Last week Toho dropped the trailer for this summer’s Godzilla Resurgence, showcasing a brand new and drastically different Godzilla redesign. Since then, the internet has been abuzz with discussion and arguments on the new look, and hopefully I can shed some light on this departure from his traditional appearance.
It’s been twelve years since the last Toho Godzilla film, Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004. Lately however, the character has undergone a resurgence in popularity (excuse the pun) with the 2014 Legendary Pictures reboot, and plans for a new King Kong-Godzilla cinematic kaiju universe. While the movie was well received in both North America and Japan, the new American-ized Godzilla was nonetheless criticized by some Japanese audiences for its humorous “fat” appearance, even garnering laughter with its first reveal. Thus, it was time for Toho, the original Japanese creators of Godzilla to step in and take the character back to its terrifying roots.
Over the years, the King of the Monsters has gone through quite a few roles, from giant monster-brawler to father figure. Perhaps most frequently and as recently as the Legendary film, he’s served as a guardian of the earth, protecting humanity from other deadly monsters. Toho intends to deviate from this trend and return Godzilla to his first role as a city-levelling monster, calling back all the way to the original film in 1954.
While the character has become a world-wide icon, capturing the hearts of millions and often looked at as a hero, his first incarnation had a very different purpose. Less than ten years after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the self-titled initial Godzilla film was a parallel to the horror of these attacks. It is only after being disturbed by hydrogen bomb testing that the creature departs from the sea to attack the land, with mankind’s usage of atomic weaponry bringing about an unstoppable vengeful monster. It’s why Godzilla has his atomic breath, a trait carried and expanded on throughout the entire series.
This nuclear theme has popped up a few times after the 50’s, with the creature appearing in 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah with deep red gashes due to his heart undergoing a nuclear meltdown. It seems this may be the inspiration for the similar condition afflicting the 2016 design of Godzilla, with Toho going even farther with the idea of a nuclear powered monster.
In a return to a practical suit and animatronics to make the creature come to life on-screen, this Godzilla stands taller and looks more frightening than any previous iteration, which brings me to the crux of my defence for the new look; this Godzilla is meant to evoke a feeling of fear and discomfort. This isn’t a Godzilla meant to fight monsters or sell action figures (not that I won’t buy one), this is meant to conjure up the original themes of nuclear war from the 1950’s.
The Godzilla of 2016 isn’t just a hulking lizard, structured practically to wrestle and fight other monsters. Instead, it has a twisted, unnatural appearance. It’s lanky, its grotesquely misshapen tail swings wildly around at twice its own body-length, and it really doesn’t know what to do with its hands. Its scales are fractured and lined with red cracks that looks less like the lava-like appearance of the 1995 film, and more like radiation scars. Gone are the reptilian, or sometimes even sympathetically cartoonish looking eyes of the past, now replaced with beady, unfeeling eyes and a mouth lined with teeth so sharp and numerous as to be impractical.
And that’s exactly what this new design is, a creature born of radiation, not nature. It looks like it shouldn’t exist, nor does it want to, as it lumbers around the city, appearing almost in pain. This Godzilla isn’t meant to appear on merchandise and sell t-shirts. This is a monster that brings about the same feeling of the 1954 classic, one of fear akin to the horrific devastation wrought by atomic power. So as much as some feel this is a departure from the well-known Godzilla, it’s really a return to form for the original nuclear monster.