In American cinema, over the past few years, there has been a great resurgence in films inspired by the old Japanese Kaiju flicks otherwise known as “monster movies.” Films like Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (left, 2014) and Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim (right, 2013) are both trying to recapture the magic, power and terror of those original classics. One of the things that unite these different monster movies, is that they seem to be trying to pose themselves as politically or culturally relevant. Much in the same way of the true original. The original Godzilla (1954) was seen, and still is seen, as Japan’s way of dealing with the new ramifications of a nuclear world. Something especially relevant to Japan in the wake of the destruction left behind in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The message of the Kaiju film may have been tweaked some, but the features are still trying to pose themselves as relevant allegories for global strife.
With Pacific Rim, director Guillermo Del Toro stated that he wanted to make a politically relevant film that showed the world collaborating to fit a massive catastrophe. He stated it was an over-attempt to depart from the usual American-centric style of film where the heroes were entirely American. Del Toro was not completely successful in his venture; however, his effort is clear as one can see many nationalities, ethnic groups and races present within the film’s group of heroes (ironically many of them are relegated to bit parts). This desire to create a movie that posed itself as more globally-conscious might be seen as supporting the idea that multinational cooperation is necessary for human progress. An idea that is not so unique when looked at through the lens of climate treaties, anti-terrorism work and all the other ways the nations of the world cooperate amongst today’s uncertainty.
Another aspect in which the monster film seems to be positioning itself is in a pro-environmental way. We see this very clearly in Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla in which Godzilla is positioned more of a force of nature defending humanity rather than attacking it. This point was kind of lost in the wake of the buildings and bodies that the monster left in its path, however one can see Edward’s try to assert his film as something more than a simple monster movie. This brings us to the most recent entry in the genre, Hideaki Anno’s Shin Godzilla (above). This film is a wickedly funny satire of how bureaucracies respond to global disaster. While Godzilla destroys the city and creates unfathomable amounts of destruction, the government officials are seen as hapless, more content and able to argue about semantics and their internal power struggles. Of course the usual themes of the danger of nuclear energy are still ever-present with the recent Fukushima Disaster.
With the imminent release of Kong: Skull Island, Lionsgate has made it no secret that they want King Kong to once again, join the world of the Japanese Kaiju film as the primate is positioned to take on Godzilla in 2020. King Kong, of course, is not strictly related to the Japanese Kaiju films (he in fact predates it by several years); however, he has always been somehow associated with them due to crossovers. In many ways, he is our answer to the Kaiju film before we started making our own take on the genre. It is interesting to look at the history of these monster movies and it is exciting to see how once again, their paths will cross (the first Godzilla vs. Kong film was released in 1962 under the name King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962).