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In Godzilla II, meet the king of monster movies

Check out the third movie in Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse.

There’s something about monster movies. Maybe we think we can tame the beasts. Maybe we want to see the best and the worst of humanity when disaster strikes. Maybe we just want something literally larger than us to decide out fates.

Whatever the reason, monster movies are fascinating. It’s a chance for some awesome special effects, some over-the-top acting, drama, moments of comedy, and humans coming together (or falling apart) in the attempt to save the world.

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

And there’s no bigger monster than Godzilla.

First appearing on the big screen in 1954, there have been 35 films in the Godzilla franchise, earning it a place in the Guinness World Records as the longest continuously running movie franchise. While most of the films have been Japanese productions, Hollywood has thrown a few hats in the ring.

First there was a 1998 adaptation by Roland Emmerich. In 2014, Gareth Edwards took on the challenge, kicking off Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse (yes, that’s another cinematic universe to keep track of).

Now, we have Godzilla II: King of Monsters.

Godzilla has undergone a lot of makeovers and redesigns over the years, but his most iconic look is his first one, basically a man in a monster suit, crushing a miniature set. This style of special effects, called suitmation, meant the suit had to accommodate an actor’s arms and legs. To capture movement and the impact of buildings and vehicles getting crushed, debris flying everywhere, the actor needed to make exaggerated, deliberate movements, resulting in a slow-moving but no-less-threatening behemoth.

Of course, 2019 Godzilla is CG, but writer and director Michael Dougherty seems to be a fan of the original suitmation design. The King of Monsters is large, fast, and terrifying, but he still stands like a man in a suit–without looking ridiculous. Props to effects director Guillaume Rocheron.

The monster design is just one way this movie pays homage to the origins of the franchise. So much pays tribute to the 1954 movie: from the character of Dr. Serizawa, played by Ken Watanabe; the superweapon (it seems like such a lame name until you realize its origins!); even the question of whether this monster is here to kill us or to save us, and whether we should kill him or study him.

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

But there’s no better tribute to the franchise than the presence of multiple monsters. Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah: these names, their shadows across the screen, their distinct movements and cries, these monsters have thrilled and terrified audiences for years. These monsters have fought Godzilla time and again on the big screen, living out battles for supremacy, proving over and over who is king. And thanks to excellent production design, each creature has such a distinct look that, even in the midst of the most exciting battle, you can still tell which monster is which, avoiding the problem of “Which Transformer is fighting which onem again? Wait, what’s happening?”

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

As if excellent effects and production design didn’t already make this a fun ride, there’s also an interesting quirk: a surprising amount of diversity in the characters. While the King is battling monsters, the fight to save human lives is led by a woman of color in a military command position, going beyond typical female Hollywood roles of wife, girlfriend, nurturing healer, and second fiddle to male protagonist. Here, men and women of color serve the cause in various capacities, as scientists, historians, fighters.

Consider, alongside white actors Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, and Millie Bobby Brown as the family resolving their conflict with giant monsters and animal psychology, the cast includes not just Japanese actor Watanabe, but Chinese actor Ziyi Zhang, black actors Aisha Hinds and O’Shea Jackson, and Latino actor Anthony Ramos as well.

If there had been a person with disability in there, the diversity checklist would have been complete.

Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe / Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures
Millie Bobby Brown and Vera Farmiga / Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

In the same way that Pacific Rim celebrated giant robots fighting giant monsters, bringing to the big screen all the tropes that originated from decades of Japanese cartoons, Godzilla II: King of Monsters draws from its own rich history to celebrate the monster movie of all monster movie franchises. You don’t need to be a fan to appreciate the thrilling action, the human drama, the stirring music. You don’t need to be a fan to extol the virtues of Godzilla as savior of humanity.

But you do have to wonder how the battle is going to play out in Godzilla VS. Kong in 2020.