Read: Part One. Read: Part Two. Read: Part Three.

Following Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), a film that celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the iconic kaiju, the long-running film series experienced another period of dormancy. Mixed reviews and a tepid box office signaled Toho that it was time to let the character rest and give filmmakers an opportunity to contemplate the direction of the series.

For the next decade, Godzilla’s presence would persist in various forms of media, ensuring that the King of the Monsters remained buoyant in the public consciousness. Comic books, video games, and merchandise continued to celebrate the franchise’s legacy. Notably, IDW Publishing released several comic series, including Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters and Godzilla: Rulers of Earth.

Nothing in the Reiwa Era has come close to earning the franchise the kind of cultural cache it now enjoys like 2023’s Godzilla Minus One.

But, ironically enough, considering the abysmal reception for Godzilla (1998), it would be American production companies that laid the groundwork for Godzilla’s cinematic revival and current renaissance. After acquiring the rights to produce a new Godzilla film in collaboration with Toho, Legendary Pictures brought Gareth Edwards, known for his work on the stunning indie sci-fi film Monsters, on board to direct the project.

Edwards’ vision was to create a film that both honored the character’s origins while updating his story for contemporary audiences. Taking inspiration from the likes of Spielberg, Edwards reintroduced Godzilla to global audiences with a fresh, modern perspective that emphasized both grandeur and terror, with Godzilla functioning as a symbol of nature’s wrath, a response to today’s ecological crisis.

The film, simply titled Godzilla, was released in 2014. A critical and commercial success, the film was crucial in reigniting the franchise and encouraged Legendary to go ahead with their reinterpretation of another iconic movie monster, King Kong. The success of both Edwards’ film and Kong: Skull Island (2017) sparked off Legendary’s Monsterverse, which recently dominated the box office with its latest release, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024).

Meanwhile, with 2014’s Godzilla demonstrating that there was still a significant appetite for these films, Toho began planning yet another domestic reboot. The man chosen to helm Godzilla’s return to Japanese cinemas was Hideaki Anno, creator of the renowned Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise. Anno’s reinterpretation of the character was unique, to say the least. Shin Godzilla released in 2016, and presented a terrifying version of Godzilla that actually evolved throughout the film, showcasing multiple forms meant to symbolize the unpredictable and evolving threats posed by both natural disasters and human technological hubris. The film’s portrayal of bureaucratic inefficiency, as well as its not-so-subtle allegorical bend towards the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, made the series relevant again, capturing the national mood of Japan in a way that the series had not really managed to do since the 1954 original.

With the ascension of Emperor Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, 2019, Japan formally transitioned from the Heisei Era to the Reiwa Era. In keeping with tradition, the new iteration of Godzilla beginning with Shin Godzilla has been referred to as the “Reiwa Era,” and draws strength from its incorporation of the “anthology” style films of the Millennium Era.

The most fascinating form Godzilla has taken is that of a most unique (and neglected) Christ-figure: the Christ of the apocalypse, who brings both judgment and hope to a world teetering on the edge of destruction.

The allowance of diverse storytelling methods and distinctive interpretations has enabled the Reiwa Era to expand the Godzilla mythos into new territories. Chief among these new frontiers was Godzilla’s first foray into anime. This is a somewhat obvious move, pairing up two of Japan’s biggest cultural exports, and that makes it even more astonishing that this did not happen until 2017, when Toho collaborated with Polygon Pictures to produce the first animated Godzilla film, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters. Followed up by Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018) and Godzilla: The Planet Eater (2018), the three films together comprise a trilogy uninhibited by the drawbacks of conventional filmmaking. The trilogy presented a futuristic take on the franchise, where humanity, having been driven from Earth by Godzilla, returns 20,000 years later to reclaim their home. Directors Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita crafted a moody narrative that explored the cost of survival and emphasized philosophical questions of nihilism and existential dread in a steep departure from the traditional kaiju fare.

Continuing the innovative thread, the Reiwa Era also saw the release of Godzilla Singular Point in 2021, an anime series that blended modern scientific theories with the usual kaiju action. Created by Atsushi Takahashi and produced by both Bones and Orange animation studios, the series follows a group of scientists and engineers as they unravel a mystery involving time, space, and the nature of reality itself, culminating in the appearance of a terrifyingly powerful Godzilla. The intricate plot and hard science fiction grounding, combined with a vibrant animation style, offered yet another unusual take on the franchise.

But nothing in the Reiwa Era has come close to earning the franchise the kind of cultural cache it now enjoys like 2023’s Godzilla Minus One. Directed by Takashi Yamazaki, the film returned to Godzilla’s original post-World War II setting, unpacking the psychological toll and societal aftermath of the war by portraying Godzilla as a manifestation of one kamikaze pilot’s trauma and struggle for recovery. The film offered up a searing indictment of the Japanese government’s disregard for human life during the war and, as I noted in my own review of the film, comes across as shockingly pro-life. Made on a budget of less than $15 million, the film was a monstrous critical and commercial success and won the series its first Academy Award.

Both the Reiwa Era and Monsterverse films juxtapose apocalyptic scenarios with underlying messages of hope. Through all of these different narratives, Godzilla remains a fascinating and multifaceted metaphor for nature’s wrath, judgment upon humanity as a result of hubris, and—especially in the American films—a conduit for redemption. Across seventy years of film history, the King of the Monsters has been many things. But perhaps the most fascinating form Godzilla has taken is that of a most unique (and neglected) Christ-figure: the Christ of the apocalypse, who brings both judgment and hope to a world teetering on the edge of destruction.

His stories are, in a sense, modern day parables that channel the accounts of the Flood or the Tower of Babel in Scripture.

The notion may seem paradoxical at first. After all, Godzilla is a creature of immense destruction, an entity that brings devastation wherever he goes. Yet it is this very characteristic that aligns with the imagery eventually found in the ancient apocalyptic genre, especially in the book of Revelation, wherein Christ is depicted not only as a savior, but also a judge and divine warrior who brings about the end of evil and corruption. The Monsterverse films specifically, like many of those Showa Era sequels, have evolved Godzilla to be a kind of savior, a strange guardian who rises from the depths to restore balance to a world that humans have destroyed. It is this duality, Godzilla as both destroyer and savior, that mirrors the complex portrayal of Christ in the Bible’s apocalyptic text, where mercy gives way to judgment upon a world increasingly eager to leave its Creator and His messiah behind.

Perhaps the secret to Godzilla’s enduring appeal lies in his embodiment of a powerful mythic archetype: the force of divine retribution and judgment. He is an answer to the age-old question of what happens when humanity transgresses too far, pushing the boundaries of nature and technology beyond what is ethically and ecologically sustainable. Godzilla emerges as a response to these excesses, a manifestation of nature’s wrath that quite literally cannot be ignored or controlled. His stories are, in a sense, modern day parables that channel the accounts of the Flood or the Tower of Babel in Scripture.

Such archetypes themselves endure due to the contemporary anxieties that their stories continue to address. Issues such as nuclear proliferation, environmental degradation, and unchecked technological advancement are all modern existential threats given artistic expression in the Godzilla films. The fear of apocalyptic disaster, whether through nuclear war, ecological collapse, or other man-made catastrophes, is as relevant today as it was in the post-World War II era when Godzilla first emerged.

In essence, Godzilla stands as a (literally) towering figure in modern mythopoeia, a functional embodiment of the apocalyptic that continually calls emboldened and hard-hearted humanity to reflect upon and recognize the error of its ways. For nearly a century he has continued to hold up a mirror to society, reflecting some of its deepest anxieties even as we continue our long march forward in the good name of scientific progress, and warning us to count the cost along the way.

In 1954, Godzilla first stomped his way onto cinema screens and into the hearts of many a cinephile. In 2024, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Here’s to seventy more, Big G.

Skreeonk!


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