Some of you may ask, “did we really need another Godzilla movie?” The answer is yes, yes we did. With due respect to Courtney Sealey, the newest installment was necessary to bring balance to the ‘Zillaverse after the offensively bad 1998 version. It does.
The tale is essentially the same, with the origin and back-story tweaked a bit. Purists may have a problem with them, but they’re actually pretty clever and well-imagined. This edition has Godzilla once again unintentionally saving humanity from Sort-of-Mothra (acronymically named MUTO for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), or at least acting as triage agent for Pacific coasts. The “villains” are introduced relatively early in the movie, but as with many Godzilla flicks, you don’t see the big guy until later. Oh yeah, the movie has other characters as well. You’ve seen Bryan Cranston in the trailers. You also probably saw but didn’t really pay attention to a buff younger military guy who looks like six other moderately famous actors smooshed together (he’s Cranston’s son and the crux of the movie, by the way). You may even have noticed an actress who looks like Vera Farmiga but has an Olsen Twin nose and…holy crap, that IS an Olsen! And Ken Watanabe as the wise and concerned Japanese researcher who can’t convince the American military to let things play out, even though everything ends up being OK except for the hundreds of billions of dollars in damage and hundreds of thousands of people squished.
This being Hollywood, you know you’re going to get emotionally manipulative subplots, so just go with them. They pop up like MUTOs at nuclear sites, and they’re not too bad as long as you can set aside small details like, how do a “Happy Birthday Dad” sign and floppy disks withstand 15 years worth of storms that break windows in abandoned homes? These are expected perfunctory nods towards plot and character development and other things that you simply have to do between monster appearances. A couple things I felt the movie does quite well, though:
- Giving the audience a feel for just how many people would actually die if giant monsters really did beat the crap out of each other in densely populated areas. Director Gareth Edwards frames certain shots to include both people and whole monsters, tip-to-tail. To them, we’re ants, and they care about anthills less than most humans do. But that same scene will show the ground-level chaos of an evacuation interrupted by Rampage-style destruction, and the loss of life and loved ones that ensues.
- The almost-death scene with the main guy. By the end, dude is tired. He’s had his ass kicked by monsters for a few weeks, surviving everything when none of his brothers in arms did. When his last ditch effort to save San Fran (I won’t give too much away) fails, he just kind of…gives up, but with time left on the clock. Even the thought of his wife and son can’t pull him over the finish line. The movie is PG-13, though, so you probably know how things end up.
Honestly, though, does that stuff really matter? You paid to see monsters and monster fights, and you get them. If 1998’s Godzilla was your run-of-the-mill T-Rex run amok, faster and more agile than Godzilla should be, 2014’s lizard is the lumbering, powerful beast of canon, the Butterbean of giant reptiles, with the posture and temperament of a Golden Corral buffet regular. This isn’t Jurassic Park, after all, it’s freakin’ Godzilla! If I’m gonna get stomped into paste or kabobed on a bus-sized fang, I want it to be by a radioactive miscreant, not some kids’ book dinosaur with a skeleton at the Smithsonian. When we get to the main event, well, this is where the movie really earns your money. While the action focuses on Godzilla and the MOTUs, the scenes also incorporate the city and its denizens. Buildings get crushed and crumble even as the camera shifts away. Rubble falls, shelter is stripped away, all while two old adversaries fight it out, not caring about anything else. But Edwards does, and wants you to remember that people live and work here, man!
Sometime early last year, I watched the 1998 Godzilla on network television because I was too tired to change the channel. It made me sad. I thought, “damn, I’d love to see a good giant monster movie again.” That very day I happened across the trailer for Pacific Rim. Loved it. Then I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool if they made another Godzilla movie? I mean, a real Godzilla movie? They did.