Blog 674: World-Building for World-Destroyers

I’ve been in the mood for giant monster movies for ages now. With Toho’s return to the stage Godzilla: Resurgence approaching soon (though without sign of a UK release), I had a re-watch of 2014’s excellent western reboot.

My love for Godzilla might have stemmed from the ridiculous 60s and 70s films, but the reboot continues to impress me with its details — which deftly ground the giant monster in some semblance of gritty verisimilitude without precluding any of the original run’s rule-of-cool hilarity.

World-Building for World-Destroyers

The old films I’ve seen credit Godzilla with varying degrees of intelligence and civilisation. He goes from being a force of nature beyond mankind’s control to a planetary defender that regularly steps in to stop aliens from invading Earth. From a cosmically indifferent punishment to a heroic saviour, and then back again for the next reboot.

What I find most fascinating about the treatment of Godzilla in 2014’s Godzilla is that they bring him back to being a force of nature but set up his animal instincts so that they support the kind of behaviour we really want — beating up other monsters. Godzilla the apex predator, the top of the primordial food chain: territorial and very, very hungry.

Thus, when the MUTOs attack, Godzilla does not rouse himself to action because humanity is in danger; he rouses himself because there are now two competitors in his territory. Regardless, he comes to fight — we get our epic battle royale without us needing to reduce him by humanising him, and we get him leaving us alone and retreating to the sea without us taming him.

Water way to go.

Water way to go.

Likewise, the MUTOs don’t hate humanity either; they’re just seeking out radioactive material to feed on — which in this fairly stable world means human nuclear power stations and waste dumps.

To be honest, I think the radioactivity stuff is a masterstroke of hand-waving, one of the finest pieces of world-building I’ve ever come across.

I mean, I know full well “that’s not how radioactivity works”, but with the application of unknown prehistoric biology maybe it could. The monsters don’t literally feed off radiation, but they do trap it for sustenance — it’s probably something like photosynthesis, where the radiation catalyses the chemical reactions that actually produce energy.

The important thing is that it’s not some superheroic transformation that makes an ordinary human into a god with random powers — it’s a trait honed over millions of years of evolution by this particular branch of creatures, from when they lived in an environment where it was necessary to survive. The important thing is that it’s plausible enough, and by accepting this one twist of fact we have a very strong foundation for the rest of our fiction.

The little courtship ritual between the male and female MUTOs is also a nice touch, neatly suggesting there is more to their lives than CRUSH KILL DESTROY.

The little courtship ritual between the male and female MUTOs is also a nice touch, neatly suggesting there is more to their lives than CRUSH KILL DESTROY.

There are a few missteps, sure, but nothing is fatal and so much of it is an excellent setup for a sequel.

I would like to take issue with the female MUTO laying quite so many eggs, though. She hatched out of a batch of two large eggs, but produces hundreds of tiny ones? I know it’s very dramatic, but you could have had the exact same scene with two or three larger eggs and it would have been more consistent — you could even have kept the addition of the glowing parts, because these are fresh eggs full of vigour rather than ones that are millions of years stale.

I’d also have liked to do a bit more with the male MUTO’s EMP attack. I’m fairly sure that there were no electronic circuits to defend against in the age of the dinosaurs, so it doesn’t quite fit as a naturally evolved skill. This could have been offset if the pulse also had an effect on organic minds, maybe disrupting brainwaves to cause disorientation or blackouts, so that it would have some utility against Godzilla and his ilk — with the scrambling of modern electronics being a happy side-effect.

So when the MUTO awakens, it is trapped and hurt so it unleashes its defensive attack, then notices it has a good effect on its aggressors and so continues to use it. Job done. (It could even be tuned to prehistoric brain chemistry, so our ant-like human protagonists can survive getting pulsed in the face without their nervous systems being melted.)

I was actually expecting the reboot to be so down-to-earth that they'd just not give Godzilla his atomic breath, so it was a moment of sheer joy when his spines started lighting up. Our radioactivity hand-wave might not stretch to "atomic breath" but I'm sure we can find some other chemical justification.

I was actually expecting the reboot to be so down-to-earth that they’d just not give Godzilla his atomic breath, so it was a moment of sheer joy when his spines started lighting up. Our radioactivity hand-wave might not stretch to “atomic breath” but I’m sure we can find some other chemical justification.

Other details also perfectly set up sequels without overtly dropping hooks. Godzilla, they say, was awoken by submarines poking around deep in the ocean. The MUTOs were awoken by diggers breaching their cavern. Imagine, then, what might be awoken by those three having an almighty bust-up? If one monster can hibernate for millions of years, and others can stay in eggs for millions of years, there is room for pretty much anything to be buried under the ground.

The word on the street is that the sequel will have Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah. Now I am well on board that this first reboot had too much teasing of fights and not enough actual fighting, but on the other hand, putting four absolute classics together for the follow-up might be pushing too hard, too fast. Especially when one of those is King motherfucking Ghidorah, the magnificent three-headed two-tailed golden-scaled dragon bastard himself.

He's roaring at the sky, it's clearly foreshadowing.

He’s roaring at the sky, it’s clearly foreshadowing.

My love of King Ghidorah stems quite a bit from the fact that he is not a terrestrial monster. He’s not just a force of terrestrial nature, but a force of cosmic destruction.

Okay, I’m not advocating we pile back into the campy sci-fi alien invasion plots (yet), but the world-building we have is again suitable for a strong half-way house. Ghidorah could still be a space monster that arrives on Earth by more natural means — these creatures can hibernate for millions of years, so Ghidorah could quite feasibly emtomb himself in a comet to go surfing between stars. Still a predator, just with a different lifecycle.

Even so, I think it’s too soon for Ghidorah. As the all-time best villain monster, Ghidorah needs to be keep in reserve for film three, or even four. We need some more build-up so that pay-off will be all the sweeter when it comes.

But Godzilla 2 is apparently set for 2018 so they must be well into filming by now; I’ll just have to hope they do him justice. As long as it ends with Ghidorah defeated but not dead, I suppose I’ll be happy enough. There’s only one King Ghidorah and it would belittle his majesty to have him appear and die in a single film. He can get beaten by a three-monster tag-team and retreat to space, then come back for more in some subsequent film(s). Ye-e-e-es…

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