Kaiju fans are eating well these days. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is the latest film in the Monsterverse. The new film comes to theaters just months after Toho’s Godzilla Minus One. (We have the details on how to see it in IMAX.) Looking at them side by side, you’d think they might be similar. However, you’d be wrong. Toho’s Godzilla, the original, and the Americanized version have different objectives. Therefore, they tell different stories. I’d even say that they are two different categories of film.

At the end of 2023, I had the opportunity to see the U.S. premiere of Godzilla Minus One. I’d seen several Godzilla films, including the recent Monsterverse movies from Legendary Pictures. While I enjoy Godzilla as a staple of cinema, I’m not a superfan. The franchise has been in the background of my life. I’d never seen a Godzilla film in theaters. I didn’t ever care to. (I feel similar about Weezer. That’s a different discussion for a different day.) However, the Godzilla Minus One premiere became a breakout evening of 2023 for me.

I understood what made the character so special to Japanese audiences. Godzilla wasn’t just an atomic lizard, but a symbol of destruction. It represents the U.S. invasion of WWII. Godzilla is a symbol of atomic warfare. I can infer that symbolism in some of the older Godzilla films, but this was the first time I saw it on screen. I didn’t have to think about it. The drama was there.

The original 1954 Godzilla

The Drama of Japan

Does the U.S. version of the Monsterverse have drama? Of course! Most films have some sense of drama. It’s what makes them interesting stories. I’d never say that any American-made Godzilla film was a drama, though. Godzilla, for American audiences, is a spectacle. There’s a big CGI monster. It destroys CGI buildings. A big fight happens with CGI King Kong. The Monsterverse films are action films. They are big blockbuster films. I’m not even going to get into the Matthew Broderick film from 1998.

For Japan, Godzilla is a device to tell a human story. There are Japanese versions of spectacle within the franchise. The “Godzilla versus” films fall into that. For Japanese fans, the heart of Godzilla IS the drama. Godzilla Minus One works its monster into the story perfectly. They give some destruction up front, but its runtime is filled with dialogue. It’s a story about rebuilding. A story about family, blood-related or adopted. Godzilla is about overcoming obstacles in unity.

Certainly, the audience I saw the film with clapped and cheered for Godzilla but left the film discussing humanity. We cheered because for us, we were used to only seeing the spectacle. By the end of the film, people cheered the humans rather than the monster.

This made me think about what it was like to see Godzilla in 1950s Japan. For the filmmakers, it was a way of making sense of the atomic bombs. It was a creative exploration of real events. I can only assume it was devastating to watch for a Japanese audience. It might have been relieving to see the Japanese topple Godzilla. For others, it might have been like living through past experiences. Godzilla became an important figure because the character represents an important historical moment. For Americans, it’s just a big lizard. In Japan, even 80 years on from WWII, Godzilla still represents loss and hope.

Related – Godzilla: Minus One Review – Quite Simply The Best Godzilla

Peter Jackson’s King Kong from 2005

The Big Gorilla

Similar to Godzilla, American audiences have grown to see King Kong as the monster that showcases humanity. The 1933 film is one of American cinema’s classic stories. It’s been remade twice. The 1976 King Kong got a theme park attraction at Universal Studios. That attraction was destroyed. Then, they rebuilt it for the 2005 version of King Kong. It’s a slightly different attraction, but it’s crazy that Kong has had two different theme park attractions at Universal Parks. King Kong is so beloved because it’s a story about who we are as Americans. It’s a film about wonder, fear, being caged, and corporate greed.

There have been other versions of King Kong though. While Kong: Skull Island leaned into more dramatic human storytelling, I can’t say the same for Godzilla vs Kong. Going into Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, I can’t help but think that Kong is more or less just a big destruction machine now. The films the character will be involved in moving forward are disaster films. There will be explosions and buildings crumbling. People will cry on screen, but there won’t be that same heart. The Monsterverse and Rampage, the video game turned movie, are basically the same in that respect.

Godzilla Minus One

Godzilla in the 21st Century

It’s well established that Godzilla is the spawn of the atomic bombs hitting Japan. The character has gone on to do so much more though, and there are plenty of human stories to tell. Godzilla has been around for over half a century on screen. There have been stories about scientists perfecting the weather. Terrorists enslave people. New metals are discovered and used as weapons. The entire timeline of Godzilla is crazy but filled with humanity. If you want to learn more, there is a great video explaining the in-story history by Geekritique. (Watch it here!) Yes, there are big, giant battles, but these stories revolve around human themes.

Don’t get me wrong—I do like explosions. I like seeing people running away from King Kong’s grip. It’s fun to watch, but it just isn’t memorable. I like to see monsters. The monster destroying everything isn’t the thematic story I love seeing in every movie that hits theaters. I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. I also realize that many enjoy that type of story. They’ll pay top dollar to see a city crumble at their local AMC.

Jurassic World was about playing god all over again.

The Jurassic Park of It All

Because Godzilla Minus One and Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire are out months apart, they are easy to compare. In the Japanese film, the monster is a plot device. Godzilla is there to further the drama. The American film is about the monsters. It’s about seeing buildings explode. It’s about watching two giants fighting. The human stories are secondary at best.

This is something I think people have become aware of with the Jurassic franchise. The original Jurassic Park is a film about humanity. It’s about playing god and our responsibility with that. The dinosaurs are there to push that story forward. They aren’t the heroes or the villains of Jurassic Park. Raptors and the T-Rex are a threat, but they aren’t the enemy. When the raptors invade the kitchen, I always tense up. It’s a great scene, but it isn’t the whole film. Jurassic Park shows us that we are our own enemy if given the chance to make money.

Jurassic World copied and pasted ideas from the original, but the 2015 reboot gave us more monsters. It gave us a science experiment freak. In fact, the whole film feels like it leads up to the indominus rex breaking out. Sure, there are some human stories, but there isn’t any memorable drama. There is nothing like the dinner scene between Dr. Malcolm and John Hammond. I’d actually love to know what Jurassic franchise films work in other cultures, but I digress.

Kaiju Films are For Everyone

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire might be a fun time. The big blockbuster explosions are great to see on a big screen. I won’t fault you for wanting to see it and disconnect from reality. The Monsterverse is all about escapism. Whether you want drama or action is up to you. Neither is wrong. Personally, I’m a fan of drama. I feel closer to a film if I can see myself in it. I like seeing humanity on screen. Others don’t need that and I respect it.

Regardless of how you like your monster movies, there is no better time to be a kaiju fan. Godzilla Minus One is an Academy Award winning film. (That’s nuts to say out loud.) Godzilla x Kong isn’t even the end of the Monsterverse. I didn’t even mention Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. If you want American human drama, that’s where you need to go. There’s also the animated Skull Island show that debuted in 2023. Action? Drama? Whatever? Godzilla, Kong, and friends are delivering the goods and I’m happy to see it.

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