Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
The hero's journey is a bit out of whack in Godzilla, and no, it's not because of the fire-breathing dinosaur with some serious anger management issues. That's par for the heroic course.
The difficulty in mapping the hero's journey onto Godzilla is because the story doesn't follow a solitary hero throughout. There's no Odysseus, Luke Skywalker, or Neo to lead us through the twelve steps. Instead, we follow the nation of Japan through the ordeal, with certain key figures helping us out along the way.
With that said, let's check out stage one. This stage introduces us to ordinary life of 1950s Japan. We also see how that world is disturbed when the Eiko-maru and Bingo- sink unexpectedly and their crews are lost. Although we are introduced to Ogata and Emiko and realize they will be important, this stage focuses on various people and institutions of Japan rather than individual characters.
Call to Adventure
The call to adventure comes courtesy of all those sinking ships. People are dying, property's being lost, and no one knows what's the cause. To prevent this from happening, the coast guard continues to investigate but to no avail.
Masaji cements the need for adventure with his words of warning. Drifting home to Odo Island on a raft, he raves about something monstrous in the ocean. And monstrous beasties typically don't take care of themselves.
Refusal of The Call
The Japanese don't so much refuse the call as they don't believe what the caller is telling them. This stage is represented by Hagiwara's interviews on Odo Island. The evidence and Masaji's testimony point toward a giant monster living in the ocean, noshing fish, sinking ships, and just being a grade-A jerk. But who's going to believe that such an evil, destructive creature could exist outside of Twitter?
The call to adventure intensifies when Godzilla rises from the ocean during a typhoon and stomps its way across Odo Island, destroying homes and killing villagers.
Meeting the Mentor
Class is officially in session when Professor Yamane shows up. We meet him during the Diet committee meeting on the Odo Island crisis. He's been hired to investigate the island and determine what caused the destruction there. Was it really a monster as the villagers suggest or simply a natural disaster?
Yamane studies the evidence for Godzilla, and he uses this knowledge to help the Diet committee understand what's going on. But let's not jump ahead of ourselves. Onward to the next stage.
Crossing the Threshold
The threshold represents a point where the hero commits to the journey and enters an unfamiliar world. That threshold is crossed when Yamane sees Godzilla on Odo Island. There's nothing ordinary about walking, roaring dinosaurs chilling on Pacific islands, and that seems like a problem you can't ignore by turning up the volume on your headphones.
So yeah, consider the threshold crossed.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
At this stage, the hero gathers allies, tests allegiances, and determines who the enemies are. Japan's allies come in the form of the mobilized military and characters like Ogata, who want to see Godzilla defeated. The nation's enemy is Godzilla, because obviously.
And allegiances are tested, too. Yamane, for example, doesn't want Godzilla destroyed but studied. Meanwhile, Serizawa has a weapon that could destroy the beast, but he worries that it would unleash a more devastating power upon the world.
Approach to the Inmost Cave
Godzilla rises from the ocean and attacks a small area of the coast, destroying a commuter train and a bridge in the process. This sample of the creature's strength tells Japan that it needs to prepare for the upcoming assault. In effect, it's a major challenge represented by "the inmost cave," hence this stage's odd sounding name.
The military mobilizes to defend against the creature and builds a giant electric fence around the coast line. The populace is evacuated inland. And Yamane's called in to help them determine Godzilla's weakness—although his answer is basically to shrug his shoulders in an "I dunno" fashion. Seriously, Yamane, you had one job to do.
The ordeal stage contains exactly that, an ordeal, and this one is represented by Godzilla's assault on Tokyo. The King of the Monsters destroys buildings and crushes people with its giant size, but the real terror comes when it unleashes its atomic breath on the cityscape. By the end of the rampage, Tokyo is little more than fiery rubble, and none of the military's tactics appear to have harmed the beast. Things are not looking good….
Reward (Seizing the Sword)
The sword is the reward seized by the hero after facing death, and it's something he'll use to complete the adventure and return the world to its ordinary state. In Godzilla, the characters get much more than a sharp bit of steel; they get a freaking Oxygen Destroyer.
During this stage, Emiko spills the beans and lets Ogata know that they already have this treasure/weapon of mass destruction. It's with Serizawa.
The Road Back
The road back is the hero's last push to complete the adventure with the treasure from the previous stage. This stage comes when Ogata convinces Serizawa to use the Oxygen Destroyer to whoop on Godzilla. Serizawa's only convinced to do so once the urgency of the situation is shown to him. It's either watch Godzilla destroy the rest of Japan or risk the Oxygen Destroyer falling into the wrong hands and wiping out humanity. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
The resurrection stage is the moment of the hero's last test and his rebirth concluding said test. The final test for Japan is when Ogata and Serizawa enter the ocean to confront Godzilla with the Oxygen Destroyer. Using the "sword" seized a few stages back, they manage to defeat the beast, but Serizawa sacrifices himself in the process. Although he's not literally resurrected with new life (bummer), Serizawa's death does represent new life for Japan. Godzilla's been defeated, and the Oxygen Destroyer no longer poses a threat, either.
Return with the Elixir
In this stage, the hero returns home after his journey. In Godzilla Japan returns to an ordinary, Godzilla-free world. Emiko and Ogata can now be together, signifying new life for the nation. And there's hope that the world has been transformed, as Godzilla's presence may make nations think twice about proliferating nuclear weapons. But Yamane warns that the evil will never be defeated so long as nuclear weapons persist (oh, and so long as box office take remains profitable).