In 1954, Ishiro Honda directed one of Japan’s most defining films: Gojira (translated into “Godzilla” for western audiences). Despite the fantastical premise – a beast created by nuclear weapons attacking Japan – many consider it a not-so-thinly-veiled reflection on the bombing of Hiroshima less than ten years prior. The atomic Godzilla laid siege to Japan in a way familiar to survivors of the the attack. As such, the film is quite solemn. Strangely, the character of Godzilla was then adopted by Japan as a national icon. Films like Godzilla Raids Again (1955) and King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962) made the monster a force for good as well as destruction. The franchise got so popular that it gained prominence in America as well…which led to an American version. That sucked ass. So much ass that the idea of another American version wasn’t even considered until this year’s release of Godzilla starring Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Malcolm In The Middle) , Aaron Taylor Johnson (Kick-Ass, Nowhere Boy) and Ken Watanabe (Inception, The Last Samurai).
I had a bit of difficulty when thinking about how to describe the premise of the film. Not because the plot is confusing or vague, but just because expectation has such a huge impact on a viewing experience. Seeing the trailers for Godzilla with the titular monster hidden in shadow and roaring at the audience communicates a film not so different from the original: monster attacks city, everyone fall down, monster fall down too. I would imagine that for the average moviegoer, a sci-fi disaster film would be the go-to for the Godzilla franchise. Instead, the film deals with the threat of another monster with similar origins to Godzilla. When it becomes obvious that man is no match for the beast, Godzilla appears to be the only solution.
So basically Warner Bros created another “Godzilla Vs.” film and covered it up in order to sell it to a mainstream audience. Personally, marketing like this is a pet peeve of mine. I understand that major film distributors have to reach larger audiences, but misleading the moviegoing public often makes audiences feel bamboozled. I went into this expecting a more straightforward disaster movie and was confused when it became a monster battle movie.
So did that ruin the experience? No, not really. This film does what the previous American version failed at: creating sincere emotion in spite of the fantastic concept.
The film begins with Cranston losing a loved one due to one of the monsters. His grief incites the plot of the film as he desperately tries to figure out what happened, thus placing it in a world similar to the original film where the destruction these creatures cause isn’t a joke. Not that this stems how awesome the destruction is; pretty much from beginning to end something is fucking something else up. The film definitely delivers on monster vs monster action with only minimal human intervention. This isn’t like Transformers where somehow humans are capable of fighting monsters. Any human who tries fighting any of these things gets a quick, meaningless death. As they should.
Visually, the film’s CG isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but definitely successful. Godzilla himself looks a bit weird since the animators valiantly attempted to incorporate a lot of the original rubber suit design. As such, if you think that Godzilla inherently looks dumb, well then he’ll probably look kind of dumb here. It’s still a great recreation of the classic design. One of the best homage scenes is when inexplicably his back plates light up in before he unleashes his atomic breath. Little touches like that show that Warner Bros sincerely wanted to make a film in the tradition of the franchise. The film doesn’t highlight it’s monster’s designs as often as you’d expect, since the monsters in the film are often obscured by darkness and particle effects. This could’ve been an attempt to get cover up possibly disappointing CG or just a way to make the monsters more scary. Either way it works to communicate the titanic proportions of the monsters.
Like many sci-fi films, Godzilla has some difficulties when it comes to exposition. A few times in the film scientist literally stand in a circle talking about plot points. This is one of those elements that is a holdover from the original Godzilla film, which also had a good amount of straightforward exposition. On the other hand, some elements are barely explained. The dialogue implies that the film is a sequel to the 1954 film with Godzilla being a known entity, but doesn’t actually tell us much about the specifics of the creature, such as why he’s compelled to heroism. By the end of the film, Godzilla seems to be more intelligent and goal-oriented than any giant monster should be, but this isn’t really touched upon. With that being said, Godzilla’s intelligence makes for one really badass moment at the end of the film.
For me, this is a decent watch. I’m not really into Godzilla, but this is a faithful iteration of the franchise. The film irked me a little for being slightly different than what the commercials communicated, but what do you expect from Hollywood nowadays. Watch this film if you like Godzilla movies or just want to see a mildly fun action film. Don’t see it if you’re not into “Godzilla Vs.” films or don’t care about Godzilla in general.
A few lingering thoughts…
- Is there a rule saying the military has to shoot at monsters even if it has no effect? I don’t think you get purple hearts for getting stepped on.
- Ken Watanabe speaks perfect english yet calls the monster the japanese name “Gojira”. Even stranger is that the Americans just casually start calling him Godzilla despite NOBODY establishing the translation. Why would they even bother to translate that? Are there other monsters called Gojira we haven’t met yet?
- Bryan Cranston at one point claims that working at the nuclear plant shouldn’t give him cancer. Irony.