“ONE,” bellows the trailer for Godzilla vs. Kong.
“WILL,” it thunders.
This. Is. Upsetting. Disconcerting. Downright vexing, even. Because when the mightiest of all kaiju “titans” square off in a battle for the ages, everyone loses. Everyone! And not just because a lot of buildings will be destroyed (not to mention all those inevitable civilian casualties that go unacknowledged). But mostly because both Kong and Godzilla are good guys. Defenders of humanity and Earth. Feral behemoths of virtue. Beloved movie monoliths looming tall in many of our memories of Saturday afternoon TV matinees.
They cannot die. They’ll never really die, so let me rephrase it: We cannot watch them die again. It’s hard enough seeing Godzilla flamebroil Kong’s ass, or cringing as Kong roundhouses Godzilla’s jaw into the bay. It ain’t right, and is even less right than Captain America clanging his shield into Iron Man’s tin can.
Let’s face it: Watching the super-colossal gorilla and brobdingnagian lizard duke it out is like watching your parents fight. It’s heartbreaking. Psychically wrenching. Traumatic. And throwing all the paper airplanes you can at them won’t get them to stop. They swat planes out of the air like they’re gnats, remember. The monsters to the real ones, that is — and your parents to the paper ones too, most likely.
This battle has happened before, of course, in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. There once was a popular urban legend that it had two endings: Kong winning the battle in the American version of the film, and Godzilla emerging victorious in the Japanese version. But it’s not true — in both versions, the two creatures topple into the sea, and Kong soon surfaces and swims off. Ambiguous? Maybe. But if you interpret this as anything other than a stalemate, you’re a top-shelf nincompoop. It’s obvious that Godzilla, who dwells underwater when he’s not torching Tokyo with his Nacho BellGrande breath, dragged Kong under to drown him, but the ape struggled free and smartly took the draw. Live to fight another day, in a sequel maybe (it didn’t happen), and keep any partisans from declaring any kind of victory. It’s wishy-washy, sure, but wisely acknowledged that declaring a winner makes us all losers.
Sure, for movie studios hoping to capitalize on decades of thrill-ridden nostalgia, pitting the beasts in battle is a no-brainer. But for my inner eight-year-old — who checked out the Kong and Godzilla Movie Monsters books from the school library countless times, who tearfully yearns for his Godzilla toy with the launching fist and flame “tongue” on a trigger — it sucks worse than opening a pack of Garbage Pail Kids cards and getting all doubles. Godzilla vs. Kong promises to KILL OFF one of the two most beloved movie monoliths ever, and it’s a concept I just can’t fathom.
Remember, Kong didn’t survive his 1933 tumble from the Empire State Building, and it’s one of the saddest scenes in movie history: “‘Twas beauty killed the beast,” my ass! No, ignorant men tried to conquer and exploit a marvel of nature and then were shocked when Kong went bananas over his lovely Fay Wray bait — I’ll acknowledge it might not have been an entirely healthy, consensual relationship — and fought back. Also remember, Godzilla passed from this mortal coil at the conclusion of his first stomp-around adventure, inspiring a poignant moment: He was the product of humanity’s misguided nuclear-weapon ambitions, returning to teach a lesson by wreaking destruction.
That, and they’ve become downright lovable over the years. In dozens of wonderfully bizarre movies, Godzilla became an ally of humans, mugging his way through titanic battles and dancing like a goof after he clobbered titanic rubbery foes like King Ghidorah and Megalon. Kong, meanwhile, became a Toho Co. hero and kid-cartoon protagonist, and famously ice-skated with Naomi Watts in Peter Jackson’s enjoyable 2005 remake. I adore Godzilla and Kong and I will hug them and I will squeeze them and I will keep them in my backyard, oblivious to the lessons imparted by Bart Gets and Elephant.
I’m surely not alone in my affection for these noble creatures, otherwise, the new MonsterVerse might not exist. It’s been a fine franchise thus far, despite its lack of human actors in latex costumes, plasticine army battalions and cardboard cities set aflame by exploding fireworks. I accept the modern CGI upgrades and extravaganza-isms, standing firmly by 2014’s Godzilla, with its tantalizing slow reveal of our titanic hero, richly satisfying monster-battle money shots and subtextual assertion that Godzilla is evolution personified, destined by nature to restore the delicate balance of Earth’s ecosystem by bashing giant malevolent bug-things into kibbles ‘n’ bits. I also vouch heavily for Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ highly entertaining Kong: Skull Island, a vibrant and amusingly violent reintroduction to the venerated ape, a cartoon-of-consequence inspired by comic books and camp. Even the flawed Godzilla: King of the Monsters had its moments, teasing the existence of a whole new cavalcade of kaiju.
But Godzilla vs. Kong appears to be wrapping the franchise — at least for now? Hopefully just for now — by offing one cherished miscreation or the other. Of course, it could be an instance of a movie having its cake and eating it too. One could die and be defibrillated with a million-zillion nuclear volts when a different gigandomundus threat arrives (Mechagodzilla rumors abound!), a highly probable theory. And it wouldn’t be the first time a movie reneged on the promise of its trailer — or even the 100th.
But if it’s true, one of the two following scenarios will unfold: The light will go out of King Kong’s eyes and, considering he’s an ape and WE are all evolved apes, a part of us — all of us — EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US — will die. Or Godzilla will breathe his last radioactive breath, and the wondrous monster that captured our imagination will sink to the bottom of the sea, to be unceremoniously devoured by crabs and plankton. Say it ain’t so. Please, say it ain’t so.
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