The new GODZILLA trailer: so much fun you can ignore how they are brutally murdering the entire metaphorical concept of Godzilla!
— MGK (@mightygodking) February 25, 2014
I started a bit of a minor nerd kerfuffle yesterday on Twitter when I said this, but I’m standing by it.
First, a few caveats. It’s an excellent trailer on numerous levels. I’m gonna go see it when it comes out, and not out of a sense of nerd-obligation either; this looks genuinely amazing and it’s filled with actors I really like and plus, come on, it’s frigging Godzilla.
The trailer does one thing, and I hope the movie reverses on this at least a little: it removes the central allegory that was at the heart of Godzilla movies – namely, that Godzilla represents man’s hubris in using nuclear weapons. Even the horrible 1998 American Godzilla didn’t get rid of that. But in this one – or at least as per this trailer – man’s use of nukes aren’t what create Godzilla; instead they’re something that mankind uses to try to kill Godzilla. We go from man’s nuclear sins to nukes-are-useful-weapons just like that.
I got responses about how “people aren’t as scared of nuclear weapons as they used to be” but that’s really only a valid point from a marketing perspective, because nuclear weapons are still a huge problem; just because the Cold War sort of ended (and depending on which historians you ask, it’s only mutated somewhat). The Doomsday Clock is still a thing and it’s still set at five minutes to midnight; there’s nothing stopping another Stanislav Petrov scenario from happening except, one hopes, future Stanislav Petrovs. Just because our fear of nukes has grown less immediate or we’ve grown more used to them doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to acknowledge that. (I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made that nukes stopped being scary in part because we all stopped talking about them and just pretended they weren’t an issue any more.)
A few people also suggested to me that this represents a shift in the Godzilla metaphor to being about climate change or asteroid armageddon or the like because of when, in the trailer, Ken Watanabe says “the arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control… and not the other way around.” And there’s nothing wrong with a horror concept being adapted for use as a different analogy. It happened with zombies multiple times, for example: zombies started out as atomic panic, then shifted to being a metaphor for commercialism and consumption, and nowadays appear to be the fear of the mob and/or poor people depending on how cynical you are. (Yeah, yeah, “infectious diseases,” my ass.)
But Watanabe’s line doesn’t work for climate change at all (and I think it’s fair to say that for whatever Godzilla might be a metaphor, it’s going to be massive in scale because come on, Godzilla) because that Watanabe line, while still addressing human hubris, rejects human responsibility. The power of the original Godzilla metaphor was that nobody made humans use nuclear weapons, and whoops you weren’t expecting Godzilla now were you – Godzilla becomes about not opening Pandora’s box lest there be a giant murder lizard in it. But climate change is A) primarily human-driven and human-created, and B) has been a known consequence of carbon emissions for decades. A climate change murder monster metaphor has to be about selfishness, not helplessness, so Godzilla doesn’t really work for that.
Anyway: none of this is going to stop me from seeing the movie. But it’s definitely something to think about while waiting.