There’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, ever since seeing Godzilla vs. Kong after rewatching a few of the older Godzilla movies (the entire Shōwa series is thankfully all on HBO Max). Godzilla has truly run the gamut tonally in his onscreen appearances. He’s been a villain who harbors the doom of Japanese civilization, he’s fought giant robots, he’s fought alongside a human-sized robot that can change into a giant robot, he’s fought giant apes, he’s fought monsters controlled by alien apes. He’s truly done it all.
Yet there’s one other character who’s had a similarly up and down history in terms of his onscreen appearances, and it’s none other than the Caped Crusader himself. Godzilla and Batman have a number of cinematic parallels where an era in one film franchise mirrors an era in the other all too well. That being said, I have next to zero familiarity with either characters’ history in comic books or cartoons, so I’m sure I can rely on our readers to be rather polite in the comments.
So why not compare the different depictions of the King of the Monsters with the different actors that have portrayed the Dark Knight on screen? Here is my interpretation of where the two align throughout film history.
1954/56 Godzilla – Ben Affleck
I’ll be honest I did some back and forth on this one. I strongly considered Christian Bale for 54/56 because the original Godzilla is just about as serious and as critically acclaimed as the movies have ever been. But 1956’s Godzilla, King of the Monsters having all the American reshoots that it did (with American actors and not Godzilla, but please, let me have this one) makes this the only Godzilla that seems to fit with Affleck. I also think you’d be hard pressed to find a Godzilla/Batman combo with less disparity in the amount of people they’ve killed. Both brooding and moody monsters.
Godzilla Raids Again; Mothra vs. Godzilla; and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster – Michael Keaton
These Godzilla movies aren’t consecutive sequels, as they’re broken up by the far sillier King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1962. However I think other than the original film, this is probably the most serious Godzilla was in the Shōwa series. I think that is true even when the movies, like Mothra vs. Godzilla with its twin fairies tended to be more than a little silly. Godzilla’s still a villain here at this point, and he’s threatening, though the color photography can’t hide the flaws in the costume and the models that the original’s black and white could. We’re a far cry from the famous Godzilla dance, or his tail-dragging drop kick, though. That couldn’t parallel better to the seemingly self serious but still extremely campy Tim Burton directed Michael Keaton Batman movies.
King Kong vs. Godzilla, Invasion of the Astro-Monster, and basically the rest of the Shōwa series – Adam West
This one is a no-brainer for me. This is Godzilla and Batman both in full camp mode. For most of the Shōwa period Godzilla was a superhero out to save the world from smog monsters, underground bug monsters that spit bombs, and a giant alien with a saw on his chest that’s controlled by alien cockroaches. He’s a good guy, even if he does threaten to hit his son at one point.
The costume was looking worse and worse for the majority of these movies, too. Hell, he even speaks English at one point, if you watch a dubbed version of Godzilla vs. Gigan.
But the similarities get more specific. One can easily look at Godzilla’s celebratory dance from Invasion of the Astro-Monster and compare it to the notorious (and wonderful, if you ask me) Batusi from Adam West.
And maybe it’s just me, but I’m reminded a bit of Adam West surfing when I see Godzilla slide around on his tail, or fly around puffing smoke in Godzilla vs. Hedorah. And if Jet Jaguar isn’t a perfect Burt Ward comp, then I don’t know what would be in this series.
Plus Godzilla fights a sea monster in Ebirah at one point, and Adam West’s Batman once fought off a shark with shark repellant. And it’s difficult to imagine a better Burt Ward replacement in the Godzilla series than Jet Jaguar.
Heisei Series (1984-1995) – Michael Keaton
I think we’re back to Keaton for the ‘80s and ‘90s here. It was certainly a welcome return to a more serious Godzilla after nearly two decades of schlock, and I suppose that’s exactly what one could say about Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and its sequel, Batman Returns, in relation to the Adam West series.
Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla (1998) – George Clooney
There may be nothing specifically bat nipple-y about this one, but I guess you could say the entire 1998 Godzilla movie is a pair of bat nipples. This was the last thing Godzilla fans wanted at the time, and for any Americans hoping for a new Godzilla that could be taken seriously, this didn’t do them any favors.
Really what it comes down to is these are the two entries that I think fans of the characters are least likely to look back upon fondly. Adam West and ‘60s and ‘70s Godzilla had their moments where they pushed things too far, but there are charming, redeeming qualities all over those entries that I just don’t think you have here.
Millennium Series (1999-2004) – Michael Keaton
I think there is perhaps a case to be made for Affleck here, especially with Godzilla: Final Wars taking us into never-before-seen amounts of destruction. But tonally, this Godzilla isn’t all that different from the ‘80s Godzilla. I guess Godzilla does have that giant body slam thing, which seems a bit more in line with West or Clooney, but really, this is a solid middle ground for the Godzilla character between the 1954 film and the early ‘70s. And I think Keaton’s sort of a middle ground between Adam West and Christian Bale, hence the parallel.
Shin Godzilla (2016) – Christian Bale
Reinventing Godzilla in 2016 was no easy task, especially with all the baggage the character had. Bringing Batman back to the limelight was similarly difficult for Christopher Nolan with Batman Begins, especially as the first theatrical live action Batman release since Batman and Robin. I think the comp here is just about perfect. Godzilla is given a slightly updated origin story, and the film plays out in a much more realistic way. Nolan’s commitment to stripping the Batman character of anything fantastical is echoed nicely in this ultra-realistic look at how the modern world would react if Godzilla actually turned up in 2016 and started wrecking shit. Shin is also the most critically acclaimed Godzilla movie since the original, winning Picture of the Year from the Japan Academy. And we all know The Dark Knight won an Academy Award. If only these two got to fight so Godzilla could realistically blast Bale to smithereens.
Monsterverse (2014-2021) – Val Kilmer
Godzilla here is still relatively serious, but the movies around him not so much. I seem to remember Val Kilmer’s Batman a little differently than most people do. I saw it as a genuine, committed performance, attempting to give depth to the character of Batman/Bruce Wayne, but it was continually let down by Chris O’Donnell, Tommy Lee Jones, and mostly just the script.
The same is largely true for Legendary’s Godzilla, and wisecracking Bradley Whitford or Julian Dennison. Godzilla’s treated with reverence and sincerity, but the films still managed to get more and more schlocky as they went along.
I think there’s a case to be made that 2014’s Godzilla doesn’t fit the Val Kilmer pairing, as this is certainly the most serious American Godzilla film we’ve had. But with a lot of people not liking that one all that much (I suppose I’m in the minority in declaring that my favorite American Godzilla), subsequent directors Michael Dougherty and Adam Wingard seemed to make a calculated effort to focus less and less on the human characters, and more on the monsters fighting. Not too dissimilar from a common complaint against Joel Schumacher’s films and how they focused less and less on the Batman character and more and more on the villains—it’s really just the results that have been different. The public has by and large eaten up Godzilla vs. Kong since its release so I guess it all worked out in the end.
So, really, there’s a Godzilla and a Batman out there for everybody. If you prefer an ultra-serious giant monster or a kid-friendly superhero—or anything in between—there’s bound to be a Godzilla and a Batman movie out there that you’d enjoy. In the meantime we’ll be praying the rosary that someday Robert Pattinson will leave the cape to don the suit of the King of the Monsters and bring in a whole new generation of fans.