Films and television shows often borrow the clout of mythological gods and immortals in their stories. Powerful beings from antiquity are recognizable as anachronisms. They juxtapose their purpose as superstition with modern ideology that purports to have outgrown the need for folklore. In some films, this comparison is made manifest by placing ancient gods in the modern day with their powers intact, demanding to be worshipped. Modern, mortal characters' interactions with these corporeal gods and mythical entities frequently prove dangerous. These super beings out of time represent an epoch where mankind is dominated by fear and ignorance. Contemporary humans fear the threat that the past may have on a culture separated by thousands of years of reasoning and change. Ancient gods desire terror and dominion -- two concepts modern Western societies violently object to conferring on a single, unchecked being. Films and television series featuring malicious gods in modern times have a counter to these dangers.
Popular champions are chosen to enforce unspoken rules against baleful bygone beasts and menacing ancient deities. Elite teams of technology-equipped characters combat the fear of the past to protect the present day. When vengeful gods return to Earth, humanity wishes that they would return to the words of legends and myth. The authority of these deities is invalid, and consensus declares them false gods. In response, teams of modern myth fighters help the gods return to the protection of forgotten memory, particularly in science-fiction. They police the gods. These characters are god cops.
On film, the concepts of policing dangerous super entities dates back to early filmmaking. During the height of the Great Depression, a cultural movement revives the concept of universal egalitarianism. Spread by international organizations like the League of Nations, the concept proposes that all people are equal if not equitable. This movement counters the bolstering of Eugenics, the iniquitous attempt to breed genetically perfect people, in the United States and the rise of Fascism in Europe. A portion of cultural iconography in the early 1930s moves away from dominating, supercharged beings hoarding power. The mistakes of a nightmare past are confronted in a modern context with super beings placing themselves above a society. Specifically, films depict the fear and rejection of mythological super men.
The Universal Studios monster films of 1931 illustrate this movement against extant gods. Henry (not Victor) Frankenstein and Dracula are both men given mystical, god-like powers. They also are brought down by the efforts of groups of common individuals policing their contemporary societies.
The 1931 film Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff, based mostly on the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley novel, gives an arrogant doctor the god-like power over life and death. Dr. Frankenstein's family, friends, and Fritz warn him of the dangers and consequences of abusing such a supernatural power. Frankenstein ignores them and constructs and animates a mute, clumsy man. After demonstrating his powers Frankenstein (in the uncensored version of the film) proclaims, "Now I know what it feels like to be God!" The "monster" eventually goes on an accidental rampage, killing numerous victims. The local community forms an angry mob and passes judgment on the attempted god and his creation. They trap the guilty party in an innocent windmill and burn it to the ground.
Whereas the Shelley novel (subtitled The Modern Prometheus) is about the dangers of unrestricted scientific experimentation and obsession, the 1931 adaptation is a horror film filled with scary monsters and power hungry madmen. By playing god, Frankenstein places himself above society. The mob acts as the police (with a few actual constables in the mix) and attempt to bring the equality of the society back in order by eliminating a modern, mythological menace.
The 1931 version of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, mostly adapted from the Bram Stoker novel, has similar themes. Count Dracula, the original Carpathian shape shifter, has magical powers that enthrall and devour believers. He is a nearly immortal and undefeatable mythological demigod. Dracula does what he wants as none can oppose him. Circumstance throws together two champions, John Harker and Professor Van Helsing. The two combat Dracula and his minions. Using nothing but their wits and tools constructed by Van Helsing, the pair eventually but temporarily defeat the mesmerizing Count while he slumbers.
Count Dracula places himself above society and has the ability to dominate ordinary humans. Harker and Van Helsing act as the god cops by removing the threat. Dracula represents an anchor of fear that prevents society from changing. The god cops ensure that external deities do not interfere with the lives of ordinary human beings.
These films show efforts against neo-mythological demigods that are ad hoc. Some filmmakers take this concept of police protecting society against gods a step further. Film stories contain organizations established for the sole purpose of combating supernatural and mythological threats to mankind. These groups of god cops have advanced technology that is meant to remedy the inequity of a mortal versus immortal fight. Through determination and grit, these teams manage to overcome insurmountable odds and bring the Cosmos back into order.
The 1984 Ivan Reitman film Ghostbusters contains a quartet of jumpsuit wearing god cops who specialize in taking down mythological beasties. In the film, 55 Central Park West in New York is a building designed by cult leader Ivo Shandor for the purpose of channeling psychokinetic energy (or PKE) into a celestial portal. This portal opens a gateway to a nether realm where the ancient Sumerian shape shifter Gozer the Gozerian waits. Gozer intends to scourge humanity for its wickedness. The Ghostbusters disagree with this plan of action.
Initially, the effects of the PKE disturbance result in an influx of ghosts in Manhattan. The Ghostbusters design and utilize unlicensed nuclear accelerators (later called Proton Packs in Ghostbusters II) to capture spooky haunts and make a small profit off the endeavor. However, capturing ghosts is merely treating the symptom. Ghostbusters Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler, and Winston Zeddemore infer that something is wrong. Egon explains the problem using the analogy of a giant Twinkie. Giant Twinkies are apparently bad. The team investigates the actions of two demigods known as Zuul and Vinz Clortho -- more simply known as the Gatekeeper and the Key Master. The demigods are in service to Gozer and open the portal to Gozer's realm.
The Ghostbusters confront Gozer to prevent "real wrath-of-God type stuff" from destroying New York. Like a good god cop, Ray Stantz orders Gozer away by saying, "As a duly-designated representative of... New York, I order you to cease any and all supernatural activity and return forthwith to your place of origin, or to the next convenient parallel dimension." Gozer rejects the ultimatum, asking if the Ghostbusters are gods. Ray answers negatively, causing Gozer to lash out at them. Winston informs Ray that the correct answer to such a question is always "yes." The Ghostbusters recover and show Gozer how they "do things downtown." They first defeat the Traveler, a destroyer in the shape of a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Next they eliminate Gozer by creating a "total protonic reversal." Gozer is defeated, society is saved from ancient gods, and the Ghostbusters stay vigilant for the next godly threat (Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters II).
Symbolically, the Ghostbusters are the defenders of a modern, technological society that use science and reason to defeat beings that crave terror. Fear in the film takes a tangible form with the ghosts. The ghosts radiate out from Gozer's imminent arrival as a wave of terror to make humanity more susceptible to control. By using experimental science to capture ghosts, the Ghostbusters demonstrate that society has developed to a point where mythology and technology meet. Modern humanity has the same capabilities as ancient gods. They have the ability to choose which gods to accept and reject. This enforcement process falls to the god cops.
The Hellboy films, based on the Mike Mignola comic books, expands the god cop unit from four friends living in a fire house to a sizable United States governmental bureau. The Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development has a charter that is intended to specifically confront ancient evils that encroach on modern times. A crucial figure in this organization is a bright red and friendly demon nicknamed Hellboy (originally Anung un Rama). Hellboy, the amphibious Abe Sapien, and pyrokinetic Liz Sherman make sure that the past remains dead and pressed between the pages of Illuminated Tomes.
In the first Hellboy film, Hellboy acts to prevent the release of the ancient evil Ogdru Jahad from an inter-dimensional space prison. His team fights the immortal Rasputin, a clockwork man, and the self-replicating hell beast Sammael in their efforts to keep the prison sealed. The B.P.R.D. utilize the latest in paranormal research and technology in their activities. Suffering severe losses, the B.P.R.D. travels the globe and defeat Rasputin. In the process, a single Ogdru Jahad escapes the prison but is quickly dispatched. The B.P.R.D. is victorious in policing ancient gods. Humanity is safe for the time being.
In the Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the separation between humanity and mythology is more clearly defined and protected. A supernatural threat once again attempts to eliminate humanity, but other supernatural creatures co-exist peacefully with humanity. The last of the Elf Royalty wishes to recover and command the Golden Army, composed of indestructible robots. He becomes the focus of the B.P.R.D.'s enforcement after he declares war by releasing Tooth Faeries, flesh eating pixies with a taste for dentin, in a human area. Over the course of the investigation, the B.P.R.D. and Hellboy encounter forgotten creatures living underneath and apart from human society. These creatures are no longer feared by humanity and pose no threat. The B.P.R.D. largely ignore these beasts and entities, ranging from Trolls to the Angel of Death. As police, the B.P.R.D. and Hellboy are only concerned when society is disrupted.
The Elf prince Nuada forces a confrontation between humanity and gods by sprouting the last of the ancient elemental forest spirits (like Totoro but giant, green, and less fluffy). A life giving forest erupts in the heart of an urban area, emphasizing that ancient gods are out of place in a modern context. The forest god is innocent in this regard but remains a threat. Lives are at risk as the confused forest god thrashes about in a hostile environment. The painful duty of the police is to restore order to the chaos, and Hellboy has to make the decision to destroy the last forest god. Nuada chides that its kind will never be seen ever again.
Hellboy himself is an ancient demigod and therefore enforceable by the god cops. The red demon wishes to join human society but is kept separated from ordinary humans. His existence is kept hidden as the B.P.R.D. leadership believes that he still represents fear and domination. By definition, a police officer is meant to be part of the community that they protect and serve. Yet, Hellboy is disliked for being different. Hellboy's situation reveals that ancient god characters have three options when dealing with a modern society: conquest, avoidance, and assimilation. The choice for assimilation with Hellboy relies on his being a demigod that fights demigods. His identity of being on the side of humanity depends on his being a police officer that enforces rules against ancient gods. As long as there are ancient gods to defeat, Hellboy remains a crucial part of the B.P.R.D.
Not content to wait for mythical threats to threaten humanity, some film and television god cops travel to the heavens to fight the gods in their homes: the heavens. God cops travel through outer space and enforce the celestial domain. These god cops take on a proactive defense stance that means they go on the hunt for false gods, terror deities, and supernatural evils.
In the 1994 Roland Emmerich film Stargate, ancient Mediterranean and Egyptian gods are revealed to be a race of aliens that take advantage of superstitious humans by enslaving them. These parasitic aliens visit Earth using a celestial portal (like the ones used by Gozer and the Ogdru Jahad). This ring based travel device is the titular Stargate. At some point in the distant past, humanity symbolically overthrows its fears and enters an age of enlightenment by expelling the Egyptian god Ra from Earth (interpretively retold by Emmerich in the film 10,000 B.C.). They finalize this overthrow by burying the Stargate and allowing the truth about Ra to pass into obscure legend.
20th Century archaeologists and scientists recover and reactivate the Stargate and discover its purpose. A team of Air Force special operators and an allergic nerd are sent through the portal to assess the threat posed by false gods that humanity had once hoped forgotten. The team of god cops travel to the planet Abydos and investigate Ra's activities. The group finds a society of slaves that live in fear of Ra's advanced technology. Human enforcers wearing Horus and Jackal helmets use energy weapons to keep the people in line. The planet is a pocket of what modern Earthlings fear would happen if an ancient god, false or not, attempts to reassert control over Earth.
The Air Force operators determine that Ra is an imminent threat to Earth and take actions to bring him to justice. At first, the plan is to detonate a nuclear warhead against the Stargate to disable its use, preventing access to Earth. The problem is that the Stargate is nearly indestructible. Also, Ra can travel by faster than light spaceship. The leader of the Air Force team, Colonel Jack O'Neil, makes the last minute decision to free the slaves of Abydos and assassinate Ra. Colonel O'Neil wishes to punish Ra for millennia of human suffering.
These interplanetary god cops take the hunt to the heavens but raise a host of issues involving cultural sensitivity, self-determination, and the authority and validity of pursuing fugitive gods across the stars. Colonel O'Neil does not care about these consequences because he believes that he is never going to return to Abydos.
In the spin-off series Stargate SG-1, Colonel O'Neill (now with two Ls and more sarcasm) ends up dealing with the consequences of being a god cop on a weekly basis. Years after the events of the film, another ancient Egyptian god named Apophis attacks Earth using the Stargate. The assault spurs the United States government to revive the defunct Stargate program. While retaliating against Apophis, Colonel O'Neill and his team discover that the aliens posing as gods, known as the Goa'uld, rule much of the galaxy on the backs of human slaves. The Stargate program connects Earth's Stargate to an interlinking system of Stargates that leads to thousands of planets. Teams of Air Force special operators and Recon Marines are formed to explore the galaxy and expand the influence of Earth.
Under the auspices of defending Earth, Colonel O'Neill and the vanguard team of SG-1 spend ten years policing the stars. Having a strong distaste for the injustices of the Goa'uld, SG-1 attempts to exile, imprison, or kill any pretender gods that threaten humanity. The team wants to ensure that mythology has no physical existence, anywhere. To Colonel O'Neill, malicious ancient gods need to live in the words of incorporeal stories -- disregarding any aftermath of returning them to such a state. After toppling star empires led by these false gods, SG teams and Earth exist as an interim government to the galaxy, through necessity and imposition. The consequences of eliminating ancient mythology causes cultures to shift and new conflicts to erupt. The SG teams expand their purview to a great degree as galactic cops on top of being god cops.
Like Hellboy, the SG teams find identity in the enemies that they fight. The SG teams are only good god cops when they are "righteously" fighting gods for the benefit of modern mankind. The justification for their police actions is that modern society and ancient terror gods cannot co-exist. The SG teams work to modernize galactic societies in order to legitimize their liberating humans and causing the near genocide of a space faring species. Their work is never complete. After several seasons, the SG teams set out for new galaxies where new gods exist to sanction. The purpose of a god cop is to mitigate and eliminate any entity that uses supernatural abilities to feed on fear and faith.
In the reboot series six of Doctor Who, the Doctor becomes a god cop after he encounters an alien that feeds on fear and faith in the episode "The God Complex." The Doctor with his companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams are trapped in a holographic Labyrinth that takes the form of a giant hotel. The group encounters other inhabitants trapped in the hotel and quickly learn that a monster stalks the halls. The survivors explain that occupants of the hotel slowly lose their minds before babbling praise to an imaginary deity and being eaten by the monster. Also, every guest has a hotel room that contains their deepest fears.
The Doctor puzzles what incoherent worship has to do with a monster roaming the halls and quickly solves the riddle. He makes an assumption and poisons the monster by causing Amy Pond to lose her faith in him. The Labyrinth deactivates revealing the monster in the maze to be a Minotaur (and not Jareth the Goblin King). The Doctor explains that the alien Minotaur is descended from a species known as the Nimon. This species of alien feeds on belief. Similar to the Goa'uld (but predating Stargate SG-1 by eighteen years), the Nimon travel the galaxy and use their technology to pose as gods to superstitious civilizations. The false gods then drain the planet of all its energy. The Doctor states that these dominated species eventually became technologically advanced enough to build weapons to defeat and expel the Nimon (like the rebellion on Earth in Stargate). The hotel Labyrinth is part of a spaceship prison that abducts people of faith to be used as food for the Minotaur, the last prisoner of an ancient rebellion against a mythical god.
The Doctor mourns the loss of the unintentional false god. He acknowledges that there is another aspect to interacting with corporeal gods cast among the stars.
In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?," Captain James Kirk and the Crew of the Enterprise make the same discovery as the Doctor. The USS Enterprise finds itself captured in orbit of Pollux IV by a being claiming to be the ancient Greek god Apollo. Captain Kirk and an away team beam down to the planet to investigate. They are greeted on the surface by an ancient Greek-style temple and a golden laurel wearing man. The man reasserts his status as the ancient Greek god and begins to make demands. He crave worship and desires for the crew of the Enterprise to build a civilization whose only directive is to adore Apollo. Captain Kirk objects to being enslaved and attempts to depart and otherwise disable Apollo. The attempts fail, and Apollo demonstrates his god-like powers: hurling lightning, becoming really tall, and remotely deactivating the Enterprise's weapons.
Captain Kirk formulates a new plan to weaken and distract Apollo. He starts a conversation. Through the dialogue, Kirk learns that Apollo is who he claims to be. Like with Stargate, Apollo is a former member of an interplanetary group of explorers that visited Earth three thousand years ago. The locals misinterpreted their presence as the Greek gods, and the explorers played along in order to benignly shepherd humanity towards technology and art. With their mission accomplished, the explorers depart Earth and settle on Pollux IV to research ascension to a higher plane of existence. Apollo stays behind as he prefers the temporal joy of being loved and worshipped.
Kirk summarizes why humanity fights the gods of its past in a telling speech that provokes Apollo. He states that humanity has outgrown the need for gods. Through civilization and technology, humanity both rivals and surpasses the gods of its mythology. Oddly, Kirk also references monotheism and the Judeo-Christian belief system at this point (referring to "The One"). He claims that mankind once needed gods to make sense of the Universe. By ancient standards, every human is now a god, and the title takes on a new meaning. Apollo is distraught by these claims and is spurned by a female crew member. In his distress, Kirk and Spock target and destroy Apollo's source of power. Apollo's temple crumbles to pieces.
Through tears, Apollo admits that there is no longer room in the galaxy for gods. He asks Athena and the Greek pantheon to take him out of physical reality. In response, he vanishes, exiting an incarnation and returning to the safety of recollection. Kirk laments having to vanquish the ancient god, despite his trying to enslave the Enterprise crew. He states that gods like Apollo inspired mankind to their current level of greatness. He ponders, "Would it have hurt us... to gather just a few laurel leaves?" Doctor McCoy then raises an incredulous eyebrow at Kirk, questioning the sentiment and quirkiness of the musing.
Films and television use the concept of legendary deities in a peculiar way. These godly characters are sometimes transplanted from their time to the modern day. They attempt to serve the same role that that fill in ancient times: dominating humanity. Their supernatural abilities make them the villain of the story. Human champions are taken from the present day to police the manifest mythology, attempting to prove the greatness of present day society and culture.
In this way, these films explore how the role of mythology and deities has changed. The films claim that egalitarianism, self-determination, and technology enable humanity to choose its own gods. At times, the level of technology in film allows humanity to act as deities themselves. The conflict in movies is driven by ancient gods misunderstanding contexts. They attempt to climb to a position on dominance over a society. Characters serving as god cops protect humanity from malevolence incarnate in an effort to prevent history from repeating itself.