Godzilla has a long and checkered past in films. When the character debuted in the 1950s under Toho studios, he was a simple monster who enjoyed rampaging and causing human misery. By the time the Showa era came around, Godzilla had evolved into a 'good' kaiju who aided humanity in fighting other monsters. A recently unearthed interview with special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano, who directed the monster in his initial cinematic outings, explains why Godzilla ended up becoming a hero.
"I believe that without any changes to Godzilla's character, the series would not have been able to continue. If Godzilla had remained a villain, probably only hardcore Godzilla fans would have watched the movies, and not the general audience."
Nakano's comment touches on the core difficulty of selling the concept of Godzilla to general audiences. While the hardcore fanbase is content to watch Godzilla rampage and roar, it is difficult for those who have no interest in Kaiju lore to watch two hours of footage of a giant lizard wreaking havoc on a helpless population.
That is why Godzilla has had far more character development than general audiences might be aware of. Starting with the Showa era, Godzilla movies began incorporating more slapstick comedy elements in the fight scenes to appeal to children.
After that, Godzilla evolved into something of an anti-hero, who caused destruction but also saved humanity from bigger threats like King Ghidorah. As more movies in the franchise were released, Godzilla gradually took on the role of a kaiju superhero, fighting giant robot monsters and alien threats, and even teaming up with other monsters like Mothra and Rodan to form the Justice League of Kaijus.
But while these unexpected outings were necessary to keep audiences interested in Godzilla, Nakano admits he is personally a fan of the original iteration of the character.
"I think it was correct to change Godzilla's character...it was a reaction to the times and changes in the audience. But myself, I basically like a scary Godzilla, rather than a good Godzilla."
The current incarnation of Godzilla from Legendary's Monsterverse falls somewhere in between the two categories Nakano describes. On the one hand, the films have never shied away from exploring the destruction Godzilla causes. On the other hand, the giant lizard is portrayed as a positive natural force whose mission is to keep the balance between Earth and its human inhabitants.
In his next outing, Godzilla will go head-to-head with one of the monsters that inspired its initial creation, which is King Kong. The giant ape also exists within the Monsterverse and is shown to be aware of Godzilla's role as the King of Monsters. But it is a title that Kong refuses to acknowledge, neither does he see Godzilla as his king. That means when Godzilla arrives on Kong's home ground Skull Island in Godzilla Vs Kong, the two titans of the monster film genre will be having a major pow-wow to settle things once and for all.