It’s the classic movie monster’s dilemma: You either die a villain or live long enough to see yourself become the hero.
Frankenstein and King Kong were never, of course, entirely unsympathetic. Count Dracula was pure evil for a long time, but he has gotten more complicated, and for decades vampires have been heroes, antiheroes and romantic leads. On Sesame Street, where friendly monsters abound, the Count, sounding like Bela Lugosi, teaches young children numbers.
Darth Vader was redeemed in the end. The Terminator came back as the good guy. Maleficent and the Wicked Witch of the West recently received humanizing back stories.
And then there’s Gojira, or Godzilla: perhaps the archetypal movie monster-turned-hero.
At first a metaphorical expression of Japanese dread over the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Toho Studios’ most popular kaiju gradually metamorphosed by dint of sheer popularity into a welcome opponent of even more fearful characters, eventually becoming a beloved defender of Japan and humanity in general.
This seems to be the pattern. At first we create monsters to embody our anxieties or the evils we fear. Yet the monsters are often more compelling than the heroes pitted against them, and we can’t bear to leave them as unmitigated villains. So they evolve into metaphors for something else: the unknown, perhaps, or our own capacity for moral growth.
The MutoVerse is ramping up to a Godzilla vs. Kong rematch, and in due course Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah will presumably all take turns fighting one another, culminating in something like the airport set piece in Captain America: Civil War, with everyone against everyone else, only with Mutos instead of superheroes.
The latest Hollywood take on the most successful movie monster of all time is a huge hit with audiences and critics…but I’m not feeling the love.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.