CLUBBERS GUIDE TO MOVIES: GODZILLA
Okay, for those that know and those that don’t for that matter, I’m one of the biggest Godzilla fans ever known to mankind! If you see my movie collection and action figures, you’ll certainly get the picture! So when the talks and eventual release of Godzilla (2014) was official, you can imagine my glee. This is a reboot and a re-introduction of the classic, GOJIRA (1954) and from the interviews I read from Gareth Edwards, I knew he was going for the classic slow burn to a third act of holy crap proportions since it was all but promised this version was going to be new, different and would totally deviate from what I knew and had seen before. I admit I had to immediately and totally separate myself from the previous man in suit Toho films version; because that was the only way I could appreciate this iteration. Godzilla (1998) was a horse of a different color and obviously Roland Emmerich will be remembered for butchering the famed beast. Fortunately, that movie has been erased from my mind because that version no longer exists in my world.
Anyway, it is sixteen years later; we have another American attempt at Godzilla. This one mounted by Legendary, the company that put Batman back on track after its disastrous mangling by Warner Bros. Legendary isn’t a flawless company, but they do enjoy their spectacle – and trying to make that spectacle somehow resonate with the here and now. Modern audiences have been trained to be spoiled children that want it all, now! Films seem to have to start with an explosion and keep making every boom bigger than the last. Thankfully, this one has a really great atomic blast to get things started, but instead of following that up with an immediate appearance from Godzilla, the film settles down; it has a story to tell.
In a movie theater, I tend to be a patient viewer. I go wanting to have a great time obviously, but I actively work to empathize with the characters and imagine what it would be like to live and breath through the action they’re experiencing. It’s what I love about films; you have characters to experience the unfathomable with. Also, Godzilla movies are not just about Godzilla. Some are about how we react to the big G, but also how Big G reacts to the situation the he finds himself in.
Honestly, I was a bit worried about Godzilla; I didn’t want BIG G to be “the threat”. I wanted him to be a savior, a hero. Sure, he’s KING OF THE MONSTERS, but that’s because he keeps the other monsters in check. Japan has done just about everything under the sun with Godzilla. From comedic to terrifyingly serious takes and Godzilla has been villain and a hero. In the pre-hype press of the film, they had been emphasizing the original Godzilla film. I love that movie, but I’m kind of a lover of all iterations of Godzilla. I went to this new American Godzilla movie pretty much resolved that Godzilla was a villain.
NOPE! ABSOLUTELY NOT!!
They’ve made a heroic Godzilla movie! That isn’t necessarily how it starts out. I think only Ken Watanabe’s character Dr. Ichiro Serizawa saw Godzilla as some sort of natural check & balance on the Earth. A bit of a William Mulder type, he is obsessed with the legends of Godzilla and old newsreel footage that showed the real reason behind a series of Pacific atomic bomb tests. The legends about how these monsters once lived on a version of Earth that was more rich with radiation, we’re talking millions of years here, before the dinosaurs, turned the Godzilla in this iteration into a legendary beast of ancient wonder. He existed to keep his fellow atomic brethren in check if you will. Gareth Edwards I believe is channeling Spielberg in all the best ways.
The human star of the film is Ford Brody played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whose dad, Joe Brody, is played by Bryan Cranston. Cranston is in meltdown mode the entire film. He lost his wife, his facility, and he knows that what is happening in the beginning isn’t a natural occurrence. In trying to recover some data that was left at his old home in the “radiation zone” he and his son get caught up in what “they” were hiding! This sequence is big and atmospheric. This radiation zone is in the process of going back to nature. I’ve always loved this particular idea, that if we just stopped living in an area, the natural world would take it back. However, when Cranston takes a radiation reading, there isn’t so much as a tick. IT IS A LIE!!! A LIE!!!
Without going really into it, Gareth Edwards put a whole lot of effort into making everything count. To me, this was made as a serious story about ultimately silly fun things. Throughout the film, as they established the groundwork for the world they’re unleashing, my friend, David Ruiz and I would glance at each other with our big IMAX 3D glasses on and smile like the kids we truly are.
Of note, Alexandre Desplat’s score is kind of cool and fun. It’s more tonal and psychological than his work typically tends to be. In particular, the HALO drop – which I’ve heard some critics didn’t really get – is really made by Desplat’s score. It gives you that unsettled, “THIS IS A REAL BAD IDEA” feeling. Some may find this forcing your emotions; I say that’s the whole point of cinema.
The Battle of San Francisco is worth all the money you spend to see this film. It is an epic smack down. If you’re a Godzilla maniac, that wants to see Godzilla in that kind of visual effects showboat number, this is the scene for you. Me – it’s exactly what we want from an American Godzilla fight sequence. The final money shot of the battle? Just f’n savage, awesome, wow!
And what about the monsters?
The MUTOs, the bad monster(s) in this movie, just want to breed and it’s their time to. They are more creature and not just malicious monsters; they have a purpose and if they hadn’t chosen the beautiful picturesque San Fran area to mate in, we might’ve sat back and just watched, but when we see these gorgeous, crazy creatures nuzzle one another there’s no stopping them from getting together and reproducing. Unfortunately, that puts people in danger and people would be upset. There’s something real and honest about these critters. I like that the male flies and the female is just f’n enormous. The result of all this hanky panky, the egg sack, is frightening looking! I have to admit, I’m a creature sympathizer, I almost wouldn’t have minded the vaporizing of the Bay Area and consequential unleashing of what would likely have been the end of mankind. Hey, it is just a movie; I could’ve gone for that.
Godzilla is glorious. This is how you do a Godzilla movie; you actually have Godzilla in it (that’s kind of important). Instead of reinventing his look, they just worked on bringing Godzilla to life. The roar is near perfect. The atomic breath is blue and awesome – and used a bit less than I would’ve liked, but then again, Godzilla isn’t here to simply destroy, he’s here to take these MUTO motherf’ers down. The MUTO’s chatter is probably what woke him up and he’s definitely grumpy. The idea that they want to breed and make other noisy f’n MUTOs doesn’t sit well with him. Unfortunately, they don’t do the Godzilla happy dance in this flick; this is the sort of Godzilla that roars his triumphs. But hey, that’s cool.
Now, for those that bitch and moan on the Godzilla screen time, stop it!! The original classic in 1954 featured Godzilla for about 20 minutes of screen time and was more of a human story dealing with the harsh horrors of nuclear warfare (the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima). This clocks in at about 35- 40 minutes in a two hour plus run time. Edwards takes his time with the action producing a patient unwinding to a final 20 minute or so showdown.
The children in the film itself, they look at Godzilla with wonder. Like most of the characters. This creature is something nobody was expecting. It’s f’n Godzilla and he isn’t tearing up the city. He is pure hero mode in this – that said, he causes a lot of damage. But I’d say it probably matches the damage from the last Superman film.
Purists might asks, why the MUTOs and not creatures of TOHO Canon? Well, I’d say they wanted to have creatures that Godzilla could just f’n kill. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I never wanted Godzilla to kill MOTHRA or RODAN or GHIDORAH, actually, I only rooted for Godzilla to kill that Monster X beast. I like the monsters of the TOHO vault and the fighting, but they were always monsters of the Earth and without true deadly intent. Like, having MOTHRA cocoon Godzilla and haul him out to sea. The MUTOs, I have a mild empathy for mainly because it’s obvious they love one another and just want to raise a family. I mean. Who doesn’t?
Personally, the real excitement is that in this, Gareth Edwards sophomore outing made a deliberate spectacle with the proper amount of awe & wonder. Enough to quench our thirst for the ass-kicking jugular that gives the big G the kind of “FUCKING A” that you probably got from Tyrion’s court room monologue on Game of Thrones! Godzilla doesn’t need the elegance of Tyrion of course, he does take a bit after Perseus really, but Godzilla is finally a hero upon our shores!
Next time, the geek in me is hoping that they get a little crazier with the sci-fi of the TOHO universe and set the film 50 years in the future, so we can have crazy energy weapons, EMP-proof flying vessels, and Asian aliens that bring a monster of their own! This is the beginning of a new day for Godzilla and I want to see more!
LONG LIVE Godzilla!!!