Premise: A typhoon washes ashore a gigantic egg. It’s soon claimed by greedy entrepreneurs who refuse to return it to its rightful owner, Mothra. Soon Godzilla arises near Nagoya, washed ashore by the same typhoon.
In the aftermath of an intense typhoon, an enormous egg and a strange, radioactive piece of debris are discovered. Capturing the attention of Japanese citizens, the objects naturally kick off a tale of greed and a gargantuan fight of finders vs keepers. It all leads to a fight for the ages as Godzilla takes on Mothra!
Ishiro Honda’s Mothra vs Godzilla treads some familiar kaiju territory in its setup for the titular bout. Like Mothra before it, the film explores the concept of opportunistic businessmen who see the monsters and their artifacts as objects they can exploit for profit. However, this iteration of that concept is more interesting than the King Kong esque storyline in Mothra. While the greedy players in the film are ultimately used just as a means to set the stage for the monsters’ arrival, their subplot ultimately reaches a satisfying conclusion that compliments the overall theme of the film well.
Another familiar development in Mothra vs Godzilla is the mere concept of two established monsters duking it out. Looking ahead, the Showa-Era films do have many more “versus” movies coming up. Fortunately, this fight between Godzilla and Mothra is just as satisfying (if not moreso) than King Kong’s encounter with the king of the monsters. Honda and his team successfully take the unique nature of Mothra’s destructive forces (the wind from her wings, for example, as established in Mothra), and utilize it against Godzilla in ways that make Godzilla panic and his motions frantic. This is a decidedly different type of Godzilla reaction and it’s really refreshing to watch.
Mothra vs Godzilla also expands on Mothra’s powers and showcases an insane level of strength that you wouldn’t expect from the giant moth. In one scene, she attacks Godzilla by the tail and drags him across the ground as he frantically thrashes at the air and shoots his fire breath in desperate and aimless directions. It’s effective at showing the strength Mothra has but it also makes us sort of sympathize with Godzilla. Given that this is the final film in the Showa-Era where Godzilla is outright “bad”, this surprising bit of sympathy he garners will likely go a long way as the series progresses.
Not only does the film make Mothra a very formidable opponent for Godzilla, there’s a sense of tragedy to her arc as well. The miniature women from Infant Island (reprising from Mothra) explain her current state and breathe a nobility in her and the people of Infant Island. This simultaneously creates a respect in the audience for Mothra and rewards those who watched 1961’s Mothra as well. There’s even a small chance that Mothra‘s connection to Mothra vs. Godzilla will retroactively enhance subsequent viewings of the former.
When the newspaper team (another retread from Mothra) decide to seek out Mothra’s aid against Godzilla, their trip to Infant Island (and subsequent plea to its indigenous people) gives the film a wonderful nuclear disarmament message. While it isn’t quite as focal to the narrative or as beautifully delivered as the 1954 Godzilla‘s anti-nuclear message was, it still proves incredibly effective. We see firsthand how destructive nuclear tests were on Infant Island in a way that makes the indigenous people’s indignation toward their guests’ request the most dramatic moment of the entire film. It sets the stage for a really poignant final scene between the human protagonists that feels hopeful and resonant.
The destruction and battle between Godzilla and Mothra isn’t the only big set piece we are given in the film. The final confrontation involves Godzilla and a pair of opponents that are better left vague in this review for fear of spoilers. Suffice it to say, this fight closes out the film in a wonderful way and hinges on some impressive visuals and even more satisfying sound effects. It also continues the frantic fighter version of Godzilla up against particularly scrappy opponents that was established earlier. Calling back to exposed weaknesses of Godzilla in that final fight gives it a frenetic energy amidst a surprisingly even playing field.
Even though there is some retread from previous movies in the series (and in Mothra‘s film as well), Mothra vs. Godzilla is a shockingly great entry in the Godzilla franchise and terrific showcase of both of its title monsters. It creates empathy for the monsters in surprising ways while keeping its human antagonists as mere cyphers for the moral lessons it hopes to impart. The film comes together with fantastic action and a wonderfully poignant message of hope in its final scene. Mothra vs. Godzilla is easily the best film in the franchise since Godzilla (1954).
About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll.