Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Before James Dean or Wolverine, Godzilla was the original antihero of film. In 1954, with atomic testing in full swing, a monster craze was birthed by the Honda-Tsuburaya team at Toho films, a Japanese studio which envisioned a world out of balance where giant dinosaurs carried out an ancient battle on city-destroying rampages.

Inspired by the T. Rex that fought King Kong in the 1933 film, the first monster unleashed was Godzilla, or “Gojira,” whose name was a combination of the Japanese words gorira (gorilla) and kujira (meaning whale). The product of nuclear fallout, Godzilla during his first decade was not portrayed as a hero but with that trademark roar that’s been described as “a choked elephant wheeze” and “the sound of a train making a tight turn in a tunnel, recorded and then played backwards,” with an utter disregard for human life which he stomps and chomps. Kong is a force of nature akin to an earthquake or hurricane; Godzilla is a blast of pent up historical retribution! He’s the answer to the atomic bomb!

As in noir films, there are three basics that must be included in any Japanese monster movie: 1) a radiation accident; 2) an aquatic fire breather; and 3) some display of father-daughter relationship conflict. In Godzilla: King of the Monsters, director Michael Dougherty (Trick ’r Treat) builds on this tradition as the scientific Russell family are dragged into the latest skirmish when Monarch, the government agency established in 2014’s Godzilla, sets out to hunt down the legendary Titans, ancient gods akin to The Kraken, using a device referred to as an ORCA (a whale reference or Quint’s boat in Jaws?) which sends out radio waves in the form of a whale’s song mixed with primates chatter to awaken the giants.

When Emma (Vera Farmiga) and daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) are kidnapped by an eco-terrorist group led by Jonah (Charles Dance), former scientist Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) reluctantly joins a counter-mission in hopes of rescuing his family and destroying all the monsters. Instead his wife has reconsidered the eco-terrorists’ ideology, which claims that it’s man who has endangered the continuation of planet Earth and once all the monsters are released, humanity will die off and the planet will replenish itself!

By 1955, the giant monster craze had crossed overseas, as giant ants, crab monsters and tarantulas vied for screen space. Toho released Rodan about a flying monster transported from the sea to the sky that turned out to be a supersonic pterodactyl (also inspired by King Kong’s fight with such in 1933). Mothra was released in 1961 as the first female Titan, a caterpillar protector that cocooned into a giant moth. The Peanut Sisters, those tiny twins from an H-bomb tested island, used their voice to summon Mothra and are referenced in this movie!

Godzilla: King of the Monsters fits right along nicely, all the monsters so far portrayed as victims of human interference and science gone awry. Then, in 1965, everything changed.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster established “Monster Zero” as an outsider, a rogue dragon hellbent on destruction. Space born, he became the recognized threat that called for a challenger and it is at that point where Godzilla is embraced as Toho’s treasure: a heroic monster out of the past who is tied to the preservation of the planet Earth!

Nothing should distract from monsters in battle, after all a monster movie is about…monsters, clouded in myth and in this case, a nuclear cloud. Rodan’s wings generate the gusts of a nuclear shock-wave. Mothra’s webbing immobilizes like an air raid. In Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla’s powers get enhanced to the point that his very presence melts buildings!

In 2014, Warner Bros. revived the franchise. 2017’s Kong: Skull Island foretold the united universe planned around these legendary giants. This movie is the sequel to both!

Musically, the movie begins with a song by the Pixies (reference to the Peanut Sisters?) and uses various excerpted themes taken from the Toho catalog.  But this isn’t your Daddy’s Godzilla.

These monsters bite people’s heads off.