Be aware there are spoilers aplenty for Godzilla: King of the Monsters below.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters has proven to be rather the divisive entry in the Godzilla canon. The epic monster smackdown didn’t fare so well with critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but the audience score currently sits at more than double the critics tally, and there are plenty of Godzilla fans out there who found a lot to love in Michael Dougherty‘s love letter to the king of monster franchises. That includes yours truly.
Which made it a delight to welcome the writer/director in for a recent episode of Collider’s horror podcast, The Witching Hour, where Dougherty was game for a full spoiler breakdown of the film’s ending and key moments.
First up, the filmmaker had a lot to say about the pivotal mid-film scene where Ken Watanabe‘s Dr. Ishiro Serizawa — the franchise’s de fact Godzilla fan stand-in — traveled to an underwater cave, where he sacrificed his life for Godzilla’s, igniting a nuclear bomb to revive the dying monster.
“Of all the characters from the 2014 film, Ken Watanabe’s characters Dr. Serizawa was the character I identified with the most,” Dougherty explained. “He was my favorite because, as much as I enjoyed the fun adventure of Aaron Taylor-Johnson doing his G.I. Joe thing with Godzilla, the idea of scientists who were aware of him and had been tracking and studying him really appealed to me. The concept of Monarch as a secret organization really appeals to me, because that’s my dream job, I would quit everything to go work for an organization like Monarch.”
Eager to dig into the inner workings of Monarch, Dougherty also wanted to explore Serizawa’s unique perspective on the monster. “So Serizawa being my favorite character, I wanted to flesh him out a bit more, get to know him, really get some insight into how he views Godzilla. The idea that he respects, fears, admires the creature. He sees Godzilla in a way that lines up with my own way of seeing the creature.”
That all teed up Dougherty’s decision to say goodbye to the character, and use his death as a mirror to the role that Dr. Serizawa played in the 1954 film. “I thought if there was any character who would be willing to sacrifice himself for Godzilla it would be Serizawa. And I thought it was a good flip to the role Serizawa played in the ’54 film. In that movie, Dr. Serizawa reluctantly uses the oxygen destroyer to kill Godzilla. So I thought it would be great if this incarnation of Serizawa did the opposite. What if he took a weapon of mass destruction down there to save and revive Godzilla.”
But Serizawa’s death isn’t just a character moment, it ties into King of the Monsters larger themes of finding a way to respect and co-exist with the forces of nature. “To me, the whole movie about us trying to understand Godzilla and even potentially form a relationship with him,” Dougherty said. “The concept of having a lion and the mouse moment between a human being and Godzilla where a tiny, little theoretically insignificant human being would b the one save Godzilla, it just seemed really appropriate thematically.”
The location of Serizawa’s death also ties in thematically — look closely enough at the markings on the walls and you’ll see evidence of a primitive society that worked with Godzilla. “In this mythology, man and monster co-existed,” Dougherty said. “We figured out how to bridge that gap, and we smartly formed alliances with Godzilla, Mothra, Kong, and maybe a few other more benevolent monsters and they helped ensure our survival.”
The message, Dougherty explained, was “to say that, if this existed in the past, if there was a civilization that learned how to peacefully coexist with Kaiju/nature, then hopefully, if we smarten up finally, then hopefully we can do the same thing.”
Speaking of Mothra, the filmmaker also touched on the heartbreaking moment when the Queen of Monsters sacrificed herself to save Godzilla in the big battle against King Ghidorah. In short, don’t expect that to be the end for Mothra. “Mothra never dies. Mothra always comes back,” Dougherty said with a smile. “That’s what I love about Mothra in all the Godzilla films, she represents that endless cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. She’s so far above the other creatures, and us as a stupid species of talking monkeys, that she sees the bigger picture. She knows that her self-sacrifice is a noble one that, ultimately, she wins. She knows that she will live on through her children.” But Dougherty doesn’t just think that it’s her lineage that lives on. “I like to think that her children have all the collective memories of the previous Mothras,” he said.
As for the film’s ending, the biggest reveals were saved for the film’s credits sequence, where easter eggs and hints pointing towards Godzilla vs. Kong. “It does lay the groundwork for the next chapter, for Godzilla vs Kong,” said Dougherty — who also co-wrote the script for Adam Wingard‘s upcoming showdown of the monster icons. But it turns out those credits weren’t originally mean to be end credits at all.
“Initially, that was an opening credits sequence,” Dougherty said. “It was traditional main titles and then it became main on ends, which is the latest trend. You no longer get to have opening title sequences because we don’t have the attention for those anymore… So for a while, all the sort of news stories and headlines were setting up the world and when we realized it was becoming main on ends, I thought this was an opportunity to create an epilogue of sorts. Because the film ends on such a weird cliffhanger where all the genies are out of the bottle, so to speak, that I thought it made sense to at least tell the story of the immediate aftermath of what happened.”
And what does that epilogue mean? For Dougherty, it’s about establishing that the end of the film wasn’t apocalyptic, but the start of something new and exciting. The teases in the credits allow the audience to “see that the world isn’t ending as much as it’s being born, ideally in a better form,” Dougherty explained. “The end of the film represents a world I would gladly bring about if ever given the opportunity, the idea of monsters roaming the planet, just part of our natural ecosystem.” Much like Vera Farmiga‘s anti-hero, Dougherty said he would “bring about that world without hesitation.”
For those looking to spot all the easter eggs and hidden details in the end credits sequence, Dougherty had one more tip: “I would also pay special attention to the redacted text.”
Finally, there’s the matter of that credits scene. Charles Dance‘s villainous Jonah Alan may have lost the Orca device, but he wound up in possession of one King Ghidorah head. Asked if that moment tied into the earlier reference that Alan was messing around with genetic engineering, Dougherty replied, “It ties into so many different things. The fact that Ghidorah is not of this earth, that can affect our ecosystems merely by existing, that he’s capable of regeneration.” He continued. “The possibilities with King Ghidorah’s severed head are endless. What happens to the flies that were picking at his flesh? It’s a giant possible ripple effect or domino effect.”
We’ll have to wait for Godzilla vs. Kong to find out just what that ripple effect might look like, but for now, you can watch the full spoiler interview with Dougherty in the video below.
For more on Godzilla: King of the Monsters, check out the following:
- ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ Post-Credits Scene, Explained
- Vera Farmiga & Kyle Chandler on ‘Godzilla’ and Acting with Monsters Who Aren’t There
- Michael Dougherty and Ken Watanabe on ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ & the Essential ‘Godzilla’ Movies
- Why It’s Good Godzilla Is a Chonk