Let Them Fight
I wheedled my way into seeing the new Godzilla film while on vacation in San Francisco because, come on, how many opportunities do I get to see Godzilla trash the city I’m in at the time? It wasn’t in IMAX or 3D, but the screen at the Metreon was plenty big. (I’m told that the Metreon is the premier movie theater in SF, and thought that the filmmakers missed an opportunity by not producing an exclusive cut of the film with a shot of the monsters crashing against the mall in which it’s housed, complete with an appropriate THUMP on the soundtrack.)
Overall, I enjoyed it. It may not be the Godzilla My Dreams, but it certainly demolishes the previous attempt at an Americanized ‘Zilla. I agree with the general gist of the reviews: bland human characters, and not enough Godzilla. The former is endemic to the giant monster genre; I’m hard-pressed to think of a single interesting human in a kaiju flick. (UPDATE: I was later embarrassed to realize that I’d overlooked the tragic Dr. Serizawa in the original Gojira. The character even gets a namesake in the new film.) I wouldn’t go so far as to declare it a feature rather than a bug, but neither can I complain too loudly about it.
The relative lack of Godzilla is a bit harder to reconcile. I welcome restraint in the “more is more” era of the modern blockbuster film, yet there was a point in which I was thinking that the film was a continuation of its own marketing campaign, which perpetually teased those who wanted a good look at the monsters. I did appreciate the slow build, but I think that once we got the first full reveal of the Big G in Hawaii, it was high time to stop playing coy. Smash cutting away from the big fight to Elizabeth Olsen’s kid watching the carnage on the living room TV? Cute, but perhaps a bit too clever. People always credit Steven Spielberg with holding back on the shark in Jaws, but later interviews revealed that the real reason it largely remained hidden is that the mechanical prop didn’t work. We don’t have that problem anymore.
Now for the good stuff. Unlike the disastrous 1998 American film, Godzilla ’14 respects the character and does him right. The monster-on-monster action, when it does come, is thrilling. Both the Big G and his “Muto” opponents display personality that makes them more than dumb brutes. And the movie succeeds at one of the most challenging aspects of the kaiju genre: integrating the vastly different scales of humans and monsters. Like Cloverfield, much of the destruction occurs from the people’s-eye view. There’s a shared moment between Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character and Godzilla himself that gave me a happy chill.
That’s it for the non-spoilers. Join me under the photo for all spoilers, all the time.
One thing that I did not suspect at all was that the script would skip past the conception of Godzilla as a malign force or indiscriminate destroyer to something approaching his heroic mode of the ’70s. While the military would be quite happy to exterminate him along with the Mutos, the latter are clearly viewed as the primary threat. The U.S. Navy goes so far as to escort Godzilla to the final battle in San Francisco.
Godzilla is positioned as a defender of nature/Earth, much like Mothra or the ’90s version of Gamera. He’s not quite Godzilla, Friend of Children (though we do get a young Japanese boy who, surprisingly, is not named “Kenny”); his approach to Hawaii creates a tidal wave resulting in massive destruction and loss of life. Yet, when the San Francisco news media proclaims him as “Savior of (most of) Our City,” it’s without irony. In that regard, it’s a more optimistic film than the most recent take on Superman.
Oh, and I couldn’t wrap this up without mentioning the return of Godzilla’s atomic breath, which the makers of the ’98 ‘Zilla found too hard to swallow. When the spines on his tail began to light up, I mentally punched the air. And, of course, there was Godzilla’s finishing move against the Queen Muto, a use of his breath I don’t believe we’ve ever seen before!
All in all, it was a good film and I’m glad to see it doing well enough to immediately green light a sequel. Go, but temper your expectations for the first hour and save some popcorn for the final reel.