Friday, April 19, 2024

Godzilla Reigns Supreme: A Golden Age For The King Of The Monsters

Everyone loves to talk about superhero fatigue or reboot or remake fatigue – but if anything, these last several months should have made “Godzilla fatigue” a new buzzword. In these last five months alone, Godzilla has starred in the new Japanese movie “Godzilla Minus One,” appeared in the new American Apple+ streaming series “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,” and is about to go right back to the big screen with the American made “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” on March 29th.

Given how sick we’ve gotten of seeing the same franchises, cinematic universes, and characters over and over again, we should be fed up with Godzilla in the exact same way. Instead, these last several months may represent the Golden Age of Godzilla in America or at least the biggest winning streak for the legend in a long time.

Much of that can probably be credited to Japan’s “Godzilla Minus One,” which has nothing to do with the current “Monsterverse” America has him in. Yet for those who aren’t so fond of Godzilla saving the day from other monsters and fighting/teaming up with Kong, “Godzilla Minus One” offered a terrifying antidote this past winter, as he returned to post-WWII Japan and destroyed an already demoralized nation more than ever before. However, the beleaguered people and haunted soldiers of Japan rose from the ashes to take him down anyway, at least until his next resurrection.

Godzilla Minus One” not only restored Godzilla to his original roots as a horrifying allegory/metaphor for the atomic age and Japan’s post-WWII trauma—while inspiring tons of jokes about it being the sequel to “Oppenheimer“—but it found a different audience than usual. Namely, an audience made up of Oscar voters, who gave Godzilla his first Academy Award in his 70+ year existence for Best Visual Effects.

For all the jokes, rants, and legitimate fear about what special effects have devolved into in American blockbusters, Japan showed what can be done with them without a bloated budget or overworking/underpaying visual effects artists. Moreover, it showed what could still be done with Godzilla in general, who has certainly undergone plenty of makeovers in seven decades.

Godzilla went from a serious villain to a cartoonish hero over his first several decades in Japan. Then, when America got its first serious hold of him in 1998, it resulted in an even bigger and far less fun cartoon with Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla.” Then, when America tried again, Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” in 2014 tried to inspire awe and wonder about Godzilla again – at least for the very few scenes and battles that had Godzilla in them. But after that, Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures resigned themselves to just putting Godzilla, his rogue’s gallery, and King Kong himself into yet another cinematic universe, from “Kong: Skull Island” to “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” “Godzilla vs Kong” and now “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.”

This “Monsterverse” is less about post-war metaphors and profound allegories and more about connecting the monsters in MCU-style fashion, under the guide of the S.H.I.E.L.D. like Monarch human agency. And just like how the MCU eventually gave S.H.I.E.L.D. its own T.V. show in between movies – albeit one they gave up tying into MCU big screen canon before the end – the Monsterverse took that step with “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” last fall.

By sheer accident, it happened to premiere right as “Godzilla Minus One” reached American theaters and built up massive word of mouth. And by sheer accident, it happened to make for quite a Godzilla double feature, giving Godzilla fans the best of both worlds. Those who wanted to see Godzilla terrorize the big screen like he hadn’t done in decades had “Godzilla Minus One” in theaters, and those who still like his more bombastic and heroic American version had “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” to stream at home at the same time. Of course, “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” only had Godzilla appear for one big scene in only half its episodes, but “Godzilla Minus One” didn’t really have an overabundance of screentime for Godzilla either.

Given its scarce but unforgettable use of Godzilla and its surprisingly serious human story, “Godzilla Minus One” certainly made the Monsterverse and its American blockbuster tactics look more lacking. As such, maybe it wasn’t the best thing for “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,” let alone “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” to come out so close to it and likely look worse by comparison.

Yet, at worst, “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” proved quite a footnote to “Godzilla Minus One” during the winter, if nothing else. It just recently became a notable footnote in other ways since it featured Anna Sawai as a human lead right before her current, even more significant breakout on F.X.’s “Shogun” this spring. And unlike so many MCU and Star Wars shows, this streaming tie-in doesn’t require a lot of homework/rewatching first since it takes place in between the 2014 “Godzilla” and its sequels – so viewers don’t need to cram it to understand “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” this week either.

The Monsterverse doesn’t have a 5-10-year plan in advance like other cinematic universes, at least not publicly. So in between “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” not having been renewed yet by Apple and questions about how big “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” can be or needs to be, even Godzilla’s hot streak might not be a big enough boost for the Monsterverse on its own. But since it has never been an MCU-level hit, and since Warner Bros has bigger headaches and franchises to deal with as it is, its future might become more fragile depending on how the rest of 2024 goes. Yet, leaving that aside, its continued existence proves the versatility and resilience of Godzilla and his various universes. In fact, it’s the kind we’re not exactly getting with America’s other blockbuster superstars and characters lately.

The MCU is more stagnant with each film and T.V. show, and it will likely stay that way until they put someone other than Kevin Feige in charge of crafting it – or until more fans demand a studio other than Disney to produce it. The same goes for Star Wars as well, and most other I.P. empires Disney is running into the ground right now. Meanwhile, the D.C. universe is one giant question mark as it starts again under James Gunn, James Bond is looking for his own new start, the Fast and the Furious franchise has hit various potholes near its finish line, the Ghostbusters, and Jurassic Park franchises refuse to cut their nostalgic cords, and cinematic universes, in general, have become dirty words to frustrated critics and fans.

Frankly, it is a very rough time to be a fan of a blockbuster franchise, universe, or character right now, except perhaps for “Dune” fans. In that context, maybe no other icon has it better than Godzilla at the current moment. The last six months for Godzilla brought him his first Oscar and more acclaim than ever before, a debut on streaming television, and a new big-screen team-up alongside Kong. Compared to recent times for so many superheroes, space heroes, and recurring Earth-bound heroes and villains, this is outright paradise. And maybe it is the best example yet of how and why Godzilla has had a longer big screen shelf life and a greater ability to bounce back than all his other iconic peers.

Maybe only Batman and Spider-Man have matched Godzilla in the last 70 years, in their back and forth between high cartoonish camp and serious awe-inspiring spectacle, and their ability to bounce back from any jaw-dropping low point. In a time where so many franchises and characters are stuck doing the same old thing over and over, to increasingly diminished returns, it says something that Godzilla has shown them all up in his various multitudes since last fall. Then again, since two separate countries have used him in vastly different stories, it’s much easier for him to have this kind of freedom.

Perhaps there should be an asterisk on this since the American Monsterverse hardly seems willing or capable of giving him a “Godzilla Minus One” kind of divergent story. Since he seems to be more of a sidekick to Kong in “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” as Kong faces his own personal enemy, and since any second season of “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” would likely center on the Kong side of the Monsterverse, there’s plenty of room to say America still doesn’t know how to properly use Godzilla – not like the Japanese just figured out how to do again. But even when one version of Godzilla falters, another rises to fill the gap eventually. That’s how Godzilla has endured since the 1950s, and that’s how he’s become more powerful than ever these last few months—and that’s the kind of power other mega franchises and characters likely envy a great deal right about now.

Are you excited for “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire?” What is your favorite “Godzilla” depiction in film or television? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account.

You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @Robertdoc1984

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