Good tidings and well-wishes!
Don’t worry hard-core science lovers, there will be more substantial material discussed shortly. However, I just couldn’t resist indulging in frivolous childhood nostalgia for a wee bit…
On this day in 1954, Toho Studios released what was arguably the most influential Japanese film ever made: “Gojira”, a name which later evolved elsewhere on the globe into “Godzilla”. The rest is well-known history: the movie spawned a whopping twenty-seven sequels (excluding the hideous American film starring Matthew Broderick) and the massive mutant has grown into a household name in place of countless contemporaries (and rip-offs). In light of this momentous occasion (and lest anyone doubt my nerdy-ness), I’ve decided to create this celebratory post in order to highlight one of the greatest things about Godzilla movies: the diverse and often bizarre cast of enormously proportioned creatures.
The series has seen the appearances of literally dozens of monsters, ranging from giant lobsters to three-headed extraterrestrial dragons to one-eyed cyborgs. As a result, the saga has expanded far beyond the realm of the monster king himself. Thus, I humbly present a countdown of the characters which are, in my humble opinion, Godzilla’s greatest co-stars:
Although a relative late-comer to the Godzilla series, Megaguirus has earned a place on this list due to the exceptional originality which accompanies her character, both in terms of design and behavior. Unlike the traditional adversarial kaiju (“Japanese Monster”), her combat style rests not upon physical strength or weaponry but on agility and strategy. Her evasive yet brutal tactics have doubtlessly commanded the respect of many a monster fan, in addition to the recognition she deserves from them for being the only satisfying original villain of the millenium series.
(No, he’s not related to the previous beast)
Okay, the very fact that ‘Ang’ isn’t listed within the top five will automatically draw the ire of most Japanese monster nerds, to which I say ‘tough toenails’! I’ll readily concede that Anguirus is certainly an interesting character due to his tenacity and combativeness. I simply don’t find him to be nearly as interesting as the monsters I’ve listed below. Nonetheless, he does hold the distinction for being the first Godzilla villain and, later, one of “the big G’s” most valuable allies. Plus, his revamped appearance in the fiftieth-anniversary film “Godzilla: Final Wars” marked the premiere of some truly stunning (if somewhat unorthodox) attack techniques.
One of the most innovative and effective Godzilla villains, Biollante continues a long-held tradition within the series: turning the audience’s attention towards one of the leading threats of the era. While Godzilla himself originated as a commentary on nuclear testing and Hedorah ‘the smog monster’ was used to capitalize on the ever-growing threat of pollution, Biollante drew its strength from examining the unknown aspects of the then-new field of genetic engineering. Additionally, while most Godzilla villains are either vaguely humanoid in appearance or based clearly upon the anatomy of an extant animal, this genetically-altered plant sports no such ties and presents the viewer with a truly grotesque beast.
Gigan has undergone a rather polarized demeanor through his various incarnations, having been depicted as an inglorious but intelligent coward during the seventies and as a relatively brainless hulk in “Godzilla: Final Wars”. Nonetheless, he’s always been dear to G-fans and his battles have never failed to impress.
#6. Hedorah (aka: “The Smog Monster”)
There are precious few words with which to describe Hedorah and, by extension, the entirety of the film “Godzilla vs The Smog Monster” in which his debut was made. One thing is pristinely clear, however: Hedorah cannot be classified as a ‘weak’ villain. This metamorphosing juggernaut instantly strikes the audience as a nearly-unstoppable foe, for how could anyone defeat such a powerful beast whose makeup is largely restricted to toxic sludge? This creative and bizarre film defines the term ‘relic from the seventies’, an age when the hippie movement was surging and disco was at its height, both of which make huge contributions to the plot and visuals of this strange, strange movie. Nevertheless, the movie’s success is largely attributable to its intimidating and unpredictable desperado.
With the obvious exception of Mothra, Rodan is, to date, the only kaiju to have become an indispensible part of the Godzilla series after starring in his own (highly entertaining) film. One of the many reasons why I regard Rodan more highly than Anguirus lies in the fact that he didn’t need to ride the coat-tails of the monster king to achieve cinematic glory, he performed magnificently in his own 1956 movie before joining the Godzilla series eight years later. His usually easy-going yet strongly assertive character provides a unique mixture of admiration and comic relief to every film in which he appears (who could forget his schadenfreude-inspired cackle when watching Mothra cover Godzilla in webbing during ‘Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster’?).
Easily the series’ greatest villain of the ’90s, Destoroyah maintains a reputation for being one of the strongest, most sinister, and most impressive adversaries Godzilla has ever faced. It’s been observed that what makes this beast so engaging to longtime fans is its exquisite blend of characteristics from earlier foes: it’s many forms stem from Hedorah’s frequent transformation, it’s tusks are a throwback to those of Biollante, and its arthropod-esque skin forces us to recall Ebirah ‘the sea monster’. “Godzilla vs Destoroyah” is unquestionably one of the greatest films in the series and, strange as it may sound, nearly everyone I’ve shown it to finds its conclusion to be genuinely moving. The villain is just one entry on a long list of things that the movie gets right, and not just in terms of its design. Destoroyah is particularly notorious for being a ruthless, sadistic menace who has earned international scorn for brutally killing the comparatively-tiny Godzilla Junior. The one factor which prevents it from achieving a higher place on this list, however, is its relative inexperience. Having debued in 1995 and having failed to make an appearance since, it simply can’t compete with the likes of King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla when the topic of great Godzilla villains emerges.
Mechagodzilla is a character who appears to undergo constant improvement, yet this is not to say that it’s been evolving in a predictable direction. In its first appearance back in 1974’s “Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla” and its direct sequel “Terror of Mechagodzilla”, the gargantuan robot relies almost exclusively upon its arsenal of projectile weaponry. In 1993’s “Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla 2”, the metal contraption features a massively-upgraded arsenal and connects itself to a smaller vessel to even further increase its power. But it is its latest incarnation as shown above which arguably commands the most attention, due to its comparatively lean physique and extreme adeptness at vigorous physical combat. Regardless of whether or not the robotic menace is portrayed as a hero or a villain, the very fact that it’s always been intended as ‘the anti-Godzilla’ ensures that its every appearance is a memorable one.
Alright, so she’s not the most intimidating monster. However, consider the following: Mothra entered the Godzilla series after being featured in her own movie (just as Rodan would later do), became THE best-known co-star of the big G, AND starred in a series of films outside of the Godzilla series during the late nineties. She obviously could not have done so had she lacked any sort of redeeming quality. First of all, she’s exceedingly intelligent, often utilizing her superior brainpower to overcome whatever villain threatens her. This also translates into a very politically-savvy bug, as exemplified in “Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster” when she was able to convince Godzilla and Rodan to work together against an otherwise unbeatable nemesis which could have easily destroyed the planet. Also, her petite appearance wonderfully contrasts the gruff and frequently hideous collection of characters which surrounds her in every film. Despite this, she proves time and time again that she’s more than capable of fighting with ‘the big dogs’. Finally, she’s defined what the Godzilla series is more than any other single kaiju with the obvious exception of the namesake character. The fact that she’s the saga’s only monster other than Godzilla himself to be pitted against an antithetical beast (the insect known as ‘Battra‘) shows just how vital she is to the franchise.
#1: King Ghidorah
The Yankees have the Red Sox, Thomas Jefferson had Alexander Hamilton, O.C. Marsh had Edward Drinker Cope, and Godzilla has King Ghidorah. While Godzilla has found an occasional ally in Mothra and even, briefly, enlisted the aid of Mechagodzilla at the conclusion of “Godzilla: Tokyo SOS”, King Ghidorah has always stood firmly against the king of the monsters. Godzilla’s sheer size has always been one of his greatest assets, yet he’s almost invariably been dwarfed by this three-headed behemoth. Even in 2001’s “Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monster All-Out Attack” (which desperately requires a shorter title) in which Ghidorah was depicted as being a smaller, more serpentine creature, he gave the then massively-powerful Godzilla his only true challenge. Whether he’s seen as being under extraterrestrial control, a product of reckless time travel, or as an ancient Japanese guardian, King Ghidorah has never come close to finding common ground upon which to tread with Godzilla and has often made the big guy look like an unadulterated hero when compared to his extreme brutality and blood lust. And one would almost certainly arrive at the conclusion that when faced with such a fantastic array of villains as that presented by the Godzilla series, only an antagonist of King Ghidorah’s caliber could hope to incontestably maintain the title of ‘Public Enemy Number One’ for nearly half a century.
May the fossil record (and the B-movies it so often inspires) continue to enchant us all!