionally became a huge Mothra fan instead. Sorry, Big G!) As someone who often watched Godzilla movies as a child (and has poorly imitated the original roar), I’ve always associated the franchise with having fun with my family. It’s a communal experience.
A few weeks ago, the Japan Society in New York City teamed up with Escape From Tribeca from the Tribeca Film Festival to present a special screening of Destroy All Monsters (1968) to celebrate the movie’s 55th anniversary. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of the Japanese Godzilla films on the big screen, let alone a Showa-era film, so I knew I had to attend.
The film starts off just before the end of the 20th century. All of the monsters on Earth have been living peacefully on the newly-constructed Monster Island, but this is short-lived when they suddenly go on a rampage and attack cities around the world. While this movie could have easily been a humans versus monster ensemble battle, it’s quickly revealed that our beloved monsters are actually being mind-controlled (and essentially held hostage) by a race of aliens known as Kilaaks, who have demanded control of Earth.
Can humanity defeat the Kilaaks? Can they win against the monsters they supposedly had under control? The questions alone gave me goosebumps.
A title like Destroy All Monsters sets the bar fairly high for monster appearances, even in a kaiju film. With each monster’s introduction in the movie, I fangirled so hard. It was really exciting seeing many of my longtime favorites on the screen at the same time. Forget the Avengers or the Justice League, or even “That’s So Suite Life of Hannah Montana.” The sheer number of monsters in this movie made it one of the most epic team-ups I’ve ever seen. Fans will not finish the film disappointed. While each monster has a fairly limited amount of screentime, the final fight scene of the film features all of them together in one incredible battle of magnificent proportions. That fight scene alone is worth viewing, if not the entire movie.
I think one of the skepticisms some may have when it comes to viewing older films is whether or not the effects will still look passable or entertaining to viewers decades later. I thought the suitmation (human actors wearing monster suits) looked very cool and seamless and I thought the actors who played the monsters did a really great job (especially in showing off Godzilla’s new suit!). I genuinely enjoyed the effects and bright colors in the movie. Combined with the soundtrack, it was overall quite well-made.
For me, the most important factor for a film is that it needs to be entertaining and Destroy All Monsters certainly fits the bill. It was funny and silly. I had a genuinely great time watching it with a crowd of people and laughing together; the atmosphere made all of the difference! For example, the Japan Society is located right next to the United Nations headquarters, which was one of the locations Godzilla personally destroyed in the film. It was a lot of fun joking about that with a crowd who got it.
Like I mentioned earlier, a title like Destroy All Monsters naturally leads viewers to have expectations that there will be, well, a lot of monsters. That’s why I was incredibly shocked that this movie, in fact, did not feature a lot of them.
While Destroy All Monsters does technically boast a cast of eleven monsters, for the majority of the movie, they each only appeared for a few seconds. It was only in the final fight scene where they were utilized and properly got to shine.
Well, if the monsters weren’t the stars, then who were? An unfortunately-large portion of this film was spent on humans and human-looking aliens (the Kilaaks), and neither group was particularly interesting. (To be fair, not many people can hold a candle to my beloved Mothra!) The Kilaaks were fairly bland as antagonists, and it was difficult at times to follow the plot and understand what the human characters were thinking.
Since I went into this movie expecting thrilling monster fights, I was left feeling bored during many of the long, monsterless scenes.
The Grand Finale
At the end of the day, if I’m being honest, no one is watching a Godzilla movie for its human characters (even though the actors did do a great job.) We’re all here for the monsters and they were absolutely awesome.
On the basis of what really matters in a kaiju movie, this movie was very entertaining. The classic Godzilla roar still hypes me up so much even decades later. I loved the new suit, and all of the special effects and costumes looked cool. I did enjoy this movie because of its final fight scene, but the wait to get there felt pretty long. I would’ve loved the movie even more if there was a more even balance of the screen time between the humans and aliens and the monsters. (And if Mothra wasn’t a larva the entire time!)
With a bright mashup of kitschy, silly aliens and space travel, a lot of cool monsters, special and practical effects, all on a global scale, I think the movie is still an overall fun viewing experience. The audience in the Japan Society was made up of people of all ages and everyone was laughing together; I think there’s merit in the fact that one film can appeal to and be enjoyed by people regardless of their age.
Where to Watch Destroy All Monsters
I found out you can watch an English dub of Destroy All Monsters for free on YouTube, Tubi TV, Crackle, and PBS! The movie is also available on Max, The Criterion Channel, and Fandor via subscription.
For a Godzilla movie with a similar vibe, I highly recommend Invasion of Astro-Monster.
Behind the Movie Magic
Director: Ishirō Honda
Special Effects Supervisor: Eiji Tsuburaya
Composer: Akira Ifukube
Special thank you to Tribeca & the Japan Society for giving us the opportunity to attend the Escape From Tribeca from the Tribeca Film Festival screening of Destroy All Monsters!
- Where else can we see so many of our favorite monster characters in one place?
- Final fight was EPIC
- The suits, SFX, and soundtrack were great
- Very entertaining to watch with a group or alone, and for anyone of any age
- The screentime leaned too heavily on the human and alien characters
- Monsters were treated more like cameos throughout the rest of the movie
- The plot/writing hard to follow at times
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