Godzilla: King of the Monsters Explored
The fight of the century is almost upon us. No, I’m not talking about the British Royal Family and Megan Markle. I’m talking about the upcoming battle of the titans that are King Kong and Godzilla. With the movie release just a few weeks away… maybe… depending on the COVID situation and where you live, I thought it was time to take a retrospective meander back to the last Godzilla film — Godzilla: King of Monsters — and look at how it fits into the history of the franchise while breaking down what it tells us about the current state of the MonsterVerse.
Let’s get cracking.
The Cinematic History of Godzilla
Godzilla has a long and storied history in cinema. The story of Gojira, meaning “Gorilla Whale” in Japanese, began life within the mind of Tomoyuki Tanaka, a film producer for Toho Company Ltd. Tanaka was a dreamer and one day when flying over the ocean in 1954, he wondered what would happen if a giant beast rose from the depths and started causing mayhem… as you do.
Within months, Tanaka had managed to get the green light from his bosses to create the first in a series of films about a big green monster. But instead of the schlocky B-movie vibes of its predecessors, Gojira would be a more serious affair that would touch on the wider atomic issues of the time (something that was still incredibly raw in Japan due to the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs).
For Tanaka’s giant monster film, the vast destruction of nuclear power was utilized to make a creature that was a metaphor for death, destruction, and war. Gojira epitomised the recklessness of nuclear weapons in the mind of the Japanese, and the weight of what the country had gone through was strong enough at the time that a man in a rubber monster outfit could fill them with dread.
Godzilla: One of a Kind?
Gojira wasn’t the first incarnation of the monster in Tanaka’s mind. Over a gruelling period of months, the writers and producers fought with ideas for the creature. First, it was going to be a giant octopus. Then, the idea came for a strange creature with a head shaped like a mushroom cloud. At the forefront of everything was the nuclear metaphor. They wanted it to be central to the character while not being overtly obvious or silly. Finally, after a host of different designs, the creators settled on the dinosaur-dragon look.
Director Ishiro Honda, a filmmaker with a history in dramas and war footage was brought on board along with special effects guru Eiji Tsuburaya and composer Akira Ifukube and the first Godzilla film was born. And despite the cheesy 50s stylings and the overly earnest portrayal of a ridiculous crisis, the film was a success leading to 31 sequels. Yeah, you heard me right — 31 sequels.
The first sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, set the formula for future instalments by pitting Godzilla against another monster, Anguirus. Since then, the movies have more often than not revolved around huge creature brawls. Though the films began veering more towards youth-based entertainment, the latent metaphor was still there, buried deeply under all the latex and manifesting itself through toppled buildings and shrieking civilians — atomic power is bad.
This original series of films lasted until 1975 when Terror of Mechagodzilla was released. Throughout these films, many of Godzilla’s iconic friends and enemies were introduced — Kumonga, Ebirah, Gigan, Megalon. Others, such as Mothra and Rodan, had their own films before moving to the Godzilla series and creatures like Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla were created specifically to fight the Big Green Monster on screen. These battles of the titans are what truly sets Godzilla apart from other cinematic experiences and is something that later Hollywood films neglected to embrace. Speaking of which…
Let’s be honest the 90s Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla film, starring a whiny Matthew Broderick, is an absolute steaming pile of shite. It was a cash grab of a film that tried to capture the bombastic nature of the director’s previous films (Independence Day comes to mind) without any true understanding of what made the franchise great in the first place. 1998’s Godzilla is like Diet Godzilla. He is a slimmed-down monster with scaled-down powers that needed tiny little Raptoresque creatures to create any sort of tension (Jurassic Park much). To top it all off, the film ends with Godzilla being killed by the military — incredibly easily. As original Toho producer Shogo Tomiyama once said of the film, “They took the God out of Godzilla.”
After the Hollywood debacle, the film returned to its Japanese roots for a revival, with nine further films over 20 years. It looked like America’s experiment with Gojira had failed. But in a world of reboots, the big green behemoth was never going to be gone for long.
The MonsterVerse: Godzilla gets a Legendary Update
Legendary Pictures acquired the rights for the Godzilla franchise from Toho in 2010 intending to do the franchise justice. Gareth Edward’s Godzilla was born (after many delays) in 2014, and the world was finally treated to an American made kaiju film that kept faith with the source material while modernising the look and feel. The film was a success and set the stage for the MonsterVerse — a new American franchise featuring Godzilla, King Kong, and some of Godzilla’s classic enemies.
This is where Godzilla: King of the Monsters comes in. Following on from the success of Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island, the film promised to continue the tale of large destructive titans battling it out across the globe. Did it succeed? Let’s find out by digging into the film’s story.
Godzilla: King of Monsters Plot
*** Major spoilers ahead ***
The story of Godzilla: King of Monsters is an ambitious one. While the first Godzilla film focussed on the human aspect of gigantic monsters battling it out and kept the Big Green Machine in the background, King of Monsters aimed to put the behemoth front and centre.
King of Monsters begins five years after the first film and revolves around the nefarious Monarch organizations attempts to find a way to fight the newfound Titans while at the same time waking them all up… as you do. The film starts with Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), a paleobiologist, and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) witnessing the birth of a larva called Mothra. For those familiar with the Godzilla mythos, Mothra has a long and complicated history with Godzilla’s and is often intertwined with Big Green’s mythology. Fans of the winged beast will be pleased to know that she really looks the part and, more importantly, keeps the Mothra screech we love so much.
Dr Russell believes that she has created a device called the “Orca,” that can emit frequencies to attract or alter Titan behaviour, making them easier to control. Before she can prove that it works, a group of eco-terrorists, led by former British Army Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance of Game of Thrones Fame), attacks the base and kidnaps Emma and Madison, allowing Mothra to flee to a nearby waterfall where she pupates for… well, most of the rest of the film.
In desperation, Monarch scientists approach former employee Dr Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), Emma’s ex-husband and Madison’s father, to help track them down. Russell and the Monarch team follow Godzilla to Antarctica, where Jonah is set to free a three-headed Titan codenamed “Monster Zero”. Emma frees and awakens Monster Zero, who battles Godzilla before escaping. From her actions the team deduce that Emma is working with the terrorists, something that is reinforced when she contacts Monarch to tell them that the Titans must be awakened to heal the Earth from the damages that humanity has caused.
A quick visit to Mexico sees the reawakening of Rodan who is swiftly dispatched by Monster Zero who subsequently loses a head to Godzilla (don’t worry, it grows back). The U.S. Navy manages to subdue Godzilla with a prototype weapon called the “Oxygen Destroyer” (first seen in the original Japanese Godzilla film — another great bit of fan service), leaving Monster Zero to reawaken all the other dormant Titans around the world, with even Rodan submitting to his rule. In one brief Easter Egg, we even learn that the Loch Ness Monster is a kaiju making those trips to Scotland with my gran take on a whole new meaning.
After a quick perusal of mythological texts, Monarch realises that Monster Zero is in fact King Ghidorah, a prehistoric alien seeking to terraform the Earth. The reveal that Monster Zero is in fact Godzilla’s ultimate nemesis is another great bit of fan-service. And while many will have deduced his identity long before the dim-witted Monarch scientists put two and two together, it is still a crowd-pleasing moment that caused a little cheer in the cinema I originally saw the film in.
Mothra, finally recuperated, emerges from her cocoon and flies to Monarch’s Bermuda base where she tells Godzilla to wake the fuck up. Unfortunately, Big G is far too weak to listen and the honchos at Monarch decide to encourage matters… by firing nuclear missiles at the comatose monster. What follows is the sort of smackdown, no holds barred, titanic brawl that Western audiences have waited a long time to see.
In a stunning finale of monster-on-monster action, Godzilla and Ghidorah battle it out over Boston, with Mothra and Rodan their tag team partners. For many fans of the franchise this sort of smackdown, all action, monster brawl is exactly what we’d been waiting for since the Japanese produced Destroy All Monsters in 1968. Sure, the Japanese films took their time getting to an all-out monster brawl too (9 movies to be exact) but Hollywood had the advantage of drawing on the franchises rich history out of the gate and had no need for slow build-up. In a pleasing nod to the original Japanese films, a demonstrator can be seen early in the film holding assign with “Destroy All Monsters” emblazoned across it.
By the end of the film, Titans have died in gut-wrenching moments while humans have sacrificed themselves with far less emotion (who cares about humans when you have 200-foot monsters). All leading to a triumphant Godzilla lording it over the other titans as the true King of Monsters… Until he meets Kong that is.
What Godzilla: King of Monsters Tells Us About Kong Vs Godzilla
Throughout King of Monsters, there are many nods and winks to the greater MonsterVerse. During the end credits, news clippings and Monarch files show that some of the Titans are converging on Skull Island. We are even shown an ancient cave painting of Godzilla and Kong in battle, suggesting a history of battle between the two behemoths.
How this will play out in the new film remains to be seen, but the two are clearly no strangers and have fought it out on at least one other occasion, the outcome of which looks to have been a stalemate. Do the two giants hold a grudge? I sincerely hope so. There’s nothing I want to see more than Kong and Godzilla pummelling each other with gigantic fists and ferocious jaws.
But Kong and Godzilla aren’t the only Titans, as the film is at pains to point out (please let the Loch Ness Monster show up in the new film). With so many beasts now roaming the planet, how is this going to affect Kong vs Godzilla? The trailer certainly gives a few glimpses that the headline acts may not be the only beasties in play. And is that Mechagodzilla I see…
On top of this, could presumed dead titans make a comeback? The final post-credit scene certainly suggests that we haven’t seen the last of Ghidorah with Charles Dance’s Jonah purchasing one of his severed heads on the “you can get anything here” streets of Mexico. What about Mothra? Yes, she sacrificed herself to let Godzilla win, but we know from a news report during the credits that one of her eggs survived. Could a new Mothra make a comeback just in time to save her “buddy” Big G?
Who knows? All we can do for now is speculate. But I for one can’t wait to find out when Kong Vs Godzilla hits cinema screens later this year.