Godzilla vs. Kong: A Retrospective on the Titanic Clash

Godzilla vs. Kong: A Retrospective on the Titanic Clash

With Legendary Picture’s Godzilla vs Kong releasing to theaters and HBO Max on March 31st, there is no better time to look back with a retrospective on the titanic clash! Few people will not recognize these two titans since both Godzilla and King Kong have established themselves as cultural icons to the masses. There have also been toys, commercials, cartoons, Hollywood Walk of Fame stars, and many more testaments to their fame.

However, the full scope of their histories spans dozens of movies through over 80 years of history. If you were to only watch a marathon of every Godzilla film to date, it would take you 2 days, 8 hours, and 42 minutes without any breaks! That is without including any of Kong’s filmography. So, it is no wonder that many miss out on the vibrant history behind these movie stars.

So, join us as we guide you through the rich history of these mighty titans before they hit screens!

The Eighth Wonder of the World: King Kong!

King Kong (1933) Eighth Wonder of the World

King Kong is much more than just an oversized ape, he is the king of his domain and protector. However, what is it that makes Kong stand out from the pack of other monsters? Does he stand out only because he was the first giant ape brought to the cinema-going public, or is there something more special about him?

To answer those questions, we need to start by looking into the symbology and themes that his films represent. King Kong was a symbol to mankind concerning the power, majesty, and furor of the natural world. While mankind tries to exploit the monster for personal gains in most films, they always suffer the consequences of their choices. This message is as timeless as it is important. Humans need to know that the natural world is not theirs to exploit.

However, the films also teach the beauty and tenderness found within nature. While untamed creatures may be unpredictable, they also are capable of great tenderness and affection. King Kong’s movies prove that even the death of a rampaging animal is worth mourning over. Thus, he is a timeless representation of the animal world.

Finally, the core tenants of King Kong circle around the tale of beauty and the beast. The tales speak of how beauty may tame the wild beast. Unlike the fairy tales, Kong’s story often ends with tragedy. No words fully illustrate this point outside of the closing lines of King Kong (1933): “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”

The Magic of Stop Motion

To audiences of the 1930s, King Kong’s debut film was a pioneer of special effects and stop motion. While films had used stop motion effects before King Kong, never before had a film blended stop motion with live-action actors. To achieve this effect, Willis O’Brien used in-camera effects to make it seem as if the stop-motion puppets were performing alongside their live-action counterparts. Thus, the filming of the action from the stop motion actors finished well before the live-action actors were on set. At this point, they used rear projection that the actors would perform in front of.

Also, four miniatures with highly detailed skeletons brought the main star of the show, King Kong, to life. Willis O’Brien created three of these miniatures with aluminum, foam rubber, latex, and rabbit fur. Meanwhile, the crew used the final lead and fur miniature during his infamous fall.

Thus, the contribution to special effects has cemented King Kong’s place as an American film icon. However, the cost of this technical feat did not come without the cost. The 1933 film cost $672,254.75 to produce, which was nearly double the average cost of films for that era.

King Kong’s legacy of top-of-the-line special effects followed him throughout his future films. While future films dropped the use of stop motion as technology improved, the standard was still set by the first film.

The RKO films

King Kong fights a Tyrannosaurus Rex as Ann Darrow watches in King Kong (1933)

During the dawn of the 20th century, the public thirsted for stories of far-off lands and exotic animals, especially primates. Thus, it was no surprise that jungle and expedition films flowed through the cinema during this period. Among these films was a now-panned film called Ingagi, whose success led RKO to believe that the formula of women with gorillas would lead to financial success.

Thus, in 1933, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack directed and produced King Kong. Since Merian C. Cooper had a long history of fascination with gorillas and jungle expeditions, this film allowed the realization of his fantasies.

In the role of the “love interest”, a rising star, Fay Wray, starred in the film alongside Richard Armstrong and the titular King Kong, the true star of the film. Wray later recounted that Cooper had offered her a role starring alongside the “tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood”, which she assumed was a star like Clark Gable. Still, her role as Ann Darrow became her most memorable role, especially with her iconic scream.

Since King Kong was a financial success for RKO pictures, setting records for the era. Thus, the studio set out to quickly push out a sequel, Son of Kong, which hit theaters only 9 months after King Kong. This film featured an albino son of King Kong. Unfortunately, as is the fate of most rushed sequels, this film was nowhere near as successful nor iconic as the original film.

The Toho Films

King Kong faces off against Gorosaurus in King Kong Escapes (1967)

Nearly thirty years after his debut, King Kong’s legacy took on a new form when RKO licensed out Willis O’Brien’s King Kong meets Frankenstein to Toho Studios in Japan. Through a series of changes and rewrites, this film transformed from King Kong meets Frankenstein, to King Kong vs. Prometheus, and finally to King Kong vs. Godzilla. During this production period, Cooper sued RKO, stating that the company did not have the right to license out King Kong. Unfortunately for Cooper, the lawsuit failed since he could not supply proof of ownership over King Kong.

During this period, from 1966 to 1969, another company named Videocraft International was producing an animated show known as the King Kong Show. This show depicted the exploits of King Kong and the family he befriended, the Bond family. The success of this film led to two attempts at films from Toho. The first of these films, King Kong vs Ebirah, fell through due to the lack of involvement from Ishiro Honda, Godzilla’s original director. Thus, Toho instead created Godzilla vs Ebirah. Meanwhile, the second film, King Kong Escapes did make it through development to cinemas.

The King Kong Show heavily influenced King Kong Escapes, including creatures from the show like Mechani-Kong. The story blends the general plot from Videocraft’s Kong with the spy genre of films. While the film did decently in the box office, Toho’s lease of King Kong ended before they could use him for any future films.

De Laurentis’s King Kong

Kong examines Dwan in King Kong (1976)

Fans of King Kong needed to wait 9 years for his next theatrical appearance. His return to American began when an ABC executive, Michael Eisner, proposed the idea of a remake to both Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures. Soon after these meetings, Universal Studios tasked Dino De Laurentis to acquire the rights from RKO and produce the remake. At least, this is one story of how the remake came to be. When asked, De Laurentis claimed that he came up with the remake thanks to a poster in his daughter’s room.

No matter which origin story is true, De Laurentis’s King Kong debuted in theaters in December of 1976. Rather than creating a straightforward remake, screenwriter Lorenzo Semple set out to update the story for the 70s. While the film kept the basic plotline and key settings, it changed details like the purpose of the expedition. Likewise, the main characters changed to Jeff Bridge’s Jack Prescott and Jessica Lang’s Dwan. However, the essence of the tale of beauty tames the beast remained intact.

Akin to its predecessor, the 1976 King Kong won the Best Visual Effects category from the Academy Awards. However, this film set aside the original’s stop motion in favor of a man in a suit in combination with animatronics. Most notable amongst the animatronics were a full-scale mechanical head and a 40-foot-tall robot of the titular monster.

Also mirroring the 1933 original film, De Laurentis’s Kong spawned a sequel in 1986’s King Kong Lives. This sequel told the tale of a Kong that survived his iconic fall and woke from a ten-year-long coma. This film also introduced a mate to Kong. As with RKO’s sequel, this sequel failed to impress audiences.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong

Kong faces against 2 Vastatosaurus Rexes in King Kong (2005)

Following the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, Universal Studios began talks with Jackson concerning the revival of a project that he had wished to helm for years. Since childhood, Jackson had been an avid fan of King Kong, going so far as to try to recreate the film at the age of 12. While he had an offer to create the film in 1995, he originally turned it down. While he did return to that offer to work on the film, the project stalled in 1997 due to the upcoming releases of films like Godzilla and Mighty Joe Young. Thus, with the revival of the project in 2003, Jackson poured his soul into the project.

The result was a spiritual recreation of the 1933 film, using the most advanced special effects that Weta Digital and Weta Studio could supply. This film starred Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, Jack Black as Carl Denham, and Adrien Brody as Jack Driscoll. Jackson’s love of the original film led to the inclusion of exploration scenes and a recreation of a cut scene from the 1933 film, the insect pit.

The film became notorious for its 188-minute run time, much longer than any earlier incarnation of King Kong. Despite initially disappointing returns at the box office, the film raked in a worldwide take of 562 million dollars.

Continuing with the traditions of prior King Kong films, Jackson’s King Kong netted the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. This time around, innovations in motion capture technology powered Kong’s return to the big screen. Since Jackson wanted Kong to act like an animal, the effects team observed and studied gorillas so that they could bring the beast to life.

MonsterVerse’s Kong

Kong fights a Skullcrawler in Kong: Skull Island (2017)

King Kong once again went into a hiatus, this time lasting for over a decade. In 2017, Legendary Pictures set forth to revive Kong once again, this time for their “MonsterVerse”. While they had considered directors such as Joe Cornish and Guillermo de Toro, the film landed in the hands of Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

Unlike prior revivals of Kong, Kong: Skull Island took a new direction in the telling of the monster’s story. Rather than featuring an unwitting expedition led by corporations or those seeking fame, Skull Island centered around members of the United States Army that took up a final mission before returning from their detail in the Vietnam War. John Goodman’s William “Bill” Randa led Samuel L. Jackson’s Preston Packard and his unit onto Skull Island in hopes of proving his hollow earth and titan theories.

In stark contrast to prior female Kong leads, Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver joins the team in hopes of uncovering a shady operation. The final big star, Tom Hiddleston, portrays their guide and tracker, James Conrad.

Also, in contrast with prior incarnations, there are no sacrifices to Kong. In opposition to the quest to rescue a damsel, the film centers around the PTSD of Packard and his determination to wipe the world of his perceived enemy. However, this film does retain the classic empathetic connection between Kong and the female lead.

Once again, an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects accompanied the return of Kong to the big screen. Unfortunately, unlike the prior revivals, this film did not win the award.

Now, we wait with anticipation for the next entry in the saga, Godzilla vs King Kong.

The King of the Monsters: Godzilla!

Godzilla 1954 Poster

Across the ocean, another monster was born out of the fears, pain, suffering, and sorrow over the death and destruction brought down by war. Unlike Americans, the Japanese had seen the dreadful devastation brought forth by this unstoppable creation. The images of illness, pain, and sorrow were still fresh in the minds of the people. They knew the hopelessness of watching the desolation wrought by this monster. The name of this monster was nuclear weapons.

Nine years after the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan found a voice to express their fears and pain to the world with the invention of a new monster, Gojira. While the Japanese name for this beast was an amalgamation of the components that defined the creature, gorilla and whale, the American distributors changed the name to Godzilla.

While Godzilla’s metaphors have shifted over the years, from nuclear weapons to cold war fears, to the anguish of Japanese WWII soldiers, then to nuclear meltdowns, the essence of his character remained consistent. Godzilla is a force of nature that mankind must live with. While a few incarnations had been more benevolent toward humanity, most films portray him as a godlike force whose destruction has little rhyme or reason. This strength of Godzilla’s metaphor keeps his legacy relevant throughout the ages.

Suitmation (スーツメーション): Japan’s answer to Special Effects

While stop motion creatures like King Kong and the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms inspired Godzilla’s creation, Toho Company Ltd. did not have the funds to support stop-motion. So, the effects teams behind Godzilla turned to creative means to bring their monster to life. To accomplish this task, Ishiro Honda, director of Gojira, turned to Toho’s special effects wizard, Eji Tsuburaya. Tsuburaya then elevated the art of placing men in animal suits to create Suitmation.

Special effects teams paid close attention to detail as they sculpted foam and latex suits to create the creatures for Toho’s Kaiju films. Then, the actors inside of the suits brought life and personality to their creations. The most memorable of these actors was Haruo Nakajima, who first donned the suit for Gojira and returned to the role for 11 more films. His fame as a suit actor came at a cost, though, since the filming for these films was grueling on the actors. In addition to being difficult to get in and out of the suits, the suits themselves were hot to wear. Thus, it was not unheard of for an actor to pass out while filming.

Beyond the contributions of the suit actor, a team of puppeteers brought to life the tails and heads for these beasts. These same puppeteers were also critical in the creation of animatronics and puppet heads used for close-up shots.

However, there is an even more special part of Japan’s Suitmation that stood out. The model workers took great strides in creating intricate and detailed buildings for their miniature cities, even if they were destined for destruction.

The Showa Series

Godzilla tears down power lines in Godzilla (1954)

The story of Godzilla’s creation begins with a flight across the Atlantic. During one of these flights, a producer for Toho, Tomoyuki Tanaka, pondered over the secrets hidden beneath the deep blue depths of the sea. With the recent popularity of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, he thought of the terrors that may emerge from the sea.

Beyond the legendary flight, another event recently struck Japan to reawaken its fears of Nuclear destruction. On March 1, 1954, disaster struck a Japanese fishing boat, Daigo Fukuryū Maru (第五福龍丸, F/V Lucky Dragon 5), as the fallout of the blast from the Bikini Atoll assaulted it. For the following two weeks, the fishermen in the ship deteriorated as radiation wrecked their bodies. When the ship returned to port on March 14th, officials discovered that radiation had completely contaminated the ship. This incident harkened back to the suffering of the victims of “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”.

Gojira

Destruction left in the wake of Godzilla (1954)

Thus, the stage was set to create a new monster that would share these fears and sorrow with the rest of the world. On November 3, 1954, Ishiro Honda’s Gojira presented this god of destruction to the masses. The creature’s design took cues from the combination of various dinosaurs, with spines that harkened back to Stegosaurus and a body like a Tyrannosaur. The sound department gifted this creature with a haunting roar by rubbing a leather glove against the string of a double bass.

However, the true weight of the monster was not with the monster itself. Instead, the film presented haunting images of destruction that mirrored the devastated rubble of Japan’s fallen cities. Ishiro Honda had set out to sear these images onto the masses.

Finally, this film presented a scientist who managed to create a devastating weapon, Dr. Serizawa, who Akihiko Hirata played. While Serizawa did not want world governments turning his invention into a weapon, the threat posed by Godzilla forced his hand. However, unlike the minds behind the Manhattan project, this scientist decided to take his life along with Godzilla’s. Thus, the secrets of his invention remained locked away from the world.

Godzilla, a threat to mankind

Godzilla strikes out at Mothra's Egg in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

For the first half of the Showa era, Godzilla played the part of an antagonistic force. Toho released their first sequel film, Godzilla Raids Again, in 1955. This film introduced a second member of the species to the public along with a new monster, Anguirus. Akin to the original Godzilla, this monster was once again a threat to mankind.

This tradition of playing the part of the villain continued with the next two films in the series, King Kong vs. Godzilla and Mothra vs. Godzilla. However, the tide began to change with the introduction of another infamous monster, Ghidorah. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Invasion of the Astro-Monster both had Godzilla play the role of an anti-hero.

This new trend toward indifferent reluctance continued through the next three films, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, Son of Godzilla, and Destroy All Monsters. 1968’s Destroy All Monsters was meant to be the final film for Godzilla. However, its popularity opened the door for a new era of Godzilla films, this time with the beast taking the role of a hero.

Godzilla, a friend to humanity?

Godzilla slams Megalon down in Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

The next film in the series, 1969’s All Monsters Attack, cemented Godzilla’s role as a friend to humans, especially through the imagined friendship between his son, Manilla, and a human boy. The heavy use of stock footage in this film also indicated another trend, diminishing budgets.

Due to budgetary constraints, the same suit that appeared in Destroy All Monsters appeared in the next three films. Thus, this suit returned for Godzilla vs. Hedorah and Godzilla vs. Gigan. By the time Gigan hit theaters, the suit’s deterioration was noticeable. Though Godzilla’s deterioration was not as noticeable as Ghidorah’s.

Arguably, the height of Godzilla’s hero streak occurred in 1973’s Godzilla vs. Megalon. In this film, the winning design of a children’s contest, Jet Jaguar, accompanied him. Thus, it is no surprise that he played the role of a friend to children.

The final two films of the Showa series, 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla, once again flipped the script to set Godzilla as an anti-hero once more. While none of his actions distinctly lead to destruction, humans once again expressed fear of his existence.

Arguably, the popularity of another Japanese monster who was known to be the friend of children, Gamera, influenced Godzilla’s heroic turn. The competition between Toho and Daiei led to the increased presence of children in Godzilla’s films.

The Heisei Series

Godzilla rampages in Tokyo in The Return of Godzilla (1984)

In Celebration of Godzilla’s 30th anniversary, Toho deemed that it was time for The Return of Godzilla. With this return to theaters came a reboot to the series. Unlike the revivals of King Kong in America, Toho took a different route. The original 1954 film stayed a part of the new series even though the rest of the Showa series was no longer relevant. Thus, this film did not retell the same story as the original.

Akin to Godzilla Raids Again, a second member of the species rose from the depths to terrorize the shores of Japan. This Godzilla held no reason for its destruction, aside from instinctual urges. While this Godzilla once again played the part of a metaphor for nuclear destruction, the plot itself was what presented the feeling of Japan as it sat between two superpowers in the cold war and the countries determination to stand on its own during these times.

With the success of The Return of Godzilla, the Heisei era of films began. Unlike the Showa series, this Godzilla never morphed into a hero figure, even though his actions did benefit humans from time to time.

The next film in the series, 1989’s Godzilla vs Biollante, used the design of a monster created by a Dentist, Shinichiro Kobayashi, who won a story-writing contest. This time, Godzilla’s foe became the allegory for the emerging fears of genetic engineering.

The Second Reset of the Series

Godzilla is compared to Godzillasaurus in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

In 1991, Toho played the time travel card in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. In this film, time travelers go back in time to move Godzilla away from the blast that theoretically gave birth to him. However, whether due to flawed writing or a flaw in the plan, Japan both knows of Godzilla and does not after the time travel plot. So, the relocated Godzillasaurus was likely the second Godzilla that appeared in 1984 and not the one from 1954. This film also boosted Godzilla’s height from 80 to 100 meters.

Heisei’s Godzilla continued to terrorize humans in the 1992 rematch film, Godzilla vs. Mothra. This entry in the series is also notable for starting a spin-off series where Mothra starred in three films of her own.

A new son of Godzilla

Godzilla swims away with Baby Godzilla at the end of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)

Another change in the tide came with another rematch in 1993’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. In this film, Toho reinvented the son of Godzilla in the form of Baby Godzilla. While this new son was not overtly friendly to humans, it had early contact with them.

With a new purpose, the raising of a son, Godzilla’s imprint of destruction on humanity waned. By the time of 1994’s Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, both Godzilla and his son resided in isolation on Birth Island. However, the abduction of his son sparked a new rampage through Japan. Thus, Godzilla was not a friend to humanity even at this point.

The Death of Godzilla

Godzilla melts down in Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995)

Unfortunately, Godzilla’s pull on the movie-going public waned with each film. Thus, by the time 1995 came around, Toho was ready to send him into retirement once more. Thus, they decided to present a definitive ending to their series, the death of Godzilla, in Godzilla vs Destroyah.

Since the cold war fears had died down, fears of nuclear weapons also waned in the public eye. Instead, a new nuclear fear swirled in the public sphere, the possibility of nuclear reactor failures and meltdowns. As such, Godzilla reflected these new fears as he morphed into his final form, Burning Godzilla.

Beyond Godzilla’s metamorphosis came the return of several call-backs to his origin film, especially with the new foe, who was born from Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer. Toho received praise for its warm tribute to its fans, especially when it included cameos like Momoko Kouchi, who portrayed Emiko in the 1954 film. Thus, Godzilla vs. Destroyah was a fitting send-off for their iconic kaiju.

We don’t talk about this: America’s “Zilla”

This movie was bad, move on!

That's a lot of fish - Godzilla (1998)

With the acquisition of rights to make Godzilla films in 1992, Tri-Star had made a promise to produce a film that was faithful to the original series. In an alternate history, Jan De Bront, the director of the successful Speed, debuted his version of Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio’s script to movie theaters. This film would have featured a genetic nightmare griffin and a Godzilla that closely resembled his Japanese origins. Unfortunately, this is not that reality, nor do we know if that film would have succeeded.

Instead, Tri Star handed the reigns to Ronald Emmerich and Dean Devlin, who have later expressed that they never had any love for Godzilla. Then, Patrick Tatopouluos insisted on making a fresh, new design for Godzilla, taking influences from Disney’s Sher Khan over Toho’s classic beast. Thus, an atrocity was born, named GINO by fans. Toho later gave this creation the name Zilla.

Beyond the design decisions, the 1998 film failed as a film as well. Instead of seeking to improve the Godzilla formula, the film set forth to harken to jokes made about the films of yore. The only metaphor was a dig at critics Robert Ebert and Gene Siskel, and that was only a surface jab at their characters.

To say the least, this combination of Jurassic Park and Independence Day deserves no accolades. However, this film is a testament that when all members of the creative crew who work on a film lack any respect for the source material, the end product will never deliver.

The Millennium Series

Mitsuo Katagiri accepts his fate in Godzilla 2000 (1999)

In response to Tri Star’s Godzilla, Toho pushed up their plans to bring Godzilla out of retirement. Originally, they had planned to restart their films around Godzilla’s 50th anniversary. Instead, they released Godzilla 2000: Millennium in 1999 as a direct response to the American film. Thus, a new era of Toho films began: The Millennium Series.

While the Heisei films had ended with the availability for continued stories now centered around a fully grown Godzilla Jr., Godzilla 2000: Millennium reset the franchise once more, erasing all films except for ’54 from the new timeline. As another jab at Zilla, this film made a point of featuring Godzilla’s healing factor, even giving it an explanation with Regenerator G1.

Unlike the prior two series, each movie in the Millennium series, apart from the two involving Mechagodzilla, are self-contained stories that reboot the series each time. In some ways, the franchise returned to the Showa roots; however, there is a loose timeline in that series.

The second entry into the series, 2000’s Godzilla vs Megaguirus almost feels like a sequel to 2000, since the suit was moderately modified. However, this movie’s timeline alters the ’54 film so that the oxygen destroyer was never used.

In both films, Godzilla removes a greater threat from the playing field while he continues to terrorize humanity. Though, while no human lands a significant blow against him in 2000, Megaguirus ends with a man-made black hole swallowing up Godzilla.

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

In 2001, Shusuke Kaneko, who had directed the successful Heisei Gamera series, took the reins of Toho’s star attraction, Godzilla. After several failed ideas, Kaneko landed on the concept of facing Godzilla against three guardian monsters: Anguirus, Varan, and Baragan. Toho then forced him to replace Anguirus and Varan with the more famous Ghidorah and Mothra.

The largest departure from all prior Godzilla movies was the origin and symbology of Godzilla. Once again, the series reset, this time removing the ’54 from the timeline altogether. Kaneko’s Godzilla no longer had ties to radioactivity and the threats of nuclear power. Instead, this film centered around the mystical. Godzilla thus morphed into a symbol for the rage and anger felt by all the Japanese soldiers that had fallen during World War II. He was a metaphor for Japan drifting away and forgetting the horrors that they had committed in war.

Another notable change was the role of Ghidorah, who had traditionally played the part of an invading force. Instead, he now protected Japan and its people from the wrath of Godzilla.

The Kiryu Saga

Akane Yashiro watches Godzilla's retreat from Kiryu's shoulder in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)

The next film in the Millennium series once again restored the ’54 film to the timeline. In fact, the original Godzilla played a critical role in 2002’s Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, for scientists and engineers used the bones of the deceased monster to create a biomechanical creature with the latest Mechagodzilla, Kiryu.

Considering his battle history, Kiryu is the most successful form of Mechagodzilla to date. Not only did he fight Godzilla to a draw in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, but he returned with the help of Mothra to send Godzilla to the depths of the ocean in 2003’s Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.

Final Wars

Godzilla Final Wars (2004)

With the advent of the 50th anniversary, Toho once again set forth to send off their star into retirement. This time around, Ryuhei Kitamura, who made his name on action films like Versus, sat in the director’s chair. Intending to pay tribute to all the history of Godzilla, Kitamura envisioned a best hits tribute and homage to Destroy All Monsters for the final war.

2004’s Final Wars featured an impressive 22 monsters, even though 8 monsters only showed up in stock footage. However, most of the monsters appeared for quick bursts. Instead, the film focused on the conflict between the mutant humans and alien invaders.

While the Godzilla from Final Wars once again helped fend off a greater evil, he was no friend to humanity. However, the film does end with his son, Manilla, convincing him to leave the survivors alone.

MonsterVerse

Godzilla attacks the male MUTO in Godzilla (2014)

The seeds of a second American Godzilla sprouted after Tri-Star let the rights expire in 2003. Originally, the director of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Yoshimitsu Banno, picked up these rights with the intention of creating a short 3D Imax film; however, as the years passed, the project transformed into a feature-length film with the backing of Legendary Pictures. Thus, Legendary officially announced its acquisition of the rights in 2010.

While Legendary originally approached Guillermo del Toro with the directing role, the production fell into the hands of Gareth Edwards, a relatively new filmmaker who recently made waves with the release of Monsters in 2010. Both Legendary Pictures and Edwards dedicated themselves to right the mistakes of the 1998 film and create a picture that respected the history of Godzilla.

Thus, in 2014, Godzilla stomped into theaters, both managing to please and displease fans of the series at the same time. While the film set the proper tone and included references to the original movies, such as Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, it often teased watchers with glances at the monster action before cutting away.

On top of the cuts away from the action, some viewers felt that they had fallen for a bait and switch. Where the promos had centered around Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody, the film starred Aaron Taylor-Johnson as he played the role of Lt. Ford Brody.

Once again, a Godzilla film portrayed the tone of devastating sorrow that the world felt after the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

King Ghidorah Strikes at Godzilla in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

With the success of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, Legendary Picture moved forward with forming what is now known as the MonsterVerse. Then, Kong: Skull Island cemented the MonsterVerse’s existence and teased the appearance of Ghidorah and Mothra.

Since Edwards had other obligations, like filming Rogue One, Michael Dougherty moved into the director’s seat for the sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The sequel set out to address the complaints of monsters not being on screen in the original film. Where 2014’s Godzilla had a total of just over 16 minutes of monster action, King of the Monsters featured over 22 minutes.

On the other hand, the tone of the movie shifted to be more action oriented. While one of the characters preached off mankind’s neglectful actions to the natural world, none of the imagery reflected these sentiments.

In both MonsterVerse films, Godzilla played the part of a protector. While he never was overtly friendly to humans, neither film displayed a Godzilla who would attack humanity outright.

Shin Godzilla

Shin Godizilla after he releases his heat rays in Shin Godzilla (2016)

Riding on the success of Legendary Picture’s Godzilla, Toho decided to create a Godzilla movie of their own once again. Once again, Toho turned to the talents of proven directors, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higushi, who established themselves in the 90s with Neon Genesis Evangelion. They, the duo set out to create the “most terrifying Godzilla that Japan’s cutting-edge special-effects movie-making can muster.”

Shin Godzilla was a large departure from any prior incarnation, completely rebooting the series. While preproduction had tested using animatronics and puppets, Shin Godzilla became the first fully CG incarnation created by Toho. Moreover, there were drastic changes to his creation, giving him at least four phases of development and beams that could now erupt from his dorsal fins and tail. Also, in a move to outdo the Americans, Shin Godzilla towered over 2014’s 108-meter height by over 10 meters.

Shin Godzilla once again stood for the death and destruction wrought by nuclear power. However, the satire toward the bureaucracy of the Japanese government presented the strongest messages present in the film. Strangely, despite the jabs at bureaucracy, the film celebrated the ability of humans to work as a team, even suggesting that the next evolution of the beast would have mimicked the humans that took it down.

The Netflix Anime films

King Ghidorah strikes Godzilla in Godzilla: The Planet Eater (2018)

When Toho announced the production of a trilogy of 3D animated films in association with Netflix, fans wildly dreamed of the action the format would open. While there had been American animated Godzilla series in the past, Netflix’s trilogy was the first 3D anime creations to date.

When Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters released in 2017, fans remained hopeful for the battles that were to come. While the first film featured characters that followed typical angst found in Anime. Still, the struggle against the first Godzilla gave the trilogy promise.

Then, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle promised to feature Mechagodzilla. While designs for the mechanical kaiju appeared from the production team, the film featured a Mechagodzilla head that had transformed into a city of nanometal. So, the only battle present was the battle to remain human as the nanometal consumed the team.

Finally, Godzilla: The Planet Eater promised the largest Ghidorah to appear on screen to date. While the film delivered in providing an interdimensional creature whose full size is still unknown, the climax of the battle involved Ghidorah Suspending Ghidorah in the air as the human protagonist had a mental battle with the Exif priest.

Directors Hiroyuki Seshita and Kōbun Shizuno had voiced that they felt a new direction was necessary to attract new audiences, like women. They also claimed that Toho had requested for them to not portray monster wrestling in the films.

In the end, the trilogy featured the largest Godzilla to date, Godzilla Earth who towers at 300 meters tall.

King Kong and Godzilla’s first brawl in 1962

King Kong stuffs a tree down Godzilla's mouth in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

When Toho came into possession of the script for King Kong vs. Prometheus, they saw an opportunity to celebrate their 30th Anniversary. Crossover films such as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man had already proven to be profitable. Thus, Toho quickly moved in on the rights for King Kong and replaced Prometheus with their monster, Godzilla.

However, to create an even match for these two kaiju, the film had to take liberties. 1933’s King Kong only stood up to 24 feet, or a bit over 7 meters, in height. Meanwhile, Godzilla debuted at 50 meters, 164 feet, in height. Thus, Toho scaled King Kong up to stand at 45 meters in height.

Even with the increase in size, Godzilla had the advantage with his radioactive breath, so Kong also required a new ability to match. Thus, lightning imbued the ape with a literally electric touch. However, one final change was necessary to even the playing field. Where the original Godzilla had no weakness to electricity, the one in King Kong vs. Godzilla now received injuries from electric wires and lightning. This weakness never again surfaced in Godzilla’s career.

With these changes in place, King Kong and Godzilla were ready to duke it out on the silver screen.

The Truth about who won in Japan

When King Kong vs. Godzilla came to America, John Beck set out to write a new screenplay so that he could insert new scenes, featuring a United Nations Reporter, to transform the film into a newscast. Since this version inserted dialogue that heavily promoted Kong’s strengths, fans felt that the American version had edits that confirmed King Kong as the definitive winner of the brawl. For decades, rumors swirled that the Japanese cut of the film placed Godzilla as the winner.

Compounding on these rumors was the loss of the original negative for the film. Famously, Ishiro Honda had prepared a television cut by cutting out 24 minutes from the original negative. Even in Japan, attempts to restore the original film in 1991 were not successful. America’s first release of the original cut came with the Criterion Collection 2019 box set, Godzilla: The Showa Era Films, 1954-1975.

Unfortunately, the recovery of the original cut dispelled the myth. While onlookers do wonder if Godzilla had survived, there is no victory from Godzilla. Instead, the cut makes it clear that Toho intended for the film to end in a draw, for both Godzilla and King Kong can be heard roaring as the screen fades to black.

The long-awaited rematch in Legendary Picture’s Godzilla vs Kong!

Godzilla and Kong roar off in Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

After over 5o years, a rematch between Godzilla and King Kong is long overdue. Legendary Pictures planned for the rematch as soon as they had the rights to produce both Godzilla and King Kong films for Warner Brothers.

However, like the original brawl, the playing field must be evened so that King Kong could stand a fighting chance. In Skull Island, the juvenile Kong stood at 104 feet in height. The fully grown Kong stands around Godzilla’s 393 feet in height. In addition to the growth spurt, the trailers have shown that Kong will wield an ax made from a Godzilla dorsal fin.

So, now that the titans have a fighting chance, who deserves to triumph over the other?

Made in Association With

Chris Ingledue

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Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!

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Godzilla vs. Kong: A Retrospective on the Titanic Clash
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Godzilla vs. Kong: A Retrospective on the Titanic Clash
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With Godzilla vs. Kong around the corner, it is time to join us in Godzilla vs. Kong: A Retrospective on the Titanic Clash!
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