A MOVIE ABOUT TWO mega monsters where the ultimate villain is man. Even if Godzilla vs. Kong had been written post the pandemic, it couldn’t have been more timely. But as it happens, the movie’s release was postponed last year thanks to the pandemic, where the enemy is a deadly organism, often fatal, and invisible to the naked eye. An amalgamation of Japanese Kaiju fiction and Hollywood’s love for King Kong, Godzilla vs. Kong proves once again why American pop culture can still capture the global imagination.
No film industry in the world has recognised the power of markets outside its own country and tailormade entertainment for it. Japan is one of Hollywood’s biggest audiences outside America and Godzilla is one of its favourite monsters, meant to signify both the American nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as America itself, a gigantic nation wreaking destruction on Japan. In 1963, in King Kong vs. Godzilla, as Godzilla is reawakened by an American submarine, a pharmaceutical company captures King Kong for promotional uses, which culminates in a battle on Mount Fuji. In the 2021 update, without giving too much away, Godzilla and King Kong unite to combat a third enemy, created by man, the MechaGodzilla.
In a post-pandemic world, man and his assault on nature are the ultimate villains, and the mysterious transnational corporation Monarch, and now Apex Cybernetics, epitomise this. As American movies increasingly travel the globe, villains have to become less specific and more international. No longer will the Nazi villain, the evil Russian or the Islamic militant do in a world where former enemies have become potentially lucrative markets. Corporations with global imprints, like the new data emperors of the world, the Big Four (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple), are more likely to be the antagonists in this increasingly borderless world.
In any case, from the time of Frankenstein’s monster, there has always been something tragic about these misunderstood beasts we’ve cast out into the dark underwater like Godzilla, or on abandoned islands like Skull Island. King Kong, lured to the top of Empire State Building by his love for Ann Darrow, is all of us suffering from unrequited love in Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005)—Beauty and the Beast with an unhappily ever after. In its 2014 version, Godzilla is the only one who can save humanity from man’s manipulation of nature and technology, which has created MUTO (the Massive Underground Terrestrial Organism).
So is Hollywood turning Luddite? Not exactly. But there is an inbuilt fear of technology which reflects the ecological disaster that we can see around us. There is also a reaffirmation of the human spirit, which sometimes is found in the most unlikeliest of hearts. But the primary reason for the creation of the new MonsterVerse, a cast of characters who will lend themselves to a continuing global franchise, is that the superhero franchise has reached its sell-by-date. Outer space has lost its fascination for us with planets like Mars increasingly looking like big city suburbs which will soon be under construction. The deep sea cannot yield anything more fearsome than Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975). The undiscovered forests of the world no longer scare us with their possible dinosaurs because we have such few untouched places left on earth. The Avengers has already announced its endgame, with the Marvel superheroes reuniting for one last time to restore balance in the universe and save it from Thanos. The DC world sputters on, with its hits and misses. The MonsterVerse, which projects and magnifies our own emotions and fears, seems likely inheritor of potential global blockbusters.
Clearly, the world needs a new narrative to engage with. Perhaps it’s time for India to step in, with its own flawed heroes and humane villains. But for that the world also needs to mature, to accept that beasts can signify the best in us and heroes can have the worst impulses. Legendary’s new MonsterVerse is leading us in that direction, with its CGI creatures wrestling each other like super buff MMA contestants. It’s time for India’s storytellers to step up with its own epics and its own vast array of heroes and superheroes.