What Is the 'Godzilla vs. Kong' Villain Mechagodzilla, Anyway?
The robot titan has a very strange history, going all the way back to 1974.
This article contains major spoilers for Godzilla vs. Kong.
The big showdown between the giant lizard and the giant ape in Godzilla vs. Kong was a bit of a bait-and-switch, with a third act twist that forces the two monsters to team up against a common enemy. That twist, as fans theorized and toy advertisements seemed to suggest, is the introduction of Mechagodzilla, a giant Godzilla-shaped machine famous in Toho's monster movie universe for being one of Godzilla's most powerful archenemies. Mechagodzilla has appeared in multiple movies based on the kaiju franchise, but this is the first time it has popped up in Warner Bros. and Legendary's Monsterverse, which began with 2014's Godzilla and includes Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Like the other titans, Mechagodzilla has been updated to fit into this cinematic universe, revealed to be the product of a greedy tech corporation, but the giant robot's origins are even wilder.
In its first appearance, Shōwa era film Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), Mechagodzilla is disguised as Godzilla, seemingly wearing a sort of skin that makes it look like the familiar kaiju lizard. But, while Godzilla has remained mostly peaceful towards humanity, the disguised Mechagodzilla starts wreaking havoc on cities, forcing the real Godzilla to come out of the ocean and fight it off. When Mechagodzilla finally reveals its true form, a shiny robot made of "space titanium" with laser eyes and rockets that shoot from its claws, Godzilla has to team up with another kajiu, the lion-guardian King Caesar, to destroy it. Like most of Godzilla's mortal enemies, Mechagodzilla is not a creature of Earth, but rather from space, created by the evil Simeon alien race from Black Hole Planet 3 (sick) to subdue humanity.
Mechagodzilla returns again in the sequel, Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), when the Simeons find its remains at the bottom of the ocean and rebuild it with the help of a mad human scientist and his cyborg daughter, into which he has implanted the new Mechagodzilla's control device. (And you thought the plot of Godzilla vs. Kong was difficult to follow?) It's defeated again in that movie, of course, but returns numerous times in later movies in the franchise. In Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), Mechagodzilla is a robot built by the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center to fight off Godzilla, using parts from Mecha-King Ghidorah, a villain from a previous movie. (A lot of the Godzilla franchise's monsters have robot versions, including King Kong, whose Mechani-Kong doppelgänger was so popular it was one of the inspirations behind Mechagodzilla.)
Later, in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003), Mechagodzilla was a war robot called Kiryu built by the Japanese military using the skeleton of the original 1954 Godzilla (yes, there are multiple Godzillas in this continuity), and piloted by a human soldier—a detail that Godzilla vs. Kong calls back to with the character Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri), the son of Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), a reference to the Serizawa character in the original movies. In Godzilla vs. Kong, Mechagodzilla was built by Apex Cybernetics, using the brainwaves extracted from the severed head of Ghidorah, the three-headed dragon alien Godzilla defeated in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. During the final fight against Godzilla and Kong, it's implied that Mechagodzilla breaks free of Serizawa's control when the remains of Ghidorah are awakened inside it.
Like the monsters themselves, the various incarnations of Mechagodzilla reflect the anxieties and pop culture villains of their times. In the '70s, mecha anime and the constant threat of an alien invasion from space were popular entertainment tropes; the culture landscape of the '90s and early 2000s was marked by global militarization and building economic anxiety, particularly during Japan's Lost Decade; and the American action movies of the modern era often position technological overreach as a looming threat, as the Internet and all the safety issues that arise with a digital world increasingly dominate our lives. Whether or not it's very effective in the movie itself, Godzilla vs. Kong's version of Mechagodzilla, a rampaging robot built by an overly ambitious tech company, is exactly the villain our fears of Silicon Valley's dark side would conjure up.