Confession: I really liked Godzilla vs. Kong. And not just because of the giant monster action. I’ve spoken a number of times about the importance of theme in relation to storytelling. It’s the foundation for which all other elements are built. While GvK might have irrelevant characters and an absurdist plot, there are several prevalent themes that run throughout the entire film that give the story more of a punch than people were expecting. And there’s one theme that’s evident from the very beginning that surprised me.
But let’s back up a second and explain why. I majored in philosophy in college, which has two big schools of thought: ethics and metaphysics. Political philosophy is an offshoot of ethics, and it is here that GvK finds its core theme that drives the story forward. A huge topic in political philosophy is the idea of a morally just war. Politicians for millennia have debated the reasons why they should send their soldiers out to kill or be killed. The concept of morality is often brought into the picture, that they have a moral imperative to go to war. An even more controversial notion is the idea of a morally just pre-emptive attack. In this scenario, a country has the right to attack another country they are not technically at war with if they have undeniable proof that said country will soon strike first. An example of this is Israel’s Six-Day War when they preemptively attacked Egypt.
How does this tie into Godzilla vs. Kong? Well this is the core premise of the story. (SPOILER TIME) At the time the movie starts Godzilla had not been seen in 3 years, and the world had been fearfully waiting for him to resurface. No one knew if he would emerge as friend or foe, and so Apex saw it as their moral imperative to defend humanity by building Mecha-Godzilla in preparation. Godzilla saw this as a sign of aggression and attacked first. He believed he was under threat of attack, and this triggered a series of events that culminated in the movie’s climax, when Godzilla and Kong decided to no longer view the other as a threat and go their separate ways.
What do these series of events tell us? That the idea of a “morally just war” only leads to an endless cycle of violence. This is how the Cold War lasted as long as it did. One side continuously tries to up the other, which inevitably leads to conflict. Luckily, the concept of mutually assured destruction kept the Cold War from heating up, but this isn’t the case in GvK. Godzilla and Kong fight each other simply because they’re afraid the opposing force might attack first. It is only once Mecha-Godzilla, the embodiment of pre-emptive violence, enters the picture that the two titans realize the futility of their feud.
Is GvK high-art? Probably not. It’s all spectacle with practically no character. But that doesn’t mean they can’t build that spectacle on a poignant academic foundation that we could all learn from.