What does Godzilla mean to me? All I had were half-remembered fragments. A sense that I loved his adventures but no concrete reasons why. Most of his movies I hadn’t seen since childhood. Some not at all. I could remember all the monsters — Biollante, Destoroyah, Mothra, Rodan, Gigan, Godzilla himself. But the stories? I had to watch them all again. Who was this character who sat so large in my mind but had become so ill-defined?
The best way to find those answers was to watch them all back-to-back — and then to take the question to the G-man himself.
Are You There, Godzilla? It’s Me, Evan
Goodbye, my friend.
You will never really go away. But endings give us meaning. A good ending can save a bad story. A bad ending can render a story meaningless. Your battle with Destoroyah is a good ending to a good story. The five films that followed Return of Godzilla (v. Biollante, v. King Ghidorah, v. Mothra, v. Mechagodzilla 2, v. Space Godzilla) all told a single canonical story that mutated from the return of your most dastardly self towards a revival of the ‘70s-era hero-and-father protector of humanity. Each of those films was written with the possibility that it would be the end for your new franchise, and the continued loss in budget and artistry rendered several of them lifeless. So Toho Studios committed, and with Destoroyah they decided this was the end: the death of Godzilla.
The story: Japan defeated you back in 1954 using Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer. Thanks to Serizawa’s heroism, the design for that most deadly of all weapons followed him to the grave. You returned in 1984 to wreak havoc, but now your adventures have caused your nuclear heart to go into meltdown. End result: The complete obliteration of Japan in a fiery holocaust like none ever seen. Simultaneously, a scientist has redesigned the Oxygen Destroyer for commercial use, and its radioactive elements combine with a precambrian species to create the Destoroyah, the embodiment of the ultimate human folly. We reach, in essence, the most heightened, modified and mutated form of the eternal conflict between nature and mankind’s destructive ambition.
“The world has changed in 40 years … one should not let sentimentalism stand in the way of scientific progress.” — This film’s villain.
Due to your meltdown, the human heroes actually decided to rebuild the Oxygen Destroyer. The shockingly cynical script escalates human failure for the first act before unleashing Destoroyah on the cast. Not since Hedorah has there been a villainous kaiju rendered with such violent vision. Destoroyah is a creature straight from hell, the darkest form of a mutated monstrosity. Cruel, destructive. He moves through three different forms, the middle of which is human-sized and takes part in sequences ripped off from Alien that are surprisingly effective. In the most shocking moment, Destoroyah kills Baby Godzilla (who had returned in Mechagodzilla 2 ). Much of the era that started with Return is about whether humans can simply co-exist with Godzilla, and the dream dies with your baby.
Everything here is a goodbye. The tone is oppressively somber; Emiko Yamane from Gojira returns to impart some wisdom from her time, a rare moment of cross-generational continuity; and, of course, Ifukube returned to write his final score. A welcome return. Not since the music of your original death had a single piece so adequately captured the emotion of your existence as Requiem. It befits the end of an era.
“Godzilla is gone. But he left Tokyo a ghost town. We really ended up paying. For everything. All this misuse of atomic energy.”
After a climactic battle with Destoroyah, you melted with the ferocity of a sun. From your ashes rose Godzilla, Jr. like a phoenix. Cut to black. Your — his — classic roar. Will Jr. remain friendly to mankind, or will we continue to pay? A pleasantly ambiguous end to a franchise that rarely hides its intentions.
New installments of Are You There, Godzilla? It’s Me, Evan will post regularly leading up to the May 31 release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters