Creatively bankrupt and looking for one last fix of monsterfied entertainment, director Ishirō Honda brings audiences Invasion of Astro-Monster, a film that feels panicked and a somewhat brutal attempt to capture the science fiction boom of the time. With shaking hands and sweating brow, Honda dares to shoot for the stars, engaging with the premise that an atomic bomb could birth an overgrown lizard and have it do battle on some distant planet nobody has ever heard of. Planet X is inhabited by the villainous Monster Zero, and it’s up to Godzilla and Rodan to fend off this beast, and in exchange for their services they provide the cure for cancer. Manic energy aside, there is at least the sliver of hope that Invasion of Astro-Monster will be focused more on fights than it will on people.
No such luck, unfortunately, but at least the story they find themselves strapped to is interesting. Cling to those reveals and moments of shock, for the few moments Honda dares show of King Ghidorah and company are nothing short of excellent. They have a forceful and intimidating presence, a solid draw that the film does not utilise as much as it should. A bigger man than I would make peace with this clearly recurrent theme, but I am neither passive or persuaded by the argument that these human characters are either beneficial or interesting. But I will admit, to some degree, that the characters found in Invasion of Astro-Monster are at least interesting. The dead weight has been removed, prised off of the more acceptable, varied characters. They come into their own rather well, and the film is all the better for it.
Nothing these characters can offer will overtake the explosive action and variety displayed by the King of Monsters and his lizard-looking fiends. Godzilla still looks a far stretch worse than he did in his original outing, like a man who has only just discovered the wonders of codine, stumbling bleary-eyed and slapping anything that growls at him. In essence, that is the essential hurdle to leap, the removal of the hardened atomic message, replacing that with some solid fun and interesting monsters. So much of the series depends on interactions of these beasts, that it is hard to forget so many of the famous creatures that dominate the screen. Even those that have been long left behind are still captured well by Honda, and here he hits it lucky with three of the most engaging and interesting of the kaiju family.
Gripping its sci-fi tones as it howls for the larger net of audience members, it is easy to at least appreciate Invasion of Astro-Monster for its attempt to reinvent the series. Injecting some fleeting life into a kaiju-stuffed film, the gamble of science fiction pays off rather well. Not touching upon the quality found earlier in the series, but certainly a far better experience than later entries that shunted Honda out of the brand and into festering monster oblivion. For good or ill, it is the Honda film that works human characters into the narrative far more successfully than its predecessors, and is a shining achievement when compared to the films that would follow…