SPOILERS to follow for Godzilla vs. Kong
On a superficial level, a giant-monster movie like Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) could easily be dismissed as mindless spectacle. Even as a lifelong Godzilla fan, I freely admit that the plot of this latest entry in the franchise is simply bonkers! The suspension of disbelief required to be immersed in the action will likely be unsustainable for less forgiving moviegoers. Most of the human cast is superfluous. Their only task is to provide the exposition necessary to contextualize the intermittent monster battles. Despite all this, I heartily enjoyed the film. Like the previous “Monsterverse” installments, Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017), and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), this movie hit the sweet spot of nostalgia for someone who grew up on a steady diet of Japanese giant-monster (kaiju) films and other assorted “creature features.”
Surprisingly, a closer analysis of the themes and subtext of Godzilla vs. Kong reveals some unexpected connections with the teachings of Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical letter Laudato Si’, which stresses the human responsibility to care for nature. Godzilla vs. Kong is continuing an established franchise tradition of environmentalist commentary. In the film that started it all, Gojira (1954), the radioactive mutant dinosaur is a metaphor for the human and environmental toll of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the hydrogen bomb tests then being conducted by the United States on remote Pacific atolls. In the infamously psychedelic Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), Godzilla battles the Smog Monster, a literal incarnation of marine pollution. In a more recent Japanese entry in the series, Shin Gojira (2016), the plot is an obvious allegory for the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and its aftermath.
There are two fatal errors to avoid when discerning the proper relationship of humanity to nature. First, there is the notion that the very existence of human beings on the earth is an existential threat to the ecosystem and to the natural order. Some ideologues even hold the extreme position that the human population must be substantially reduced in order to “save the planet.” This was the worldview of the eco-terrorists in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, who released the extraterrestrial dragon King Ghidorah from imprisonment in Antarctica in order to “heal” the earth. In fact, the evil three-headed monster desired to exterminate life on earth and reshape the planet in its own image. Second, there is the opposite fallacy, which must also be rejected—the “myth of progress.” This is the conviction that all of humanity’s vexing problems will be solved simply through the application of technological advancements without any recourse given to ethical or moral considerations. This is the path taken by industrialist Walter Simmons and his company Apex Cybernetics in Godzilla vs. Kong.
Apex constructed a robotic doppelganger of Godzilla—Mechagodzilla—controlled telepathically using the brain patterns from one of King Ghidorah’s severed heads. The purpose of this technological terror is to kill Godzilla, Kong, and their fellow “Titans” so that humans will once again rule as the unchallenged dominant species on the planet. Mechagodzilla represents the apotheosis of the utopian delusion that looks to technology rather than to God to deliver ultimate salvation.
Technology is not inherently evil; it is after all the product of God-given human creativity, but technological advancements cannot provide solutions to environmental or societal problems if they are not guided by a sense of responsibility and properly formed consciences. As Pope Francis correctly points out in Laudato Si’, “A technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power.” Sinful humanity will try to abuse technology in an effort to advance itself in opposition to God. Original sin corrupts our relationship with technology just as it corrupts our relationship with the natural world. This malign influence is effectively symbolized in the film when the evil will of Ghidorah (who, as a multi-headed dragon, can be interpreted as an overtly diabolical figure) wrests control of Mechagodzilla from its human masters.
St. Paul teaches us that all the universe declares God’s glory, writing, “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made” (Rom. 1:20). Rather than respecting Godzilla and the other Titans as wonders of God’s creation, reflections of the Deity’s glory and might, Apex Cybernetics sees them as threats to human power and dominance, as rivals to be eliminated before mankind can reign supreme over the earth. Again, under the influence of original sin, nature is seen not as a gift from God to be tended with care but as an object to be controlled and dominated. God commanded the first human beings to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). But as Pope Francis rightly observes, “Our ‘dominion’ over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.”
Simmons and his collaborators at Apex ultimately suffer the fatal consequences of their hubris and greed and are destroyed by their own mechanical monstrosity. All humanity may soon experience a similar hard reckoning, blinded as we have become by technocratic and consumerist ideologies. Pope Francis warns, “If we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.”
As always, God is offering us a better way forward. In the words of Pope Francis, “The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.” It is imperative for us to experience a renewed appreciation for the doctrine of creation, understanding that the entire universe and all it contains is a gift from a loving and tender Father who will also expect from us an honest accounting of our stewardship. We might begin to see in the world around us the light of truth, not haunted by monsters to be feared and controlled, but populated by fellow creatures to be loved and respected.