As long as something iconic exists, fans will defend it bitterly, for the better or worse. Everything that goes into that particular icon is cherished and loved. The core elements, simplicity, and the icon’s instant recognizability make it positively infectious. It approaches the levels of being sacred. Those elements that are familiar must never be changed. It would be blasphemous otherwise. Godzilla is a true pop culture icon, which is what audience goers want. For a kingdom of followers. And what is a kingdom without its king? The King of Monsters has had many incarnations, enemies, reasons for existing, and appearances. Godzilla’s look and roar are instantly recognizable. However, there was one particular outing that failed to live up to the legacy of the king. The 1998 outing lacked quite a few elements that make Godzilla so iconic. One of them is obvious, which made fans then and now bash that movie and design. However, is the design treated too harshly? As this new design has been named, Zilla sits in a complex due to his design. Yet, if separated from the Godzilla name, the hate may be diluted.
Godzilla’s appearance is upright, with thick thighs, a face that looks like a cross of a bear and an alligator, and dorsal spikes. A design created due to necessity as much as creativity due to the fact many films put a stuntman within a Godzilla suit. Yet, an iconic look nonetheless. Many following looks have had different variations – some small, some more dramatic – yet for the most part, Godzilla’s overall silhouette has stood the test of time. In 1998, the story changed. This design was horizontal, like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, much more slender, had a broader chin, no atomic breath, and looked much like a lizard. An appearance that instantly frustrated fans and critics, even today. However, if the Godzilla name was taken away from the design, the design itself is not bad! The new monster was shown to have speed and agility. With the more slender look, it sold the idea that this monster is super quick. Several real animals in the animal kingdom rely on their speed and agility to be their offensive and defensive traits. All those animals are quite slender, whether running on the ground or swimming. There is no reason why a giant monster would not have a similar build for its needs. His design helps him move faster in the water, but it helps him with something else: burrow. If that was a creative choice to add a new twist to the monster they got inspired by, then the narrow build made sense. Something bulky, wide, and enormous would been unable to burrow or at least seem highly unbelievable that it can. The slender design helps Zilla have a few means to escape or gain a geographical advantage in a fight. That makes this monster a little more versatile than the monster that inspired him.
What this design also does is make Zilla more dragon-like. One of the main ways to describe Godzilla is by defining him as a large dinosaur. Yet, they are similar in putting Zilla next to a dragon, especially one from the east. Zilla and dragons from the east have a long, serpentine body. They lack wings but are very much reptilian, very much monstrous looking. They have spikes running down their backs and have elongated heads. Versatile in their transversal. These similarities give it a rich connection to Asian culture since Dragons are regarded as peaceful guardian-type beings. Dragons are very much engrained into Asian culture. They are positive symbols. Although this appearance disappointed Toho to the point where they had the main Godzilla obliterate this version, this design found the balance of blending Godzilla traits with the traits of a significant mythical animal for the East.
However, this design never had a winning situation out in front of it. It is clear what has been said about the path that it found itself on. The new monster was a look that was inspired by Godzilla but went an entirely different drastic route. A monster that was boldly named Godzilla even when it was lacking significant elements. The film and this iteration were heavily scrutinized for attempting just that. What didn’t help either was the poor plot and story. Now, if the plot for the film was at least passible and the name of the monster was something else entirely, the narrative would be quite different. Instead of fans and critics saying, ‘That isn’t Godzilla,’ it would switch to ‘That’s basically Godzilla’. Fans will ignore the severe differences, and the similarities will be pointed out instead. The Godzilla franchise has cornered the market on Giant Monster films, so any film with a giant monster, regardless of design, will trigger Godzilla vibes.
Nonetheless, this design would be seen differently but still negatively. Audiences will still be pointing out how it is a cheap, shameful copy of Godzilla—discussing how it is Godzilla in exact detail—perhaps getting to the point where fans would be demanding for the film to be an outright Godzilla film with the same design. So, no matter which way the quality of the film went, no matter which way the design was welcomed, the result will be the same. Zilla had no winning situation. He was set up to fail from the start.
But with a design that is pretty solid on its own and with miracles of redemption, Zilla still has a place in the Godzilla universe. An area where he can claim that shot of redemption is within the Monsterverse. Now, rights for this version may not belong to Legendary, but the magic of business has lent characters to other universes that do not have full rights to them. It is quite possible for Legendary to gain or borrow the image rights to Zilla. As for his place in the Monsterverse, he could fit right in. The lore and, myths, and nature that exist inside that universe are rich, layered, authentic, and detailed. Each monster has its history, biology, origin, and role within nature. Why can’t the Zilla species be a cousin or a distant cousin to the Godzilla species like an alligator is to a crocodile? There is already speculation and theories suggesting Godzilla already has such relatives. Why not just give him one that already exists? As of now, the benevolent Titans are outnumbered by malevolent Titans. By adding Zilla, it at least puts another monster that is fighting for people, given in his own film, he was just a simple, innocent monster that was living its life until provoked, which then went on to fight other monsters in the animated show to protect humanity. What he could add to the Monsterverse is perhaps that he is one that constantly digs from the Surface to Hollow Earth since he is a burrower. Godzilla showed that Hollow Earth could be entered just by swimming into a wormhole or blasting a hole into it. Zilla could show it can be entered by digging into it, perhaps even showing other terrestrial entrance points. Maybe even creating his own, putting stress on Godzilla since he has to defeat any other Alpha Titans from escaping. There is room for Zilla.
For anything that is set up to fail, it deserves a second chance. Zilla needs such a thing. He has an excellent design if, and only if, it is removed from the Godzilla title. But there is potential for him, and the animated show revealed it. There is enough for him to be linked to Godzilla but enough to make him a character that could stand alone. He could offer more depth to an already rich universe. No matter the light in which he is seen, he does have a spot inside the Godzilla legacy.