I have been waiting for this for a long time. I am a hardcore Godzilla fan. I’ve seen all the Godzilla movies, I’ve seen all the Toho movies, I’ve even seen the, ahem, 1998 American version. I own all the movies, even that last one, and many of them I owned before they were legal in this country. That’s how hardcore I am. So you can imagine I was thrilled for the newest incarnation of Godzilla coming out this week. We’ll see. Meet me after the jump for my spoiler-filled review of the 2014 Godzilla.
To say I hated the 1998 Godzilla by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich would be an understatement. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, even though it is. I love bad movies. I will watch Sharknado whenever I pass it on the dial, and hey, I’m a Godzilla fan, so bad movies are a way of life for me. But there has to be some respect for the source material, some reverence for the character and its origins. The 1998 film had none of that, yes, none of that, and Matthew Broderick.
I was so excited in the months leading up to that movie, and I had such high hopes. After all Hollywood was making a Godzilla movie, with a big budget and two folks known for their disaster and special effects flicks. It would be a dream come true, right? Boom, no. It wasn’t bad as a bad movie, but it wasn’t Godzilla. They might as well have just called it something else as it resembled the Big G about as much as a rat resembles an octopus. When Godzilla Final Wars came out and the real Godzilla defeated the creature from this movie, I cheered.
You can imagine my trepidation when I heard that America was getting a second chance to make a new Godzilla movie, sixteen years after that debacle. The first tidbits that came out were about the size of this new Godzilla and how we probably wouldn’t see him until the movie actually came out. These techniques (remember the horrible “Size Matters” promotional campaign?) were used to push the ’98 flick as well, and I was not happy. This was not boding well.
You can read about some of my fears and hopes over at Voluted Tales if you click here. In all honesty though, I really wasn’t all that worried when I heard who the director would be – Gareth Edwards. He directed a film called Monsters a few years ago. The flick had its faults, it’s true, but for the most part it showed creativity and potential, and a guy who had a good sense of giant monsters and the destruction and havoc they cause. Our own JP Fallavollita takes a look at Monsters here.
Okay, I did mention there’d be spoilers, right? If you haven’t seen the 2014 Godzilla yet and don’t want to be spoiled – you’ve been brave so far, but here’s where you should stop reading. Things will be spoiled henceforth. Okay, ready? If you’ve seen any of the very cool trailers for Godzilla, you have seen Bryan Cranston’s part of the movie. That’s all you get. His role is very similar to Janet Leigh’s in Psycho. Get there late and you’ve missed him, and that’s a shame, because he’s one of the best parts of the flick.
The main protagonist of the film, besides Godzilla, who should have been the protagonist (but more on that later), is Crantson’s son, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He’s the lead, and much like other films where he’s been the lead – the Kick-Ass movies – he’s forgettable. Even if the actor playing this role had actually had some charisma, I don’t think I would have liked him any way. Ford Brody is not a particularly likable role. He doesn’t believe his father, he can’t keep promises to his wife, he’s a mess. I worry now for the Avengers sequel as he’ll be portraying Quicksilver…
On the good side, cast-wise, there’s Ken Watanabe. He’s one of my favorite actors, and usually conveys more charisma standing still than I think Taylor-Johnson could on his best day performing. Watanabe is standing still and mournful and serious a lot here, but he’s damned good at it, and steals the screen when he’s on it. He plays Dr. Serizawa, a name that should be recognizable to many G-fans out there as the scientist who created the oxygen destroyer, the weapon that originally killed Godzilla in the original 1954 classic, and was mentioned more than a few times in later films of the franchise.
You can see the outlines of the plot in the previews. Nuclear tests in the Pacific in the 1950s were not tests at all but attempts to destroy a giant monster alternately called Godzilla and Gojira (his Japanese name). Many ‘natural’ disasters appear to have actually been monster attacks with the governments of the world covering them up. Bryan Cranston’s character, who loses his wife in one such nuclear reactor ‘accident’ suspects, but is written off as a conspiracy nut, even by his own son.
When two monsters, nuclear parasites, one male and one female, surface and threaten to feed on nuclear sources, it is suggested that this Gojira, assumed to be some ancient apex predator or god who hunts these parasites should be summoned to fight the creatures. This is all very unclear. It is a weak origin story if any at all, and the human story is weak comparatively to the monster story, which is also sadly weak itself. This thing just doesn’t hold together at all.
When Are They Going to Get to the Fireworks Factory??!?
The biggest problem of the film? Well, remember the Poochie episode of “The Simpsons,” called “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show“? Remember when everyone is seated around the Simpson living room to see the debut of new character Poochie? There’s the promise of cartoon shenanigans at a fireworks factory, but they never get there, causing Milhouse to whine, “When are they going to get to the fireworks factory??!?” I feel your pain, kid, I feel it first while waiting to see Godzilla, and then the longer wait for the monster fight.
When Godzilla does show up, the audience reaction intrigued me. This was not a continuation of previous series of the franchise, but a new beginning, a reboot, and for the most part, a monster/character we do not know in the continuity of the film. The audience cheered when we see him for the first time. They cheered when he first uses his radioactive breath, and they cheered when he rises from the dead. There are pauses, almost as if Edwards expected this, as if writing a Rocky Horror-like film. I also did not like the impression given of Godzilla as the good guy. Maybe I’m a purist, but I prefer him as a destructive force of nature.
The monster fight (and sometimes fights) are integral to Godzilla, and to all kaiju eiga in general. It was one of the major problems with the 1998 movie, no monster fight. A solution is offered by Serizawa about midway through the flick for Godzilla to take the two other monsters out, and we spend far too much time waiting for it. There are indeterminate minutes of watching Godzilla swim toward battle and precious little actual battle. The wait is painful and the payoff is pitiful. I believe there may have been less than five minutes total monster fight in this movie, and sadly, some of that was on TV sets and through dirty windows!
No discussion of any Godzilla film is complete without talking about design. Of course there was no suitmation used in the movie, as all three of the monsters were full CGI, but it’s notable that at times, the monsters did move in a suitmation way, lending a bit of authenticity. The two MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) were a bit too Cloverfield for me. I like recognizable daikaiju, you like a big moth, or a big turtle, or a big pteranodon, not these weird exotic alien-looking things. Even the Japanese though are guilty of this kind of design, witness recent entries like Orga, Legion, and Iris.
The G-design is 100% better than the 1998 creature. At least this one resembles Godzilla and is recognizable as the king of the monsters. Thankfully he is not green, and he has his breath weapon. The arms, something not found in lizards of his type in nature, are done well, and the large neck, the biggest difference from previous suitmation designs, is similarly conceived. It’s different, but I like it. His breath is blue and very much a ray weapon, consistent with previous versions. However, it’s much like the sword in Pacific Rim – if he could do that all along, why didn’t he do it first?
Odds and Ends
The 2014 Godzilla wasn’t the best, and it wasn’t the movie I was hoping for, but it’s worth seeing. I wouldn’t pay extra for the 3-D however. I wish there was much much more monster in this monster movie, and especially more Godzilla. I liked the human story, but wish it had characters I could relate to and like. More Cranston and Watanabe and much less Taylor-Johnson.
I was also disturbed by the I was kinda surprised to see Yoshimitsu Banno as a producer. His claim to fame was directing Godzilla Vs. the Smog Monster, yes, the anti-pollution movie where the Big G flies. Also look close for the Mothra Easter egg early on in the film. It’s not the only Easter egg, there are lots of nods to earlier flicks, but it’s the only one daikaiju-related. And what is up with Gareth Edwards and monsters mating?
All in all it wasn’t a bad movie, and I would be remiss if I didn’t give my friend Skott Stotland over at The Nerd Signal props and thanks for letting me tag along on his advance pass to the film. He’s a good guy, good friend, and a heck of a writer. If you like Biff Bam Pop!, you’ll dig his site as well, check it out.