Man, you remember when I used to do series? Have a particular idea or theme I was wanting to have across several posts to build off each other, or more thoroughly explore a work or franchise? And how at least half of them I never bothered actually finishing? Yeah, good times. We should do that again. And you know what, let’s do that again here!
So, a while back, I did something for like the second time in like three years. I went to see a movie in the theater. Godzilla: King of the Monsters, in fact. I’d been kind of a passive Godzilla fan for a while. I’ve seen more of the Godzilla stuff than your average, less sexy general consumer, and probably enjoyed all the stuff it has to offer way more than most, but I’ve rarely made a point of getting into something Godzilla when it wasn’t right there in front of me. I caught the 2014 Godzilla in theaters, and thought it was all right, although it was the first movie that I watched after I left the film industry that I ended up with an overall positive experience of. Still, I found myself inexplicably excited for King of the Monsters.
I know what you’re thinking. “Aether, my main man, don’t you have issues with watching movies? And didn’t King of the Monsters get really mixed reviews? This doesn’t seem like a good time.” On the contrary, this ended up being the best time with a movie I’ve had in… I don’t know how long. It was perfect for me. Part of it may be expectations. I remember talking to a few people about my hopes going into the film, hoping that it would be at least a little stupid, but not too stupid, and that it would revel in it’s own big dumb monsters fights in a satisfying way. And I’ve never had a movie that delivered what I needed from it so fully. It is exactly the right level of stupid, it relishes its monster fights, and, for me, one of the best things is that about 90% of the movie was done either on a sound stage or by CGI, which are two aspects of production that I never had anything to do with when I worked in film, and therefore don’t trigger my burnout-induced stresses that often come with watching a movie. So, whomever you are on the film crew for that movie that is a devoted follower of this blog because that’s the only likely way you’d know so much about me, thank you so much for making a movie that’s just for me.
In any case, after my time with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I found myself diving deep into my inner Godzilla fangirl. Snapping up all the movies I could easily get my hands on, pouring hours into going through them, reminiscing about all the other Godzilla properties I’ve spent time with, I don’t think I can call myself a ‘passive’ Godzilla fan any longer.
Which brings us into this series I’m going to start here. I’m spending all this time with the movies, I figured I’d at least build some content around it. Godzilla’s been around for close to 65 years now, with more than 30 films made, with widely varying levels of quality and availability, and I haven’t been able to build up a complete library of Godzilla films overnight. As such, this may not be a comprehensive look at the Godzilla films. But I am going to at least put together some mini-reviews for all the Godzilla films I’ve been able to collect. So, I call this a series, but that’s really just what it will be. A bunch of small reviews.
Before I get into doing that, though, I wanted to go over how these films all fit together, because I think some groundwork there will be useful in understanding these things once we get into a bit more of the nitty gritty. One of the things I particularly enjoy about the Godzilla films is that in general, the continuity is handled in a way that, largely, you could make whatever you want out of it. The movies may be very, very different, and there’s a couple of separate timelines and continuities there, but you can always just pick up a movie and watch it, if you were so inclined. The individual stories are almost entirely self-contained, and for the bits that do follow up from previous films, they will explain clearly what happened in those films and how it’s leading to things now. There is absolutely zero continuity lockout in this things, and you could start from any point and be right where you need to be. And frankly, there’s a lot of room for headcanon in there too. There’s the official lines, sure, and things may not always match up between series, but it’s wiggly enough that if you wanted to, you could consider things pretty much happening all in one go, with different Godzillas growing up and stomping around at different times.
That said, there are a couple of factors that could be useful to keep in mind as we’re going through this. Biggest one is just the eras of Godzilla we’re looking at here. Toho will typically produce Godzilla films in clumps, doing them over a span of time while people are really interested in them. Then, when interest starts to wane, so as to avoid making things overdone, Toho will put the franchise on hiatus for a decade or so, to give it time so that it’s more fresh when they come back to it. As they bring Godzilla back, they’ll reboot the continuity, starting after the first movie. Usually, each span of time will be creatively rather different as well.
As far as the movies go, you start, obviously, with the original Godzilla in 1954. No matter what the other films do with their timelines (except for the American-made Monsterverse films and Shin Godzilla, which start everything over completely), the original Godzilla is fixed point in history. The first Godzilla known to man always attacked Japan in 1954, Japan was always helpless against him, and he was (almost) always killed by Dr. Serizawa weaponizing his newest, fearsome scientific discovery.
Then, some time later, a new Godzilla arose to terrify the world. What happened there, though, varies. The various series of Godzilla films are named after the Japanese eras in which they were largely made. The first of those is the Showa series, which is what most people think of when they think of Godzilla. Probably where the films made their biggest overall impact. The Showa series came out in a time where the Japanese film industry as a whole was really troubled, and although they did have home-grown successes of all types, the only types of films that could consistently bring in a profitable audience where kids’ movies. The first two Godzilla films are thoughtful horror movies akin to the classic King Kong. If they stayed that way, though, the franchise probably wouldn’t have survived this long. Bowing to the market of the time, from the third movie on, Godzilla movies where either ‘all-ages’ or outright children movies. This is where you see the campy, goofy Godzilla, basically pro-wrestling in rubber suits. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s helpful to know what to expect. When you think of cheesy Godzilla movies, the scenes you may be remembering probably came from this era. This is where the big dumb Godzilla dropkick was. This is where you saw Godzilla dancing. And although this isn’t the only place to find Godzilla goofiness, this is where it was most concentrated.
And although the first Godzilla movie pretty much stands outside the series structure, it’s considered a Showa era film, so next time you’re trying to impress that fly honey at one of those Godzilla parties that go on all over the place all the time, make sure you include the original in the Showa films or he/she is just going to think you’re a big nerd.
The Showa series ended in the 70s. Godzilla was on hiatus for a while, until they came back with a new film in 1984. The developers, recognizing the trajectory the original series was on, wanted to go back to its roots and start fresh with the dark, heavy tone that the first movie set. So, The Return of Godzilla, the first movie of the Heisei series, rebooted the timeline to just after the first movie, and had a new Godzilla attacking Japan 30 years later, taking the next step from the original film while also maintaining a lot of the sci-fi elements that the later films had brought. Other films in the series followed suit. The Heisei series definitely has it’s own goofy moments, some of them really goofy, but it plays everything a lot more seriously than the Showa series did, and it’s rare that you’ll find instances of deliberate humor in there. It still revels in its fun big monster fights, but it does so seriously. Serious face :I. It has a bit more of a sense of continuity; there’s a couple of recurring characters, the G-force organization is at the heart of most of the movies, and fairly often new villains are created as a result of past happenings in this Godzilla timeline. You can also tell that the special effects team was really excited about being able to put lasers on screen here. In most other eras, most of the monsters will fight physically most of the time, with the various breath and other distance weapons being reserved for special occasions, when you really just need to hit the big guy hard or when you need a whole lot of things destroyed right now. In the Heisei era, though, monster combat is mostly done through beam spam. Lasers, breath weapons, special moves, the monsters are definitely at their flashiest here.
Then, in the 90s, the Heisei films started slowing down. As a result, Toho put their Godzilla films on hiatus again. This time though, we weren’t going to lack for Godzilla in general, just their version of Godzilla. Instead, they were going to give Tri-star a shot at making their own Godzilla universe in America. Plan was for Toho to be on hiatus and Tri-star leading the way for Godzilla for about ten years. Tri-star’s Godzilla film came out in 1998. It… wasn’t good. Toho wasn’t willing to let that be the lingering memory anyone had of Godzilla, so they broke their hiatus early and came out with the Millennium series of films. Probably the biggest notable thing about the Millennium series is that every single film with one exception is in a continuity of it’s own. Like The Return of Godzilla did, although most of these came out within a year of each other, they all take things back to just after the first movie. Some of them do recreate events in the backstory between the first movie and this one, but that’s always independent of any of the other movies, and doesn’t match up with anything we’ve seen on film so far. This series is less consistent, in general, in terms of creative design between films, but overall, it strikes a balance between the goofiness of the Showa series and that seriousness of the Heisei. It’s also of pretty mixed quality, but the good films of this series are some of the best Godzilla movies overall. In my not-so-humble opinion.
Then the series was put on hiatus again after all that was done. Ten years later, Toho decided to trust an American producer again, licensing Godzilla to Legendary Pictures for what would become their Monsterverse. That’s still ongoing, with two Godzilla movies on deck so far as well as one where Godzilla made a cameo, and a third already in post-production, and it will be ongoing until at least 2021. Contrary to last time, Toho seems very happy with what Legendary is doing, and is satisfied with allowing them to take the lead. The Monsterverse, so far, restarts Godzilla and most of it’s associated features from an American perspective, while also slowly combining it with what they’re doing with the King Kong reboot. It offers a new take on the classic Godzilla format while also being really faithful to what worked with Toho’s films, and with the latest release, is starting to build a world unique to itself. I’ve been a fan of it.
Toho has returned to the Godzilla well a few times, however, although they haven’t made a dedicated effort to establish a new series. It seems that so far, with what’s being called the Reiwa series, they’re mostly doing it when the creative opportunity for something unique presents itself instead of really trying to establish a market position for it the way most film producers would. So far, we’ve got one movie and a trilogy of anime films out of the Reiwa series, both of which are taking the normal Godzilla formula and twisting it into new forms, well beyond what’s been done before, that essentially require these movies stand apart from anything else that would typically be going on with Godzilla.
So…. that’s that. Here’s a big old post where I’m creating content that’s mostly talking about how I’m going to create content later. Have I ever mentioned that I work for the government? We love recursivity. In any case, I’ll see you guys down the line.