We now arrive at an exciting moment, for me personally: starting with 2000's Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, the series wraps up with a run of five movies which I've never seen and about which I know basically nothing. In the most extreme cases (Megaguirus is one of these), my knowledge extends literally only to having seen still images of the Godzilla suit. Comparatively, I'd seen more than half of the 24 preceding films, and I had some sense of the content of all the rest. So it's time to start flying blind.

Happily, this final phase of out Godzilla marathon starts out on a strong foot: while Megaguirus is, on balance, an awfully darn silly movie, it also has some terrific bits of popcorn cinema histrionics strung out along its entire running time. Most notably, it's a film where one plucky hero, the obsessed anti-Godzilla fighter Tsujimori Kiriko (Tanaka Misato) hitches a ride on Godzilla as it plunges through the waves, for a few seconds of one of the most gosh-darn cool images that have ever happened in this franchise.

That's a bit of the way in, though. First up, Megaguirus leads off with a fake newsreel that quickly recaps an entirely new history for Godzilla, in which every film but the first is swiftly discarded. Godzilla, we are told, reappeared 12 years after its initial attack in 1954, to decimate Japan's first attempt at building a nuclear power plant; later, in 1996, it attacked again, forcing the government to abandon an attempt at making a completely new power source. It was during the last of these attacks that Kiriko gained her passionate hatred of the beast, as it killed her commander during their attempt to contain its attack; this has caused her to join G-Graspers, the rather daft name of this movie's anti-Godzilla strike team (I get that G-Force was tied up in a different continuity, but it just sounds so much better). The main plot takes place in 2001, during which Godzilla persists as a threat even as Japan has given up all energy research; to combat this, Dr. Yoshizawa (Hoshi Yuriko, who we last saw fighting Godzilla all the way back in Mothra vs. Godzilla in 1964) has been developing a new weapon, dragging along irreverent independent scientist Kudo Hajime (Tanihara Shosuke) to help finish it up. This superweapon, inscrutably named "Dimension Tide", amounts to a black hole gun fired from an orbiting satellite; and so we begin to see how little Megaguirus scribes Kashiwabara Hiroshi and Mimura Wataru understand or care about astrophysics and geopolitics, for starters. As the film progresses, they will also demonstrate a singular lack of comprehension about paleontology, insect biology, radioactivity, and basically everything that has anything to do with science. Upon deliberation and reflection, I have elected to find this charming.

There's no real option but to find the film charming, really, or to find it shrill and dumb and dull. Basically, Megaguirus has the feeling of an attempt to make a film with the frothy sensibilities of the 1970s Godzilla films (and director Tezuka Masaaki, an outspoken fan of the character making his first of three movies in the franchise, has more or less confirmed that was the intent), minus the single biggest liability of those films: their desperately impoverished budgets. Now, the visual effects in this film aren't the best in the world, not even as good as the previous year's Godzilla 2000: Millennium, with some particularly rough CGI: a horde of prehistoric dragonflies that look like a screensaver has occupied space between the action and the camera; a super-advanced flying weapon that looks like it came from a mid-'90s flight combat video game. And the compositing ranges from the excellent (Kiriko astride Godzilla) to the abysmal (missiles exploding on Godzilla's hide, as though someone hand-animated them on the frame). So it does not look like a spectacularly expensive movie, necessarily; but it has ambition. Grand, out-of-control ambition to do things that had never been done in a Godzilla film. When the film underperformed, effects director Suzuki Kenji took the blame and was dumped from the series after just two movies; it's a damn shame, because for all the problems he ran into here, I'd have loved to see him get more opportunities to keep going bigger and bolder, developing his ideas along the way.

So back to the story: the Dimension Tide accidentally rips open a hole in time that allows a prehistoric egg to slip into the present, from whence spring a host of ancient insects, Meganula (a creature exhumed from the 44-year-old Rodan, of all the random damn things). There are enough of them to cause problems for the humans and Godzilla alike, but the worst is yet to come: having siphoned nuclear energy out of Godzilla's body (dragonflies in the past were actually mosquitoes, apparently), the Meganula take them back to a giant member of their race - a Meganula queen, functionally, inject it with energy, and cause it to turn into Megaguirus, a giant insect monster that looks powerfully like Battra from 1992's Godzilla vs. Mothra. Godzilla and Megaguirus have their fight, of course; this gives the humans barely enough time to figure out how to get ride of the giant lizard once and for all, though their final attempt proves inconclusive.

Despite the somewhat bland design of both competitors, the climactic monster fight is an absolute stunner. There's nothing wrong with Megaguirus, other than how redundant and derivative it feels; meanwhile, the Godzilla suit is unchanged from the last film, this time shown almost exclusively in full sunlight that make its head, and especially its deep eye sockets, look atrociously fake, while calling maximum attention to the still-stupid pink tint of its still grotesquely oversize dorsal spines. But these things are of little matter once the action starts, intense and creative, violent and high-impact. It is right up with Godzilla vs. Destoroyah as the best final fight scene since Godzilla vs. Biollante, in my opinion, with an absolutely fantastic finishing move, and some really exciting music by Ohshima Michiru, channeling Ifukube Akira, to push it over the edge (this has, in general, one of the better non-Ifukube scores the series has coughed up).

All that has to contend with the usual limitations of a mid-level Godzilla film: a human story that relies on bland, functional characters, in this case bogged down with two of the more irritating lead performances in the series; Tanaka because she is unyielding stern and joyless; Tanihara because he's so laid-back and goofy and clownish. But compared to a lot of the modern (post-'84) Godzilla films, the tone of the whole thing is so light and fanciful, starting right at beginning with the bouncy urgency of that newsreel, that the one-note human characters don't rankle as badly as they do in some of the '90s movies. It's not so frivolous as to fall into the trap of being a kids' movie, like the worst of the '70s films; but this is a distinctly deliberately breezy and light Godzilla adventure with no pretensions towards any kind of thematic meat or tonal complexity. This puts a very clear cap on how good the thing can end up being, but it also takes a lot of the sting out of its worst faults, and leaves a perfectly fun, and somewhat empty popcorn movie behind.