“I truly believe if you add Godzilla to any movie, it becomes a better movie,” director Michael Dougherty said during a Q&A this spring at Toho Studios. “Think about it. Take any movie in the world and 20 minutes in, Godzilla shows up. I guarantee you it’s more entertaining.”
Dougherty is right. Godzilla could certainly improve countless movies, but it’s not only because of the kaiju battles or the spectacle of watching cities get wrecked. Human interaction is central to many of the best Godzilla films. During the Q&A, Dougherty was asked about the interaction between human and kaiju, which he then put into the proper historical context.
“If you go back and look at the long history of Godzilla films, they interact with him a lot,” the director explained. “Maybe personally I was more affected by those moments, because that’s what I think the message is, and what all the movies are trying to say is about that relationship. That there is a possible connection to be made between giant monsters and human beings. No living organism lives on its own. It’s about that delicate relationship between different species.”
That delicate relationship has manifested itself in different ways throughout the series’ history, but the one constant has been a strong environmental message.
“That’s been a message of the Godzilla films since the very beginning in 1954,” said Dougherty. “I think the message is whatever you want to make of it. It’s there. I don’t think it’s that confusing. It’s, ‘Don’t fuck up the planet.’ Otherwise, Mother Nature releases her 800 megaton monsters.”
He continued, “If you make a Godzilla film without that message, it’s not a Godzilla film. It’s just a giant monster movie.”
In King of the Monsters, there isn’t just one monster that’s unleashed, but several. Dougherty acknowledged the importance of the 1964 Godzilla film Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, which, like his film, also features Mothra and Rodan.
“So, as much as I love King Caesar and Gigan and those guys, they’re a little bit more obscure,” Dougherty said when asked how Rodan and Mothra were selected for this most recent film, “They’re also the first ones that teamed up.”
“There is a key point in Godzilla history when Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla put aside their differences and decided to team up against King Ghidorah,” he explained. “There is literally a scene where larval Mothra goes to Rodan and Godzilla and says, ‘Hey, this new arsehole just showed up, and he’s going to mess everything up if we don’t stop him.’ And the two twin fairies are translating for the monsters so the humans can understand what the monsters are talking about. They’re actually having dialogue with each other. And Rodan and Godzilla are like, ‘Fuck the humans. They bully us. Why should we help them?’” As a kid, Dougherty recalled, this was the first time he saw things from the point of the view of the kaiju, and how they perceived the human characters as the monsters.
Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah are Toho icons, but there is no shortage of kaiju to possibly populate future films in this cinematic universe. “There is one creature that I find fascinating because she’s a plant—her name is Biollante,” said Dougherty.
“She’s also one of the very few female kaiju,” he added of the character that debuted in the 1989 film Godzilla vs. Biollante. “She’s interesting because she’s like this Frankenstein creature. She’s a combination of DNA from a scientist’s dead daughter, Godzilla, and a rose. And like, it’s like Audrey on steroids. But there’s something so interesting because she’s so misunderstood.”
Marvel has seen great success with its own cinematic universe, but as Dougherty pointed out, it was Toho that really first perfected the cinematic universe in a big way.
“You know, the first attempts at it were the monster universe that Universal was quietly trying to build in the ‘30s and ‘40s,” he said. “But Toho took the ball and really ran with it because they crossed over Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla, that concept really grew.”
For Dougherty, the Legendary Monsterverse, which will be continued in next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong, is a return to where the modern cinematic universe first showed what was possible. He referred to this as “bringing it back home.” Expect more kaiju crossovers, team-ups, and hopefully the long overdue return of Biollante.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is now in theatres.