Godzilla – 2014, Gareth Edwards – USA
It’s been ten years since Godzilla has been in a movie, and sixteen years since he’s been in an American one. It’s weird, clearly America and Japan have a big time love affair with one another’s pop culture, but throughout history, anytime one of these two Nations attempts to remake the opposite’s intellectual property in their own image it has been a complete disaster, with the aforementioned Godzilla film from ’98 being an excellent example. We took something beautiful, and we gave the world shit. That crime can never be lived down… But, as always, no matter how heinous the sin, when there is money to be had, somebody will make a grab for it, and so with an insatiable desire for cash in their hearts, Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures went ahead with yet another major American studio adaptation of one of Japan’s proudest cultural icons- Godzilla. The most memorable thing thing that came out of this was that we got to hear Japanese people fat shame Godzilla. It’s true, he had put on a few pounds.
To be fair- he’s been asleep for a decade.
Frankly, this movie is not a masterpiece. I don’t think it was ever going to be, American mainstream movie-goers don’t have a lot in common with fans of Kaiju cinema, and any attempt to please both parties was always going to fail. Additionally, I can’t help but wonder if director Gareth Edwards was indeed the right man to helm this project. I’m not saying I don’t think he’s great, I loved Monsters, but I imagine that the real reason he was offered the job was because he had made a film “about giant monsters.” Honestly, to say that having directed Monsters makes you a logical choice to direct a Godzilla film is a dramatic oversimplification of both properties. But whatever, let’s jump into this.
First of all, movie goers were pretty much sold on this movie with the notion that Brian Cranston was gonna be the star. Naturally, this seemed like a good idea, Breaking Bad had been extremely popular, so people were for sure gonna want to see as much of that hot Cranston action as possible. I know I did! That’s exactly why it was pretty disappointing to actually watch the movie, because the moment the second act came around Cranston was freaking toes up, and it’s like Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty all over again. After that, we get conned off on our real central character, Ford, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is the son of the Cranston character. While Poppa Cranston was a scientist; Lil’ Ford is a solider, which is a problem. He’s not a solider like past characters in the Godzilla cannon have been soldiers, he doesn’t pilot Mechagodzilla or represent some anti-monster task force, instead Ford feels like his profession was chosen simply to make him the one constant in a long string of soulless action sequences, which are a non-negotiable pre-requisute for big budget American cinema. The best thing his solider status does for the film is that it gives us a character who is estranged from every person in his life, either emotionally, or simply because he jobs demands that he be far away from his family. This jaded, American veteran perspective is extremely valid, and it does represent a growing cross section of the country, but it’s not universal, and in the end, Ford is impossible for us to identify with in any realistic way because of how unfazed he is by everything that happens to him. There’s just not enough to the character, he has no depth, he’s just a cypher who hops from action scene to action scene without any substance to back up the explosions. Cranston, or even Ford’s wife (played by Elizabeth Olsen) would have been much better central characters.
Also, anyone who compained that Gamera the Brave didn’t have enough monster content in it better never say a word in defense of this iteration of Godzilla; because guess who isn’t in this movie enough?
We spend way more time with the Mutos, Godzilla’s weird, common-law married monster opposition. I’m really not crazy about these monstersr, to me they really don’t feel at home in Godzilla’s universe. They look too… American? They look like the monster from Cloverfield, or maybe even something from Pacific Rim. They’re lacking some vague, indefinable quality that gave the old Godzilla gang it’s appeal, and I’m just not very taken with them. I also hate Godzilla’s portly, stub nosed redesign, but whatever, I guess.
The technical work done on Godzilla is predictably excellent, but only if what you’re looking for is a super slick, digital Hollywood production. This is the first and only Godzilla movie ever made with CG that doesn’t look like complete shit, so I guess that does count for something, but I was always more fond of the big, clunky suits and practical effects anyway. I would have been infinitley more excited if the Jim Henson Company had been brought on to make this the Citizen Kane of puppet and suitimation films, but that’s a personal thing, so you may not have similar reservations. This Godzilla is well shot, well edited, and all the acting is great, so I’d say that if we’re being objective, there really isn’t much in regards to the film’s technical execution that I would wag my eternally disaproving finger at.
I think that the only real way to look at this film objectively would require you to just ignore the sixty years of baggage attached to the Godzilla name completely, because truthfully, this is something new that just can’t be lumped in with what we’ve seen before. That’s good and bad, though; throwing out all that continuity might seem like it would take the pressure off, but in doing so we also get rid of every reason we have to love Godzilla, and that’s a crippling blow. The fact is, I really don’t think this movie could exist if it was a stand alone film, and if this thing wasn’t piggybacking on the nototriety of Godzilla’s proud past, we for sure wouldn’t have a sequel on the way like we do right now. I just don’t think it brings enough to the table, it isn’t the non-stop thrill ride America wants it to be, nor the introspective, character driven journey Edwards probably wanted to make, nor even the wall to wall Japanese monster extravaganza longtime kaiju fans want. If we’re being honest, I think Godzilla is smack dab in the middle of all of these ever so distant points, and unfortunately, in this game, sometimes when you only achieve 50% of A,B, and C, it sorta feels more like you didn’t achieve anything at all.
But it’s fine. Hell, Toho just announced that they’re working on a new Japanese made Godzilla franchise which will be entirely independent from what is going on in the Legendary series, so these American movies don’t really help or hurt Godzilla in any way. Besides, if Big Green survived what happened to him in ’98, he really is invincible.