The first film I have a memory of watching is King Kong vs. Godzilla(1962) when I was three years old. I had no idea who either of these characters were, why they were fighting or why I decided to keep watching the two duke it out on top of Mt. Fuji. There was that initial spark that got me interested. Something that drew me in that I couldn’t explain, like a moth drawn to a flame.
One thing I knew for sure was that it was Godzilla that captivated most of my attention. If three year old me were to describe why, he’d probably say, “Godzilla is cooler.”
I have watched 27 other Godzilla films countless times (not counting the terrible 1998 American remake). I’m proud to call myself a fan of the Godzilla series and that the franchise is my favorite film series. In fact, it is because of the King of the Monsters that I have such an interest in film.
For as long as I could remember, I was never able to effectively explain why I had an interest in this creature. I vividly remember my second grade teacher asking me why I loved Godzilla so much. I drew a blank and said, “Godzilla is cool.”
Perhaps that’s why I pursued cinema as much as I did. That by studying the inner-workings of film and realizing why certain movies worked and others didn’t, I’d have a better understanding of why I liked Godzilla as I do.
One thing it certainly did was make me realize which of the 28 Godzilla films were good movies, rather than just good entertainment. Any movie can be enjoyable for a multitude of reasons, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it works as a flowing narrative with characters, atmosphere, pacing and all that fun stuff.
Of course, when you have the biggest film franchise by sheer numbers, you are going to have a few stinkers. That is only natural.
Occasionally, the right filmmakers can meet the right story and actors and create an unforgettable piece that can continue to entertain audiences for years after its release. I feel there are at least seven Godzilla movies that meet these qualifications.
Yet, even with all this knowledge and appreciation for cinema, I still could not explain why I found Godzilla so appealing. What is it about a giant dinosaur with spikes growing out of his back who breathes radioactive fire that keeps me so intrigued? What sets him apart from other giant monsters? Why did I like Godzilla more than King Kong, Gamera or Ultraman?
The answer to these questions has always eluded me, until today. In the most unlikely way.
Recently, a friend of mine watched a video review of Man of Steel. We initially saw the film together and had opposite feelings about it. He loved the film, whereas I hated it. We’ve been bickering about the finer points of the film since.
In this review, done by one of my favorite reviewers, the Nostalgia Critic (Doug Walker), he ends up giving the film an overall negative opinion by pointing out the cliched writing, bland acting and over the top symbolism of relating Superman to Jesus.
What stood out to me more than anything else was near the end of the video, when the Critic came to a sudden realization: That even though he may not care for Man of Steel that doesn’t mean he can’t understand why someone else would enjoy the film.
He makes the point that, in this movie, Superman, this all powerful and unstoppable force, faces his toughest challenge ever. So tough that he must resort to breaking his own rules and losing that which he cares about the most to win. In a sense, it is the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.
This resonated with both me and my friend so much that we both came to different realizations. Mine was that I could now understand why others liked Man of Steel in a way I hadn’t thought about, even if I didn’t agree with it. My friend’s realization was that he loves to see his heroes struggle to achieve their goals (which explains why he enjoys the video game Dark Souls so much).
His realization triggered a thought process in me. If he can explain so easily why Man of Steel worked for him, then why can’t I do the same with Godzilla?
For a while, this had me thinking about Superman and Godzilla at the same time.
Then, I had a revelation.
As a kid, no matter what the scenario, I would always see Godzilla winning any fight. Even against someone far more powerful than him, such as Superman. Why?
Because Godzilla is the definition of power.
In the first Godzilla movie, Godzilla (1954), the Japanese military does everything in their power to stop the behemoth from destroying everything. They launch depth charges while he’s in the bay, they set up an enormous electrical blockade around the perimeter of Tokyo and surround that with tanks and missiles that could level an entire city street and have a seemingly endless supply of planes and military vehicles.
Yet Godzilla brushes off every attack like we were ants. We are insects compared to such a massive creature.
We try everything at our disposal, come up with the greatest tactical strategy ever invented and use all the brilliant minds the world has seen. Yet it still wouldn’t be enough to stop Godzilla.
The example which always stuck out to me comes from King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). The King has just awoken from his icy slumber and has already destroyed a Russian military base, like setting a flamethrower loose on a dry forest, and is heading for Japan. A government leader is answering questions from the media, and leaves the session by giving a nonspecific answer on whether they’ve considered using atomic bombs to stop Godzilla.
He is hesitant to answer and is most likely unsure if it has to come to that. To endanger thousands of innocent lives and the health of Japan just to stop Godzilla is a large risk.
I’ve always seen it a different way. It is not that he is afraid of the consequences of the atomic bomb, but whether the atomic bomb would kill Godzilla. There is no guarantee that a bomb of any kind can hurt Godzilla, let alone kill him. Not to mention, Godzilla was created by atomic fallout, so more of the same just might make him stronger.
So one of the strongest weapons ever conceived by man is inconsequential in the face of such a monster.
Even the forces of nature and the far off future can do nothing to bring him down. In The Return of Godzilla (1984), scientists are able to trap the beast in an active volcano. I say trap Godzilla and not kill him, because five years later, in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), Godzilla escapes from his fiery hell hole and moves on like nothing happened.
In the following film, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), the climax of the movie consists of Godzilla facing one of his most powerful foes, upgraded by 23rd century technology and armor. Yet Godzilla blasts enormous holes in his wings and nearly kills the pilot inside the fortified command center. The best that can be done is wrapping Godzilla in cables and flying him out to the middle of the ocean, while also sacrificing this advanced and futuristic weapon.
Just to incapacitate Godzilla.
I feel that monsters work best when they are abominations of life. Things that just should not exist, yet somehow are able to go on anyway. Creatures that break the laws of physics, nature and the universe, but go on their merry way like anyone else. Godzilla takes those elements to the nth degree.
Unlike monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man or King Kong, Godzilla doesn’t have any known motives. He has no noticeable set pattern which renders plans to stop him all but impossible. There is no gapping weakness, nor any hint of humanity or sympathy. He cannot be reasoned with, nor is he interested in obtaining anything.
Worst of all, Godzilla is unstoppable. People have tried to stop him, even resorting to sending his own atomic fire back at him with the Super-X2’s diamond reflector in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989). Yet it never works, Godzilla just melts the diamonds and takes his own blasts without showing any sign of stopping.
What makes this notion work so effectively is that the human characters must think strategically and outside the box just to get Godzilla to retreat. In Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), the military uses a trail of fire to get the monster away from populated areas and then shocks him with millions of volts of electricity, using nets to halt his movements.
Going back to King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), the Japanese fleet lures Godzilla into one area by filling the surrounding rivers and streams with gasoline and setting it ablaze. This causes Godzilla to fall right into their trap. Literally. He steps into a gigantic hole the forces had dug and filled with dynamite.
These types of plans have always intrigued me, not because they’re outside the box and unexpected, but because they show the human will to survive and to stop that which can bring danger and destruction. If one plan has proven to fail, then we learn from our mistakes and start again. We don’t give up, nor do we try the same plan again. It’s just good writing and being able to understand what we’d do in difficult situations.
Yet, even those intriguing and far-fetched plans fail in the face of such a creature. In Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), he merely walks right through the electrical generators and melts the tanks. As for King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), the dynamite does as much as you’d expect and Godzilla just crawls out of the hole.
This is not used to undermine the ingenuity of the human characters or to show the hopelessness of our situation, but to bring us back to the strength and power of Godzilla.
We’re dealing with something that we can never hope to comprehend. A creature that feels like he belongs among the Gods (hehe) or comes from a far off planet. It is why he is so deserving of the title “King Of The Monsters.”
What makes him all the more interesting, and somewhat scary, is that we created him. Its our fault that this unbelievable and unstoppable disaster exists. It was through our continued use of atomic bombs and a failure to understand their true power that we got Godzilla.
We have nobody to blame but ourselves.
In some ways, Godzilla is the ultimate achievement of nuclear superiority and shows just powerful it can be. In other ways, he is the ultimate screw-up and lets us know that we’re not as strong as we like to think we are. That we don’t have all the answers and that some threats are beyond us.
The sinister part is that Godzilla is essentially doing exactly what nuclear weapons were created to do: Mutually Assured Destruction. He’s not just a walking representation of the atomic bomb, but to show that we pride ourselves in military superiority and the consequences which come from that.
If there’s one thing I have learned while writing this, it is that I seem to enjoy Godzilla, not as a character, but as a force of nature. He is more akin to a tornado or hurricane than he is to people, merely a constant presence that will never go away and can never be fully dealt with.
Is this the case for every film in the franchise? No. There are a few examples where Godzilla is given more than just his unstoppable persona and becomes a relatable character.
One example that comes to mind is Son of Godzilla (1967). After rescuing a helpless infant of supposedly the same species as him, Godzilla takes it upon himself to train the baby to its full potential. He has no interest in the child other than that.
Yet over time, as the young Godzilla Minilla grows up and wants to do more than just learn to survive, Godzilla seems to realize there is more to existing than just destruction. This comes to a head during the climax and the two are caught in a gigantic snowstorm. Minilla isn’t strong enough to make it out of the storm and collapses, now moments away from entering a deep hibernation.
Godzilla, who could easily make it out of the snow before it effects him, now sees Minilla as helpless as when he met him but can’t bring himself to abandon his adopted son. Minilla has not only let Godzilla continue his legacy, but has also taught him how to care for other living creatures. Thus, Godzilla returns to Minilla’s side, embraces the baby with his last bit of warmth and they enter hibernation together.
For a long time, Son of Godzilla (1967) was lost on me and I felt that it made Godzilla look pathetic. Now I understand that it keeps the core idea of Godzilla’s strength and power, but also adds an element of character to him. A flawed character who only sees destruction and chaos in his life, but can now see more than that.
Perhaps it is this element of character that gives Godzilla more depth and breath. That it is the reason someone like me cares about him. For without it, Godzilla is so far removed from reality and ourselves that he seems alien to us. When he is shown to have emotions and needs other than to destroy.
You get a character alongside that ultimate force of nature.
So to bring it back to the question that started all of this, why do I enjoy Godzilla so much?
I feel that it is because of many things, but it ultimately revolves around the unmatched power of Godzilla. It seems like he redefines what it means to have strength. To be able to brush off the strongest forces we can muster and walk through us like we’re nothing more than an insignificant gust of wind shows there is power out there far beyond our comprehension. Yet, that strength also makes us shine through our ingenuity and courage to stand up to such forces. Even if we brought this monstrosity upon ourselves through our greed and ignorance, we won’t rest until the mistakes of the past have been fixed.
I have never witnessed anything quite like Godzilla. No other character or monster works in the same way and now I understand why. It is not because of how many movies he’s been in or his unique design, but because he left me in awe with his amazing feats while still being relatable and fleshed-out. Godzilla is a monster among monsters.
For that, I am eternally grateful to Godzilla and the filmmakers who created him. Without Godzilla, I would not have found my passion for cinema, which brings me so much bliss and happiness in life. This is my revelation on Godzilla. His many films have helped to shape my imagination and thought process, making me think big and without regret.
Now that I’ve come to this revelation that had eluded me for so long, I feel as if my mind has cleared. Not only have I gained a new perspective on this icon of mine, but now anything seems possible.
Nothing is unexplainable and to understand why your passion burns so bright can bring so much clarity and joy.
In a way, I was right when I said, “Godzilla is cool.” I just didn’t understand what “cool” meant.
Guest editorial by Paul Sell, a longtime Godzilla fan and often times contributor on various Godzilla and Toho message boards. Overseen by Chris Mirjahangir.