Wanna know what it looks like when the bottom falls out of a movie franchise? Because it looks like <Son of Godzilla, the eighth film to feature Japan's most beloved giant monster and the first for which I have absolutely not one blessed thing to say in its defense. You can probably guess the reason why from the title: the process of domesticating a giant, city-destroying metaphor for nuclear weaponry was finally completed in 1967, when he was given a little daikaiju toddler to nurture. I don't know if this inherently means that the film has to suck, but in practice that's exactly what happens, especially given that profoundly insipid scenes of big Godzilla teaching little Minilla (that's the ugly fucker's name, officially, though it never shows up in dialogue) how to breath radioactive fire, or fight other kaiju, or roar, take up approximately three hours of the 86-minute film's running time.

Basically, the situation was this: the daikaiju eiga, as a genre, was starting to run out of gas, but it was still popular with kids, as demonstrated by the overtly kid-friendly Gamera franchise produced by Daiei Film. So when the time came to seriously tighten the belt on the Godzilla franchise, a process begun in earnest by the cheap Ebirah, Horror of the Deep in 1966, the decision to focus on a juvenile audience must have seemed so obvious that it didn't need mentioning. Kids, after all, are not so hard to please as grown-ups, or at least they're perceived to be; generations of children's entertainment have made it gruelingly clear that to most studio executives, all kids want is to be parked in front of something colorful that moves. And if it takes putting a kid in the movie to seal the deal - even a green lizard kid with a face like somebody painted Peter Lorre green - then that's what Toho would damn well do.

It's not actually clear that Minilla is Godzilla's biological son, as the title implies. Not much of the film is clear, in fact, and the world would have to wait many long years until 1998, when the question of how Godzillas breed could be explored in earnest. There just happens to be an egg on this island, and Godzilla arrives at the island around the same time the egg is incubated, though the order of events doesn't suggest that these events are related at all. In fact, Godzilla shows up right at the very start, to menace a scientific research team on a plane flying low towards the isolated Sogell Island in the Pacific. The pilot is able to dodge the monster - possibly Godzilla is too stunned with horror at how unbelievably shitty he looks in this film to move with his ordinary ferocity - and land on the island, that we might have our plot, and a wan and undernourished little bastard that plot is. Screenwriters Sekizawa Shinichi and Shiba Kazue were maybe directed to make something as plain and direct as possible by the higher-ups; or maybe the whole thing seemed junky enough that it was too dispiriting to try hard; or maybe Sekizawa was burned on on kaiju by this point. Whatever did it, Son of Godzilla has by far the flimsiest excuse for a narrative that had yet been foisted onto a Godzilla film, not attempting in the least to hide its functional nature behind a veil of "science blah blah blah, look at the monsters".

The short version - since the film itself doesn't provide a long version - is that the research team, led by Dr. Kusumi (Takashima Tadao), is experimenting with a weather-control device. They've had the bad luck to pick an island overrun by giant mantises, and the worse luck to be experimenting with radioactive material that draws Godzilla right to them; though at least he helps take care of the mantis problem. In the course of an accident with the equipment, Minilla's egg is uncovered and set upon by three Kamacuras, who are torn apart by Godzilla, and for a long, long, long long longlonglong time, Godzilla teaches the newly-hatched Minilla all about godzilling, while the scientists, intrepid reporter Goro (Kubo Akira), and stranded Japanese woman Saeko (Maeda Bibari) all sort of meander about, trying to get off the island through their own radiation storm before one of the damn monsters eats them. Eventually, all the antics rouse the giant spider Kumonga, whose name I hope sounds less ridiculous in Japanese than it does in English. Godzilla and Minilla must use all their skills to stop the hideous arachnid, while the scientists concoct a scheme to blanket the island in snow, putting the kaiju into hibernation and making their escape. I think that I have left nothing out.

The real problem here isn't the impoverished storytelling, though. You won't get very far with daikaiju eiga if you need a rich human story that ties in well with the monster action every single time. Honestly, it's not even the desire to make this a friendly, fun, children's movie, since there's an unmistakable thread of matinee movie silliness in all but the most absolutely grave and grim giant monster movies. The great problem of the film is that the filmmakers so clearly didn't give a shit, didn't have the resources to give a shit, and didn't have anything worth giving a shit about. This is a monumentally lazy movie, never more glaringly than in the climactic fight with Kumonga, suspended by black wires that show up with unmistakable clarity in virtually every shot that the spider appears in. Effects director Arikawa Sadamasa didn't have the resources of his great predecessor, Tsuburaya Eiji, of course, but there's such a thing as trying, and that's in short supply in Son of Godzilla.

Having already gone the "big and wacky" route with Ebirah, director Fukuda Jun doubled-down on trivial nonsense here, making every moment as breezy and light as possible, and in the process completely eradicating any dramatic stakes whatsoever. Even when Minilla is surrounded by three giant mantises with razor-sharp claws and nightmare teeth, there's not the remotest sense that he's actually in danger. The human characters are visited with such indifference and blandness (only Kubo emerges with any kind of presence, and it's the kind that comes from frenzied over-acting) that we don't care about them to begin with, and even if we did, the monsters are more of an inconvenience than a danger, absent the spooky early scenes where the Kamacuras skitter around at night.

Worst of all, though, are the monsters. Not simply that their battles are indifferently staged; one expects that. But they look like crap. Kumonga is decent, I suppose, as giant spider puppets go. But Minilla is an ugly little irritating troll and Godzilla! - oh Lord, save me from having to remember what they did to my dear Godzilla! The name of the game, never forget, was child-friendly straight down the line, and that means a round Godzilla face with big eyes, skinny build, all his pointy ends blunted. This I can swallow, though not with any enthusiasm to speak of. But the chintziness of it! It's the most vinyl-looking Godzilla yet, and the eyes look like giant plastic orbs. Minilla may be hideous, but Godzilla looks like a costume you could by in any corner shop, and this I could not forgive were the movie actually decent in anyway. Coming as merely the crowning point of awfulness in a film that tells a lousy story poorly and dumbs-down an already simply concept to the point of complete triviality, it all leaves Son of Godzilla too flimsy and pointless to bear.

But I have to say, Sato Masaru's romping music is a much better fit here than his surf rock was in Ebirah. So I have to give it credit for something.