Destroyer to Defender: The Atomic Evolution of Showa Godzilla as a Character

Godzilla as portrayed in "Mothra VS Godzilla"
The evolution of cinema’s greatest creature.
Why is Godzilla popular? It’s a question that I get a lot from series newcomers. To newcomers, It’s only guys in rubber suits. To those more versed in the big G, most of the movies are repetitive trite. Though there’s a detail within these movies, that nobody brings up. This detail is most prevalent in the Showa Era, which hold the most divisive films in the Franchise. This detail pertaining to the character of Godzilla himself.
Now, like most people, you’re thinking, “What do you mean? Godzilla doesn’t have character”. This is very easy to do if you’re looking at the surface layer. Though, as we know, all sentient creatures, like onions, have layers! That statement most definitely includes the monsters. Now, if we look through the progression of the Showa Era, we see the layers of Godzilla’s character emerge. Though to see Godzilla’s character arc in full, we have to start at the beginning, “Godzilla Raids Again.”

Destructive Beginnings

“Godzilla Raids Again” is the second Godzilla movie, and stars a different cast & creature then the 1954 masterpiece. I will refer to the 1954 Godzilla by his original name of Gojira, and Godzilla from “Godzilla Raids Again” to “Terror of Mechagodzilla” as Godzilla. Godzilla’s actions in the film reflect those made by Gojira in the previous movie; With an added side of a Monster Mash with Anguirus, that is. Though unlike Gojira, Godzilla’s defeated (for the moment) due to sheer luck, frozen d. Laughable when compared with Gojira, who was only weak to the Oxygen Destroyer; A weapon so powerful, it’s creator killed himself to prevent others from getting a hold of it.

Godzilla’s Shift

For the next two movies, Godzilla continues his reign of terror, out of spite. Though as we see more of Godzilla, all the original fear factor Godzilla held has now dissipated. So, when we see him in the next movie, were not very much scared of him anymore. We as the audience are only interested in how his fight with Rodan (another villainous Kaiju) will end up.
Then, in the same movie, we’re introduced to the one who is many, King Ghidorah; A three headed space dragon, who’s only wants to destroy all that breaths. We know by just looking at Ghidorah, the big G has no chance. Things become even more dire when we see Larval-Mothra seek help from Godzilla (the kaiju which killed it’s mother in the previous film) & Rodan, in defeating King Ghidorah. This leads to one of the most important moments in the Showa Era; When all three previously established Kaiju puts aside their past experiences, & for the first time, fight together for Earth! It goes without saying that Godzilla, Larval-Mothra, & Rodan pumble Ghidorah, & securing the Earth’s safety for the foreseeable future. Though this also signals the end of Godzilla as the destroyer of Tokyo, and the beginning of something much bigger.

Development Continues

Godzilla’s character continues on the heroic path set during “Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster”, in the direct sequel; In “Monster Zero”, sentient life-forms from Planet X seek help with dealing with King Ghidorah, who has invaded their planet. This leads to the transportation of Godzilla & Rodan to Planet X to help defeat Ghidorah. Though to the surprise of Earth’s Governments, The aliens are actually evil! Now, the aliens are ready to conquer Earth with Ghidorah, & mind-controlled Godzilla & Rodan. When the alien mind-control subseeds, we reach the main Godzilla character bit of this movie. Godzilla doesn’t continue his rampage when the mind control signal fizzles, he goes after Ghidorah. This is important to note, as if we were just a few movies back character wise, Godzilla would’ve continued his destruction, after trying to kill both Rodan and Ghidorah of course. Though since Godzilla has grown as a character, he only really cares about defeating Ghidorah, then going back to sleep. Essentially, Godzilla is just apathetic to his life for the most part, and just wants to left alone now. He even has a genuine reason to get angry, as the Government dragged him into this entire situation, though he still doesn’t try to destroy the people of Earth after he’s set free. All he cares about is getting Ghidorah out of the way, and going back to sleep.

The Transformation

Two movies later, we find ourselves at the most divisive films in the entire franchise, “Son of Godzilla”. This film, while silly in nature, is in fact one of the most important to Godzilla’s character evolution. When Godzilla meets his adoptive son, Minya, he wants absolutely nothing to do with the poor kid, simply wanting to be alone. Though as the film progresses, Godzilla slowly becomes closer to Minya. This leads to the most heartfelt moment in the entire series, when Godzilla holds Minya, keeping him warm in the suddenly freezing environment. After this, everything changes forever as the Big G transforms from former destroyer, to defender of Earth! Though why the full transformation? I personally give it all up to one thing, Minya!

Why Minya is The Key!!!

So, what did Minya do to change Godzilla into the full on defender of Earth? I personally believe that once Godzilla became a father, he realized something. Godzilla realized the full scope of his destructive past. At one point, Godzilla was just like the monsters who tried to kill his son, except he succeeded. Now, Godzilla, after becoming a father, has gained a feeling of guilt over his past actions. This, coupled with a new found love of life, helps Godzilla decide how to use the rest of his life to make up for his past. So, in the next chronological/canonical entry in the series “Godzilla VS The Smog Monster”, when The titular Smog Monster (aka Hedorah) appears, Godzilla arrives in one of the most important shots in the series, backlit by the sun rising over Japan, Godzilla rises to defeat Hedorah, officially becoming Japan’s greatest Superhero!

Godzilla’s Full Circle

The next and final character of the day ties The big G back to his roots, and brings us full circle. In “Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla”, the movie starts similarly to “Godzilla Raids Again”, destroying Japan, even fighting Anguirus! This is a confusing sight as we just spent the last few movies turning Godzilla into a hero. So seeing him commit such heinous actions confuses us. When we see that the Godzilla that was causing the destruction turned out to be Mechagodzilla, it just makes sense! The entire twist the beginning of the film relies on so much works because we have spent so much time seeing Godzilla grow and evolve as a character. So, when the two Godzillas fight at the end of the movie, it physically represents the metaphorical battle between what Godzilla once was versus what he is now. This brings us to my final statements on the subject.

Why Would I Ever Spend So Much Time Writing About a Guy in A Rubber Suit?

In the end, what does all this mean? Why would I spend so much time into research for this article? Well, it all goes back to what Gojira originally stood for. It’s a well known fact that Gojira is a representation of the dangers of Atomic Power. A creature created by a point-of-view that directly saw said power first hand. Most people think, as the films go on, the nuclear message dissipates. In reality, the message just shifts. Instead of Godzilla (nuclear power) just being an instrument of destruction, he (nuclear power) can be a great tool for society. In Godzilla’s situation, he can help defend the earth from other forces of destruction. In the situation of atomic power, it can create clean & renewable power on a massive scale.
That’s why the final battle in “Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla” works so well. It shows us the battle between the destructive force Godzilla can create, represented by Mechagodzilla, against the possible power to do good, represented by our Godzilla. In short, Godzilla is a weapon of destruction who, as he develops, realizes he doesn’t have to be. That’s why no matter how much darker the series becomes in the future to distance itself from the reputation of it’s cheesy past, the Showa Era films will continue to inspire & entertain for years to come. The idea that atomic destruction, through the eyes of those experienced its power first-hand, can change to be a great asset to the world and its people is huge. What’s the excuse for me or you not to do the same?
Godzilla shakes hands with fellow Superhero, Jet Jaguar.
A snapshot from “Godzilla VS Megalon”, representing the big G’s change from destroyer, to fellow superhero.

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