The last time WrestleMania came through New Orleans, I indulged in a few of the smaller satellite shows that popped up around the city, including one put on by an extremely nerdy promotion out of NYC called Kaiju Big Battel. Sitting in a brightly lit auditorium after midnight, watching a kaiju-themed wrestling show with a shockingly sober, wholesome crowd, was a one-of-a-kind delight — an experience I doubt I’ll ever be able to fully replicate. The wrestlers were mostly costumed in giant plush outfits—dressed as hamburgers, 1950s robots, literal dust bunnies, and cans of soup—smashing each other into the cardboard cities that decorated the ring they used as a goofball playground. I guess it’s possible to take an unfavorable view of an American company boiling down the kaiju genre to such broadly silly terms, considering its heartbreaking origins as an expression of post-nuclear Japanese national grief in the original Godzilla. However, the further I dig into the Godzilla canon in recent months, the more I’m starting to realize just how faithful the Kaiju Big Battel brand of novelty wrestling is to its Godzilla roots; it’s just calling back to a later, decidedly kid-friendly era of Godzilla filmmaking detached from the giant lizard’s grim-as-fuck origins.
If there’s any one Godzilla movie that could be blamed for cheapening the monster’s brand with broadly silly slapstick comedy, it’s likely Godzilla vs Megalon. Thanks to an ugly pan-and-scan transfer with an English dub that was allowed to temporarily slip into the public domain, it’s the Shōwa era Godzilla film that was most widely available to the American public for decades — lurking in creature-of-the-week television broadcasts, gas station DVD bargain bins, and MST3k target practice. Godzilla vs Megalon appears to have a dire reputation as a result, diluting the larger Godzilla brand with misconceptions that the series was always dirt-cheap and aimed at little kids’ sensibilities. I can’t personally attest to the quality of that much-seen pan-and-scan edit of Godzilla vs Megalon, but the Criterion restoration that’s currently steaming online is both beautifully colorful and wonderfully goofy. It was obviously a rushed, cheap production, but the kaiju battles have a distinct pro wrestling charm to them that makes for great late-night viewing, transporting me back to that Kaiju Big Battel show in the best way possible. I can’t say the movie doesn’t deserve its reputation as the bottom of the kaiju media barrel, but now that the more important, prestigious Godzilla films are widely available in their original form, I think there’s a lot more room for audiences to appreciate the film’s delirious, Saturday Morning Cartoon silliness for what it is.
The humans-on-the-ground plot of Godzilla vs Megalon feels like repurposed scenes from a 1970s live-action Disney espionage comedy, by which I mean they’re not very memorable or worthy of discussion. What’s really worth paying attention to here is the pro wrestling booking of the monster fights. The film is a tag team match. In one corner, we have the debut (and final) match of Megalon, a profoundly idiotic beetle worshiped by the underwater occultists of Seatopia. In the other corner, we have the movie’s face: Jet Jaguar, an Ultraman rip-off robot with an insanely wide grin — also appearing in his debut (and final) match. Neither contender is enough of a draw to carry the movie on their own, so they’re paired with charismatic tag team partners to help get them over with the crowd. Megalon is paired with Gigan, a much lesser robo-Godzilla derivative than Mechagodzilla, whose non-presence essentially turns this into a squash match. Jet Jaguar, of course, is paired with Godzilla, a legitimizing tag team partner whose popularity should have been able to forever endear his new robo-friend to children everywhere. That proved to be an unsuccessful gamble in the long run (Jet Jaguar was never seen or heard from again), but Godzilla appears to have fun trying. He performs here with the broadly expressive physical language of a wrestler playing to the backseats in a packed auditorium, aiming for big laughs and even bigger wrestling maneuvers that any kid should be delighted cheer on from the crowd.
To its credit, Godzilla vs Megalon does vaguely motion towards the eco-conscious concerns of larger Godzilla lore in its early goings, pitting both the kaiju and the underwater sea cult against us surface humans after our nuclear tests pollute the atmosphere. The film isn’t earnestly about those themes, though, no more than it’s earnestly about Godzilla or Megalon. This is Jet Jaguar’s show through & through, as evidenced by the grinning robot closing out the show with his own badass theme song — the same way pro wrestlers replay their entrance music while they lift newly-won championship belts in victory. Jet Jaguar was created specifically for the film as contest entry from a small child (explaining the not-so-vague resemblance to Ultraman), which is a pretty blatant excuse to sell new kaiju toys & merch. Because the production was rushed, underfunded, and marketed specifically at little kids’ sensibilities, there isn’t much destruction of towns or cities (outside some crudely inserted stock footage from better-funded Godzilla films), so most of the monster action is staged in an open field, away from the necessity of expensive miniatures. The result is basically the movie version of Kaiju Big Battel: dudes in goofy costumes body slamming each other in fits of broad, slapstick humor. It sucks that the kaiju genre was once only associated with that kind of silly novelty entertainment, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining, especially now that the more serious end of the genre is more widely respected and readily accessible.