60 years ago, Gojira/Godzilla: King of the Monsters debuted on screen; with a towering reptilian protagonist who was basically a rampaging beast. He was really a metaphor for the destructive power of the A-bomb. In the following three sequels, Gojira’s Counter Attack (AKA Gigantus the Fire Monster/ Godzilla Raids Again); Gojira vs. King Kong (AKA King Kong vs. Godzilla), and Mothra vs. Gojira (AKA Godzilla vs. the Thing); the radioactive monster continued his destructive, city-flattening ways, earning the enmity of the citizens of Japan. He was the ultimate threat.
By his fifth and sixth films, however, The Three Giant Monster’s Greatest Battle (AKA Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster), and Invasion of the Astro Monster (AKA Monster Zero); Godzilla began to morph into a reluctant anti- hero, finding himself aiding the humans against the common threat posed by powerful space monster King Ghidorah. Apparently even monsters subscribe to the axiom “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. This trend of Godzilla being thrust unwillingly into the hero-role continued in the next two sequels, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (AKA Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster) and Gojira’s Monster Island Battle (AKA The Son of Godzilla); the latter of these introduced Godzilla’s son Minya, which was intentionally made to soften the big guy’s rough edges, and give him more ‘kid appeal’.
March of the Monsters (AKA Destroy All Monsters), saw humans and monsters finally coming to a mutual understanding. All Monsters Attack (AKA Godzilla’s Revenge) and Gojira vs. Hedorah (AKA Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster), showed Godzilla through the eyes of a child; Making him not only a hero but a protective big brother figure.
From this point onward, Godzilla was firmly and unquestionably a good guy. In Gojira vs. Gigan (AKA Godzilla on Monster Island); Gojira vs. Megaro (AKA “Godzilla vs. Megalon”); Gojira vs. the Bionic Monster (AKA Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla) and Mecha-Gojira’s Counter Attack (AKA the Terror of Mecha-Godzilla), our gigantic protagonist acts as the selfless protector of the human race; rushing to the rescue when evil beasts rear their ugly heads.
When the revamped series reappeared 10 years later in The Return of Gojira (Godzilla 1985) the big guy’s turn to goodness and nobility was ignored (as were all the films since the original) and he was back in his savage, primal mode. The next four films, Godzilla vs. Biolante, (1989); Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991); Godzilla vs. Mothra: the Battle for Earth (1992); and Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla 2 (1993), saw him once again as the terror of Japan, fighting with the military and stomping cities with bestial enthusiasm.
The next two movies, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994) and finally, Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995), saw Godzilla once more joining forces with humans against a common threat, making him an anti-hero again.
The American Tristar remake Godzilla (1998) protrayed Godzilla as neither hero nor villain, but as a protective mother and a scared animal protecting herself and her nest.
The Millennium series began with Godzilla 2000: Millennium (2000) and had Godzilla defending mankind against Orga, but then in a bizarre final scene—just as the human characters are discussing how Godzilla keeps protecting them—the big guy turns suddenly and lights fire to the city, just for the fun of it.
After that, he went back to being a city-stomping menace in the next four films, Godzilla Vs. Megaguirus (2000); Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001); Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002); and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003). But he closed out the Toho films after 50 years as a hero once again, saving the world from every other Toho monster ever created, in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004).
Now Godzilla is back in his latest reboot, and he’s returned to hero mode in this version. He pops up after decades lurking unseen in the deep, to save the world from two giants known as M.U.T.O.s (Who look extremely similar to Gayos from the Gamera films Daikaijū Kūchūsen: Gamera Tai Gyaosu AKA Giant Monster Midair Battle: Gamera Versus Gyaos and Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. ) In this film, Godzilla serves the same purpose as the Three Sacred Guardian Beasts of Yamato from Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack…an ancient protector of the Earth who reappears after a long absence to defend the human race against a giant threat, despite the fact that humans keep trying to kill him (including dropping nukes on him in the 50s.) This Godzilla goes out of his way not to harm anyone (he avoids smashing into ships) and nearly gives his life battling the M.U.T.O.’s for the sake of humanity. Professor Serizawa—the same name as the scientist who came up with a way to kill Godzilla with the Oxygen Destroyer in the 1954 original—continually makes dramatic declarations that Godzilla is here to redress the “balance” and save us all. (It’s a thankless role for the talented Ken Wantanabe). He even has some bonding moments with the film’s bland hero Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
So, his history on film has portrayed Godzilla as repeatedly bouncing back and forth between the dark side and light side of the atomic force. Is he a white knight or black knight? Which should he be? Does Godzilla work better as hero or villain?
For myself, I much prefer Godzilla as a rampaging, primal force of nature, with no attachment or affection for humans what-so-ever. I would rather see him destroying cities than saving them. I think all the best Godzilla films have been those where Godzilla had to be stopped; or where he was a reluctant good guy, acting out of self-interest, and just as likely to destroy Tokyo as to save it.
The 1970s Toho films—which I think most fans would agree became increasingly poor—had Godzilla just standing by, seemingly waiting and eager to dash to the rescue. Some hint of Japan-in-peril would inspire him to come along like a reptilian cop, or else a character like Jet Jaguar would fly to Monster Island to recruit his help. In the Terror of Mechagodzilla, our reptilian hero simply appeared out of nowhere to save the day, without being prompted. The new film takes the same route, which I think is a mistake for the first film of the new franchise. Godzilla shouldn’t be the good guy right out of the gate.
It’s also frustrating considering how misleading and inaccurate the advertising campaign for this film was. The commercials and trailers painted this film as a Godzilla-vs-the-army scenario, with the big guy seemingly as the main threat. The M.U.T.O.’s were barely shown at all. The film built up expectations of a classic destructive Godzilla but instead we got Godzilla as the super hero.
Another problem with the good guy Godzilla—and this can be seen in the Toho films where Godzilla was the hero—is that Godzilla tends to get less screen time when he’s good. In Godzilla: King of the Monsters or King Kong vs. Godzilla, there are many delightfully devastating scenes of Godzilla levelling everything in his path, whereas in his good guy films, he shows up rather late in the proceedings, fights the bad guy and leaves as quickly as he came. The ‘good Godzilla’ format by necessity reduces Godzilla to the cavalry instead of the complication, which diminishes his overall screen time.
In the new Godzilla film, the title character has less than 10 minutes of screen time total in a two hour movie. Now, you might say “What about Jaws? The shark was hardly on screen at all and that was a great movie”. Fair enough, but the difference was that the main characters in Jaws (Brody, Quint and Hooper) were all terrifically interesting and well developed characters, so the film remained entertaining when the shark wasn’t around. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the new Godzilla. With the exception of Bryan Cranston’s character (Also named Brody—perhaps a nod to Jaws) no one in the new Godzilla is particularly fascinating or engaging. No one will ever convince me that Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s or Elisabeth Olsen’s characters can match the starring trio of Jaws. Therefore, the King of Monster’s lack of screen time leaves the audience with only a lackluster hero to carry the film. If Godzilla had been the main threat instead of the M.U.T.O.’s, he’d have appeared much earlier.
So that’s the opinion of this writer. Godzilla works better as the bad guy and should have been the villain in this film. He shouldn’t have been made into a hero until the sequel (which is already officially announced.)
Do you like Godzilla as the hero of the film or should be still be a rampaging, city-smashing antagonist?