When Ishiro Honda was working on the groundbreaking 1953 monster film Gojira, I doubt that he ever considered that his prehistoric monster would become a worldwide pop culture icon. He was simply creating a movie that was a metaphor for the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as a lesser known incident involving the ship called Lucky Dragon 5. This was during a time when Japan was unable to directly criticize the bombings of World War II, so the destruction is caused by the enormous dinosaur with atomic breath that the world would come to know as “Godzilla”.
While somewhat elementary by today’s standards, the costuming, puppetry and model effects used to create Godzilla and the damage he caused were revolutionary in the 1950’s; Gojira is perhaps the most important monster movie other than King Kong in terms of impact on the genre. It was a commercial success in Japan and made it to American shores as the heavily edited Godzilla; King of the Monsters, which helped to raise the stock of the monster. Over the next six decades, the Toho Company would produce twenty-eight Godzilla films. Hollywood also tried to adapt Godzilla for American audiences with the 1998 Godzilla movie by Roland Emmerich with less than stellar results.
Fortunately, this article is about the 2014 Godzilla movie directed by Gareth Edwards.
This American reboot of the Godzilla franchise was one of my favorite movies of 2014, a movie that stayed remarkably close to the original interpretation of the monster while also playing to his status as a revered icon of cinema. While the titular monster is obviously the star attraction of the film, the majority of the film is told from the human perspective of Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Brody is a lieutenant in the Unites States Navy, returning home to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their young son, but is immediately pulled away from home to chase after his father Joe (Bryan Cranston) who has been arrested in Japan. Joe was a lead engineer at a nuclear plant in Janjira, Japan where his wife was killed in an accident, and he has spent his life trying to prove that it wasn’t just a mechanical failing.
Sure enough, Joe is correct; a prehistoric monster that feeds on nuclear energy caused the disaster at the plant, and now it is done feeding and wishes to mate with the female of its species. The Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTOs) will converge in San Francisco and their children will spell doom for the human race. With these monsters roaming the earth again, their ancient predator resurfaces to hunt his prey. Unsurprisingly, that predator is Godzilla. While the military’s efforts to kill both the MUTOs and Godzilla fail to work, scientist Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) has studied the creature for decades and believes that if he is allowed to hunt his prey, Godzilla will kill the beasts and then return to the ocean.
Godzilla is, in my opinion anyway, a good but not necessarily great movie. I have a lot of affection for it, but I can also see some of the flaws and I understand that very few people will enjoy it as much as I do. I appreciate that the film takes its source material seriously; the film understands that Godzilla is a metaphor for atomic weapons and knows that this shouldn’t be taken lightly. That can make the film a bit dry as there is rarely a moment of humor, but the bleak atmosphere and the world-ending stakes do make for a lot off tension. The human characters could have used some more fleshing out to make them stand out more as individuals (only Cranston’s character seems to have a defined personality), the film effectively portrays the disaster elements of the film and I think most viewers will want them to survive. That’s all I ask for in a monster movie really; as long as we aren’t wanting the monsters to kill the humans because they annoy us, then the movie is doing an effective job.
While the movie does pay ample respect to the tone of the original Gojira, it also deals well with the fact that sixty years have passed and Godzilla has as much of a legacy as a hero and defender of mankind as he does as a destructive monster. So Godzilla is not the antagonist monster in this film; those are the MUTOs, and they are suitably impressive without overshadowing Godzilla. I greatly appreciated the primitive nature of these beasts; they are not particularly intelligent and are are motivated by food and reproduction. There’s even a few moments where we can feel a bit of affection for the MUTOs while understanding that it is either them or the humans who will survive.
But let’s get down to what you really want to know about: Godzilla is absolutely magnificent in this film. The CGI creature actually looks like the Godzilla we know and love with some tweaks. He is mostly black, as the film pays tribute to the original film by using mostly shades of gray in the final scene, and he is a bit thicker and more like a dinosaur than previous incarnations. He is also by far the largest Godzilla to date. In fact, perhaps the only complaint anyone had about Godzilla in this movie is that there was not enough of him.
While I can understand this argument, I also understand Edwards’ “less is more” approach; Godzilla is teased but never overused for the bulk of the film. When he shows up, we aren’t bored by him, we are still in awe. The final battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs is an incredible spectacle, and all big moments such as Godzilla’s roars and his impossibly cool atomic breath are given suitable build up. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that the final kill in this film is quite possibly the most impressive idea ever in a monster movie. The payoffs work remarkably well.
While this film did make me want more Godzilla, it is in a “Let’s have an even better sequel!” way and not in a “Man, that movie really suffered from not enough Godzilla,” way. If you are a fan of Godzilla or monster movies, I definitely recommend checking this one out.