When I watched Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I was ready for a good time. Yes, I knew the plot might be silly, the writing half-baked. But the cast was wonderful and I love a good monster movie.
However, the plot was not silly. It was… troubling. And to be honest, I’m concerned Godzilla vs. Kong might continue in that same troublesome vein. Let me explain.
The main conflict in the first movie is that scientist Dr. Emma Russell (played by the lovely Vera Farminga) works with a band of violent eco-terrorists to intentionally awaken all of “the titans,” so they might destroy the earth, or at least a good portion of it.
Why, you ask? Because when Godzilla wrecked great portions of US cities, one of her two children died. Her son. As a result of that trauma, she adopted the ideology that Godzilla and the rest of the titans are rising to cleanse the earth of the virus of humans. That the titans are the rightful lords of earth and that they were the original gods of humanity.
In furtherance of this ideology, here is a list of what she did:
- Circumvented the defenses of her own lab and allowed terrorists to shoot and kill dozens of men and women, all of whom Emma knew and worked with.
- Set off explosives to intentionally kill members of the US military and her ex-husband, the father of her children.
- Used her proprietary technology to incite the titans to destroy specific targets, killing thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.
- Gave a speech about humans being a virus and deserving of terrible death, while she and her daughter remain safe from the rampage in a bunker. Hmmm.
Her reasoning seems to be, “my kid died. Now everyone else’s kids should die too.”
Right now, you may be thinking, Good. A movie’s villain should be complex. But here’s the thing…
Emma is NEVER painted as a villain.
Screen Junkies rightly pointed out in the Honest Trailer that the whole “I’m going to destroy the earth to save it” motivation is so overdone as to be cliche. But as far as I know, this is the first time the writers and producers of the film are actively endorsing it. Why do I know they endorse it? For three specific reasons.
- In her monologue, Emma talks about how cities destroyed by the titans were now green utopias, showing footage of trees, flowers, and other greenery growing around the once-grand casinos. Under normal circumstances, this should be a horrible sight. But in the closing shots, there are newspaper headlines flashing across the screen, accompanied by upbeat music: “New Ecosystem forming in Boston!” “Air Cleanest Levels Ever in Washington DC!” Yeah… because everybody is EFFING DEAD.
- Godzilla and at least some of the titans are treated as the heroes in this movie. The humans are really just a framing device. This is brought into stark relief when the team is tracking an injured Godzilla into the depths of the earth. Using an unmanned sub, they find him in the remains of a very ancient city — older than ancient Egypt, older than the Sumerians. So what do they do when they find this treasure, this great trove of knowledge of our species? They. Blow it. Up. With a nuke. Because Godzilla needed a hit of radiation to bring him back to full power. These men and women of science just blew all the evidence of a pre-historical advanced civilization to hell. To save a monster.
- And finally, Emma was given a hero’s death. She got the dramatic quip and everything. She had a heartwarming reunion with her husband where they searched for their daughter together. She got to stand up and be praised for giving her life to lead the soon-to-be critical-mass monster away from the rest of the group. And then she got to go out like a boss. Everything about her character arc painted her as a sympathetic character, a good mother who had the right idea, but went a little overboard.
For any one of her actions in the list above, Emma deserved to be given a traitor’s death. She did not deserve a hug from the man she tried to kill, forgiveness from the daughter she deceived and brainwashed, or the opportunity to bring about the new “cleansed” world she imagined.
The hundreds of thousands of deaths she is personally responsible for are never brought up.
Some of the people most influential in our culture are getting to a weird place. Some broadcast to the world that they refuse to have children because of climate change, despite the fact that their country has below-replacement birth rates. And some people shoot up the city of Dayton because “humanity is a disease.”
We know internet enclaves like 4-Chan have a strong nihilistic streak. But are we really in a place where those ideas will be present in our blockbusters? I sincerely hope not.
I hope this was a one-off, even a mistake. I hope those BS headlines at the end of the movie were a set-up for Godzilla vs. Kong, a sequel that will return us to a vision of heroic humans fighting monsters to save the people they love. I hope it makes monster movies fun again.