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FACTUALLY OBSCURE: Welcome to the Monsterverse

The Monsterverse is the name given to the newest film adaptations of Godzilla and King Kong that started in 2014 from Legendary Pictures. While Godzilla has been gracing our screens since 1954, and King Kong since 1933, the recent reworkings see the massive icons in a new Western franchise – one that has been edging towards the ultimate showdown – Godzilla Vs. Kong. This battle of the beasts was expected to be released this fall, but the release was pushed back due to COVID to May 2021. While there are many iterations of both Godzilla and Kong, and even Godzilla movies that have been made since 2014 from other studios, let’s take a dive into the Monsterverse franchise from Legendary and get hyped up for what will hopefully be a monster smackdown for the ages. .

Godzilla (2014)
The Monsterverse began in 2014 with the release of Godzilla. Directed by Gareth Edwards, this flick introduced a new generation to the king of monsters, and what an introduction! This newest version of Godzilla is one of the largest yet, measuring a whopping 355 ft tall with a 550 ft long tail. Recounting the first documented human interaction with Godzilla, the film briefly recounts the first attempt to kill Godzilla with an atomic bomb in 1954, after the beast was awoken by a nuclear submarine that breached the lower depths of the ocean. Suffice to say, the bomb didn’t work, and it’s a good thing too. While initial impressions of Godzilla are that he’s a giant baddie (because of the destruction that follows him and because he’s, well, giant and scary), ‘Zilla may be humankind's only defender against the other giant beasts that hide around the world, or ‘MUTO’s (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms). Enter Monarch.

Founded in 1946, Monarch is a cryptozoological organization dedicated to the studying of MUTOs. Often causing more harm than good, losing many team members along the way, and accidentally waking up MUTO’s, Monarch’s first creature of study was Shimomura. As a radioactive parasitic colony (aka a bundle of joy), the name given to this MUTO is apt, as Shinomura is derived from the Japanese words “shi no mure”, which means “swarm of death”. Yeesh.

The filmmakers of the Monsterverse began rooting Monarch in Earth's history by establishing a timeline of events and posting them in an online campaign in 2017. Multiple real historical events were adapted, like The Great Smog of London, which Monarch attributed the creation of the airborne pollutants to have been caused by the beating of wings of a giant creature (1952), and The Cold War, when an aerial photograph was taken by Russian spies that showed a facility with the Monarch logo built around an ice cap in Siberia (1959). The multi-national organization was developed to study, hide, contain, and destroy MUTO’s that pose a threat to humanity: “Our mission: Discovery and defense in a time of monsters.”

In Godzilla (2014), our big guy takes on and defeats several MUTO’s who were lying dormant around the world as he proves to the humans that he’s there to protect the world and is dubbed ‘King of Monsters’.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Shortly after the Vietnam War, in 1973, Monarch partnered with military members for an expedition to Skull Island. This film, set before the events of Godzilla, follows the covert mission to obtain evidence that monsters do exist, and boy, do they get that evidence. In addition to giant creatures around the island, like a Giant Squid and the creepily named Skullcrawlers, they run into the 104 ft tall protector of the island: Kong. Unhappy with their blatant disregard for his island (as the helicopters drop bombs, set to Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ – which is a great sequence) Kong takes down many of the group. Survivors of the expedition then journey onwards to be picked off one by one by the other massive beasts, before finally escaping the island – but not before helping Kong survive a battle between Skullcrawlers and Samuel L. Jackson (who really had beef with Kong). While Kong may be a terrifying creature, his peaceful side is displayed during this film, presenting him as the guardian he is. The end of the film essentially sets up the next movie in the franchise, as cave drawings foreshadowing the clash of giant beasts are projected on a wall…

Godzilla: King of Monsters (2019)

After the world has been introduced to Godzilla, Monarch has expanded and received quite the budget increase to study several inactive MUTO’s they’ve found around the world. Monarch has also discovered that ancient civilizations used to coexist and worship the MUTO’s, who have now been renamed as ‘Titans’.

Let’s take a moment to pause and dig a little deeper into this renaming move. Firstly, ‘kaiju’ is the Japanese word for ‘strange beast’, which is translated as ‘monster’ in English. Any large monster in Japanese cinema can be labeled as kaiju, and often powerful kaiju (like Godzilla) are referred to as daikaiju, with the prefix ‘dai’ translating into ‘giant monster’. Kaiju are typically based on animals, insects, or mythological creatures that are supersized (Godzilla being a giant Lizard, Mothra being a giant Moth, and Kong being a - spoiler alert - giant ape). Although kaiju have developed throughout the years, with the kaiju in Pacific Rim movies taking on more alien (and gloriously entertaining) forms, they’re still loosely based on animals and insects in some way. Since the Monsterverse is a Western adaptation, and with the name ‘kaiju’ already taken by another Legendary film (here’s looking at you, Pac Rim), the kaiju who are unnamed are referred to as MUTO’s, which as we already know is a Monarch term used to describe unknown and unclassified creatures. In Godzilla: King of Monsters, MUTO’s are re-named because they are no longer ‘unknown’. Furthermore, giving them the name ‘titans’ is a perfect fit, as they’re discovered to have been worshipped as Gods by prior civilizations, referencing Greek mythology where ‘Titans’ were the first Gods before the Olympians. As you look a little more into the Monsterverse, you’ll notice there are lots of elements drawn from Greek mythology, which further cements my personal belief that the naming of the creatures as ‘titans’ in this movie was borderline genius. For example, King Ghidorah is one of the titans who appears in Godzilla: King of Monsters, who is a gigantic triple-headed dragon-like creature. In Greek mythology, ‘Hydra’ was a serpent beast with multiple heads. Not only do the two look alike, and also share the skill of re-growing a head once it’s been cut off, ‘Ghidorah’ comes from the Japanese word for ‘Hydra’. Boom.

At this time, Monarch has also discovered the earth is hollow, calling back to a conversation he had in Kong: Skull Island about theoretical tunnels in the center of the earth that connect the world. It’s theorized the titans are each a representation of apocalyptic scenarios, who stay underground until the world needs ‘resetting’, bringing on mass-extinction events, which would explain why the ancient civilizations that used to build temples underground for these creatures no longer exist.

All titans respond to alpha titans, of which only 2 appear in this movie: Godzilla and King Ghidorah. The two battle for dominance after being awoken by terrorists who obtain ORCA, a device created by Monarch that emits frequencies to attract titans. The terrorists also awaken the iconic Rodan, the volcanic pterodactyl-like titan (‘fire-demon’) who, after trying to take on Ghidorah and loses, joins his side to fight Godzilla. Ghidorah then takes it upon himself to awaken all the other titans across the world, ensuring ultimate chaos. Mothra, the gigantic moth-type titan who was previously awoken by Monarch from her larva stage, aids Godzilla in his battle against Rodan and Ghidorah, defeating Rodan and sacrificing herself in a battle with Ghidorah to save Godzilla. Godzilla ultimately wins in the battle, reclaiming his title as the true alpha titan, in a scene that sees all the titans from across the world surrounding him and bowing (corny? Yes. Did we love it? Also, yes.) However, we all know that Godzilla isn’t the only alpha titan on the planet, and during the end credits and post-credits scene the filmmakers start gearing up to continue the franchise; another Mothra egg is discovered, the terrorists buy one of Ghidorah’s severed heads, some titans are beginning to congregate on Skull Island, and cave paintings show a battle between Godzilla and the other remaining alpha titan – Kong.

With the evidence of the cave paintings, it’s safe to say that the two titans have met before in this universe, but their inevitable onscreen battle in May 2021 is likely to be epic. While Kong and Godzilla have fought before in other films (King Kong Vs. Godzilla, 1963), the Monsterverse treats us to incredible animation, jaw-dropping imagery, and the sheer enormity and terror of the two titans created in this franchise gives me high hopes for the upcoming Godzilla Vs. Kong, and adds to long list of many other reasons we can’t wait for 2021.