The following contains possible spoilers for Godzilla: King of the Monsters. If you wish to skip to a spoiler-free review, scroll down below the line.
“The world doesn’t believe in sin anymore” is an oft-preached narrative you might hear from the pulpit, and the secular world vocally agrees, promoting the human heart as the ultimate moral center, eschewing the need for standards of what “sin” is. Both views are wrong. We all still believe in sin. We still inherently know that we’re evil, but opt for redefinition of sin, rather than redemption from it. As humans, we want to keep our sins individually small and impersonal.
Therefore, according to Hollywood, the ultimate sin is now wrecking the environment. Countless movies have predicted the end of man, or some struggle of man, based on man’s pollution of, or tampering with, the earth. Humanity has been labeled a disease on the Earth ad nauseam. Time after time, we’re a strain on a planet never meant to bear the load of such neglect.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters takes a decidedly fresh approach to the tired trope of humanity-as-disease in the disaster genre. Instead of the preachy, saccharine “We’ll promise to do better from now on” conclusions reached by awful attempts like The Day After Tomorrow and The Core, this movie submits that yes, we have a problem, but no, we can’t solve it— unless we have outside help.
If you’re a humanist, this is probably where you stepped off the movie and let it roll on to the next station. After all, in the real world there are no colossal monsters slumbering in the planet’s core, waiting to wake and cleanse us in apocalyptic fire or radiation. (This movie has magic radiation that makes plants grow rather than killing things, like real radiation would.) There are still oceans to clean, and hoping for a big old reptile to come along and solve our problems won’t get us anywhere.
But if you believe in God, Godzilla: KOTM starts to resonate early on. If this story’s “sin” is pollution (and pollution is sin, since God’s first command to Adam and Eve was to “tend the garden”), then its characters need someone to save them from that sin. They can’t do it on their own.
This is familiar territory if you’ve ever dealt with addiction. The almighty human can’t save himself. It can be an exhausting revelation. You take another drink, or another hit, or another hour to look at porn, all the while feeling like you have fought, like you’ve fired all the missiles from under the wings of your jet, straight at a menace thousands of times your size— all without effect. The monster rampages on.
Godzilla: KOTM’s departure from humanism is almost unheard of in today’s popular fiction. Yes, the humans in this movie “help” their good monsters when they can (and sometimes in ways that the plot doesn’t exactly support), but we’re never given any illusion that they can save themselves. Not from these violent behemoths, but not even from the impacts of being human. There’s no scrappy environmentalist character trying to shake some sense into oversimplified, deaf world leaders or else. Just one group of people who think humanity needs to be shown the door, and another group trying to stop them, but powerless to do so on their own.
Enter the Outside Help. It’s hard to describe the character of Godzilla as benevolent. He’s no Jesus to stoop and heal the cripple or forgive the guilt-stricken adulteress. He’s still a 350-foot atomic lizard, dispassionately stomping cities to rubble. But it’s a mistake to ignore his messianic parallels. He has deific power. He’s a protector of humanity. He is “slain”, descends into a fiery tartarus, and rises again, glorified, to march toward a final armageddon with the fate of the world in the balance. And every knee will bow, or every knee will be chomped off at the joint.
The name “Godzilla” is an English failure to pronounce Gojira, the actual title of the original Japanese film from 1954 (originally created as a response to the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan, though that’s a different article), so I hope you’ll excuse the cheesy, clickbait headline that I couldn’t resist.
But throughout Godzilla: King of the Monsters, these ancient titans are called “the first gods,” a reference to their encounters with prehistoric humanity. Their battles are awesome. Their CG constructions are perfect. But the most shocking element that this movie presents is a human race armed with miraculous technology, but still in need of Outside Help. In this film, we can’t save ourselves.
Just as that revelation can be exhausting in life if you choose to bunker in, refusing to call on that Outside Help, once you submit to it, once you admit your need, deactivate the cannons you were pointing at your radioactive Savior, and let Him go to work, it becomes a huge relief. Here you thought you would have to fight off your pollution with your own puny, ineffective, human efforts, when all you had to do was get out of His way. Watch Him stomp into the fight, fuming holy, and nuke your enemies.
Phew. That got deep. Anyway, go see Godzilla: King of the Monsters. You might find it deeply encouraging, as I did, but even if not, it’s a fun, fast-paced disaster romp with great acting and a fairly tight plot, aside from a few soft spots. Millie Bobby Brown, everyone’s favorite loyal psionic from Stranger Things is a bit underutilized, but shines nonetheless. And it’s always a treat to see the brilliant Ken Watanabe conquer a scene with a single look. We also get a closer look into of the Monarch cinematic universe established in 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, answering some questions while asking even more. Go into it expecting a giant monster movie and you’ll have a blast.