A movie called Godzilla that isn’t about Godzilla.
I am not an expert on Godzilla, I am not an expert on movie making, and I am certainly not an expert on coming up with crafty titles. However, even greenhorns like myself can understand when they have been tricked.
Godzilla is a movie about unconditional love, about becoming obsessed with an idea to the point of total isolation, and about the mistakes men can make in the name of science.
What it ISN’T is a movie about the king of the monsters.
Warning: very mild spoilers, but it’s a summer movie so you will probably see it all coming anyway
Humble beginnings… for way too long.
Godzilla opens up the way you would expect a blockbuster summer movie to open. We are introduced to Bryan Cranston (who played Walter White in Breaking Bad) and his geeky engineer character, Joe. We are also introduced to his young son and wife and their everyday life by a giant nuclear plant in Japan. Joe’s average life is torn apart as he watches his wife get killed in a nuclear breach at the plant which is caused by “strange seismic activity.”
This is the last we hear or see of monsters for what feels like an eternity but is probably closer to fifteen or twenty minutes.
Joe’s son, Ford, grows up to be the typical main character — a military man with a wife and young son (see the parallelism? It’s so incredibly deep). He is played by “that guy from Kick-Ass” (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
Ford and Friends
Though “Kick-Ass” is a fantastic movie largely due to the acting of many of the characters, I was never convinced that Taylor-Johnson was a super actor. Godzilla 2014 does nothing to curb that doubt, but even Harrison Ford couldn’t act his way through this character or the writing in general.
The characters are flatter than the nameless citizens caught underneath Godzilla’s mighty gait. Much like the Michael Bay Transformers movies, the characters feel used and boring. I couldn’t even tell you their names (I had to research them all on IMDB prior to writing this). Nothing is exceptional; when Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa finally speaks of the titular “GOJIRA”, it feels like too little, too late.
Actually, Watanabe seems to be the only actor having any fun with his role. The movie is so dark and depressing, and in its midst we have Watanabe hamming it up with discussions about the “natural order of the world” and the idea of giant monsters killing each other. Clearly, he is the only one who got the memo that this was a “fun, summer blockbuster”. Either that or the director wanted him to be “badass”, at the expense of all of the other characters and dialogue scenes.
MUTOs. Wait, what?
Finally, after waiting forever, the movie becomes about monsters. There are these evil insect-looking monsters “affectionately” titled MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms). They feed on nuclear energy and are practically unstoppable.
Ford is taken all over these scenic vistas as the American military steps in and tries to stop these new creatures to no effect.
We are then taken through an incredibly tedious plot-line where it is discovered that Ford will not be coming home and will have to help fight the monsters with the rest of the military.
Wait a minute, where the hell is Godzilla?
Finally, a literal hour into the movie, we are introduced to the namesake of the movie. And it is really underwhelming.
In a recent article I read, an author from Slate discusses the push for directors to push back special effects and monsters in place of the long reveal. While my opinion is not any more “right” than anyone else’s, I must say that I disapprove of this stance. Here, in Godzilla 2014, the king of monsters isn’t even mentioned until just before he is revealed to the world. There isn’t even a mention of him or what he is.
This isn’t a story about a monster. It is a story about people that happens to have a giant monster in it.
Even after the big reveal, Godzilla feels like some super-weapon built by the American military to fight monsters. He swims along with the aircraft carriers, dives underneath ships to avoid capsizing them and even daintily moves past the Golden Gate Bridge — well, as daintily as a 500 foot tall monster can.
Towards the end of the movie, the action ramps up to a reasonable pace…
And that’s it. Just as the movie is building into something, it is over. The ending feels fast and anti-climatic, a strange feat considering how plodding and standard the first hour is. There was not enough good action to justify the long wait.
The triumphant roars of Godzilla are overshadowed by the cawing and kissing of two people that nobody cares about.
Is this the end of the monster movie? With CG supersaturating modern films, monsters and monster attacks do not have the same punch that they used to. Was Godzilla always this unimpressive, and it took the year 2014 to see that?
I do not know the answer to this question. I am a greenhorn.
But I will say one thing: The next time I see a monster movie and there is no mention of said monster for the first third of the movie, I am walking away.