More than six decades after Godzilla roared onto the screen in Ishiro Honda’s 1954 Gojira, the beloved monster with the earth-shattering roar returns to the silver screen in Godzilla II: King of the Monsters, the 35th film based on the creature.
Directed by Michael Dougherty, the film stars Millie Bobby Brown, known for her role as Eleven in the hit Netflix series, Stranger Things, Golden Globe nominee Zhang Ziyi, Japanese star Ken Watanabe, actor and rapper O’Shea Jackson Jr. The ensemble cast also includes Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins, The Wolf of Wall Street star Kyle Chandler, and Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga.
The new story is an epic action-adventure that pits humans against Godzilla and many other monsters that were thought to have only existed in myths.
From his explosive, post-second-world-war awakening to his epic 2014 Hollywood rebirth, Godzilla has withstood the test of time by being reinvented through decades of social, political and ecological change.
“These are popcorn movies,” says Dougherty, “but they are filled with metaphor. And though the themes have changed over the years, they all leave you with the same warning: that if you push too hard against nature, nature’s going to push back.”
To give the monster apocalypse a human face, Dougherty enlisted an acclaimed, culturally-diverse cast, whose performances were critical to how believable the story is.
“For you to believe you’re seeing a golden, three-headed, two-tailed dragon encased in Antarctic ice, you have to believe the emotions of the people witnessing it on the ground, and this cast brought it,” Dougherty says.
“Everybody brings something unique and special and smart, and they take you into this crazy experience in a way that makes it feel real and human. They’re just awesome people, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had them as partners on this adventure.”
The film sees Stranger Things’ Brown making her feature film debut, taking on the role of Madison Russell, a physically challenging role that often required her to use her imagination while acting in front of a blue screen.
Although the creatures weren’t physically on set, their presence can still be felt throughout the filming process, thanks to detailed previsualization - a rough animation of what the final shot will look like.
“I’d be looking at a piece of tape or a tennis ball that’s supposed to be Godzilla’s mouth or something, and Cliff would shout: ‘OK, Godzilla’s coming! You have to turn around!’ says Brown. “But I accepted the challenge and loved it!”
“The whole experience was very exciting. The action scenes were super-fun - to watch and to do.”
A “roar generator”, or a supercut of the creatures’ classic roars, musical themes, and various sound effects, also helps directors elicit specific reactions from the actors.
Godzilla’s unmistakable roar, for instance, was often pumped out over a massive loudspeaker.
“I get so excited when he lets out his roar,” says Wanatabe. “It’s very strong, like a scream, but you feel sadness in it as well. It’s like he’s scorning humanity for our foolishness.”
For those among the cast and crew who grew up with the character, the film is a tribute to the beloved creature.
“I was starstruck, but not with a human castmate. “I was nerding out really hard,” says cast member and lifelong fan Jackson Jr. “You don’t have anything else terrorizing cities like Godzilla does. He is dominating and destroying, but he’s saving too. Speaking as a true fan, I always hated those humans who acted like Godzilla didn’t just save their [butt].”
“This movie could not have been in a non-fan’s hands,” he adds. “Godzilla means so much to the people of Japan, we must treat him with the utmost respect and do right by him.”