Mon
May 19 2014 11:00am

Godzilla Banks on Nostalgia, Keeps Other Monsters From Having Babies

Godzilla 2014 movie review

It’s not exactly The Blair Witch Project, but the new Godzilla is initially a little hesitant to give you a full, proper ogle at its titular monster. There he is on a TV. There he is out of the corner of someone’s eye. Wait, I think I saw part of him from the window of this air-train taking the protagonist to a flight I’m sure won’t get delayed because of Godzilla. Wait, is Godzilla late to his own movie? Fortunately, when you do see the big G in all his tall swinging, blue-fire-breathing action, you can’t help but think to yourself “Whoo-hoo! You show em’ Godzilla!” Actually, maybe I said that out loud.

But who are these other creatures he’s battling and is this movie really positing Godzilla as global monster-buster?

Spoilers for Godzilla ahead

As aficionados of Godzilla are aware, the thematic nature of this monster is different depending on which Godzilla movie you’re watching. Here are the two most popular options for what any given Godzilla movie is all about:

A.) Godzilla is a monster who stomps and destroys us and we feel guilty about it.

B.) Godzilla is a monster who fights other monsters and prevents us (kind of) from being destroyed and we still feel guilty about it.

This new Godzilla remake splits the difference and makes him one thing toward the start, and something else in the middle and the end, but is fairly light on the guilt trips.

Godzilla 2014 movie review

There’s several human, non-Godzilla-centric conflicts in the movie, but the primary one that concerns G. Zilla is this: a couple of other giant monsters called MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object) want to mate and start breeding more MUTOs. Godzilla’s appearance then, is described by Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) as possibly “restoring balance to nature,” and Godzilla is characterized as an “alpha predator.” Effectively, the job of the Big G is really just acting as birth control for other monsters. Cutely, these two MUTO’s nuzzle each other when they meet up, but faster than you can say “Godzilla,” Godzilla is on the scene to monster-block their love fest. And though this premise sounds ridiculous, for the purposes of having post-hibernation prehistoric monsters fight with each other, it’s a fairly reasonable conceit and also succeeds in softly vilifying the MUTOs while putting Godzilla in a more heroic light. Is it creepy that Godzilla is so anti-sex? A little.

Even though there’s a slow burn on getting a good look at Godzilla himself (bizarrely, I’m fairly sure the MUTOs have more screen time), the scenes he is in are great. The fights between Godzilla and these creatures are totally exciting, and (refreshingly) not overly long. The moment when Godzilla’s signature blue lightning activates is thrilling, and Godzilla’s defeat of the final MUTO by snapping its jaws open serves as a kind of reverse homage to King Kong’s 1933 defeat of the T-rex on Skull Island. It’s terrifying and badass. (Even in a spoiler review, I can’t and won’t ruin the best and most hardcore part about this scene.) And while I wished there was one more Godzilla vs. Other Monster scene, the fights we got here were satisfying, fresh, and familiar at the same time.

Godzilla 2014 movie review

But what about the human characters, and their metaphysical debates about super weapons and the danger of believing we can control nature? This time we’ve got Bryan Cranston as crazed and sad scientist Joe Brody and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as his Navy bomb-deactivating son named Ford. Plot convenience is often a force of nature in a big disaster movie like this, and here is no exception since hunky Ford’s wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) works not in advertising nor at a Planet Fitness, but instead is a nurse who is helping with all the monster-fallout victims. The movie stops short of giving us an uncle who just happens to work in giant-net-casting-monster-trap business.*

*This joke was stolen over wine and whiskey with writer and fellow Godzilla-fan, Jim Shepard.

The scientist characters in the film either die early (Cranston’s Joe is dead about 45 minutes in) or play fourth fiddle to the other characters, most of whom are in the military. (Godzilla himself is probably second fiddle to the MUTOs). I loved Ken Watanabe as this film’s version of classic Godzilla character Dr. Serizawa, though he sadly didn’t rock an eyepatch. I similarly adored Sally Hawkins as his science partner Dr. Vivienne Graham, and yet neither have as much screentime as Taylor-Johnson’s Ford Brody and his military machinations. This Godzilla differs from other Godzillas in a very specific way: it feels like a war movie. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, as the original concept behind the Godzilla movies deals specifically with nuclear weapons and the militaries using them, but the classic 1954 film actually features way more civilians than this one does.

Godzilla 2014 movie review

I’m not saying there’s anything incorrect with focusing on members of the military as the visible human heroes of a movie like this, but I did find the militarization of this film jarring and somewhat arbitrary. It’s not jingoistic at all, but I guess I wished that the scientists (whether engineers like Cranston or paleontologists like Watanabe) played more of an instrumental part in the movie. To put it another way: if the new Jurassic Park film—Jurassic World— features mostly military dino-hunters and not scientists talking about the ethics of extinction, it will feel a little off in comparison to the original 1993 film. I suppose the militarization of a Godzilla film is realistic, and if you’re going to try and make a Godzilla movie feel realistic, this one does a fairly good job.

The film concludes with the fictional news outlets declaring Godzilla “the king of monsters,” and trumpeting him as the savior of San Francisco, but really it feels more like a western, one in which Godzilla declares “there’s only one sheriff in this monster town,” and then proves it. And so, as Godzilla descends back into the sea, no one tries to kill him, or shake their fist at all the damage they’re going to have to repair, or how they feel ripped off that Bryan Cranston wasn’t in the movie a little bit more. Instead, if you’re a regular audience member, you’re probably cheering. Has the movie manipulated you into those cheers with some heavy nostalgia and lighthearted monster action? Yes. Should you care or be offended? Probably not. As long as you don’t think too hard about Godzilla’s own family, or if there was a monster that tried to prevent his birth, you’ll be fine.

Godzilla 2014 movie review

Personally, I’d rather live in world with Godzilla movies than without them, so for now, I guess I’m happy enough that this movie did something that, bizarrely, felt risky: they let the monster survive. And because I saw so little of this new version of him, I’m glad Godzilla lived to stomp and make that amazing noise of his, another day.


Ryan Britt is a writer and critic living in New York City and a longtime contributor to Tor.com.

21 comments
Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
Wait a minute, did this review just tell me that Wanda and Pietro are MARRIED in this movie.

Well.
Walker White
2. Walker
This was marketed more as a disaster movie than a monster movie. BoxOfficeMojo is already crowing that this was the right decision, when you look at the money this movie made compared to Pacific Rim.

As a disaster movie, that means focusing on the people who actually do stuff. Science is slow. Despite what movies have lead us to believe, it is not conceivable that scientists are going to save the day in such a limited amount of time. All action is going to be the result of either the military or disaster-related organizations (e.g. FEMA).
Margot Virzana
3. LuvURphleb
I enjoyed it; the audience clapped when Godzilla started for his last fight. But i couldnt help but count all the stupid human actions...
Vanye
4. Vanye
Best part of the movie? He f'in WADDLES, like the old time monster suit. He's not some sleek and lithe predator. He's gonna waddle over to you like the 6million ton mofo he is and gonna WADDLESTOMP you.

That ROCKED. That, and when the smoke/fog lit up blue.....
Vanye
6. Jesslyn H
Like LuvURphelb, I was distracted by the stupid human actions. In particular, Mom letting co-worker EVACUATE WITH HER 5 YO SON SO SHE COULD WAIT FOR HUSBAND WHO IS IN THE MILITARY. That was horrible. Although I did win the bet with hubby. We both agreed that no brotha was going to sit and let that bridge collapse under him. He said he'd get out and run, I said he'd floor it.

So was the weirdly human in a costume (kinda) MUTO thing intentional? Every time we got a shot at it's whole body it looked like they were trying to do the homage to the guy in the monster suit thing. I kept throwing me off. So much so that I missed the Godzilla waddle. Although he was in the movie so little that that wasn't too hard.

After a great start to the season with Capt America and a halfway decent follow-up in Spiderman, I was expecting a bit more. All Godzilla made me me feel was that I should go home and watch War of the Gargantuas
Allana Schneidmuller
7. blutnocheinmal
@4 Much agreed!
I thought he looked a lot like a cranky grizzly bear.

"Can't a monster slumber in peace in the ocean depths? Nooooooo, I've gotta get woken up by fugly Romeo here and his jelly-egged Juliet.
Well I tell ya what, I came here to kick ass and chew scenery... and I'm all out of scenery!"
Christopher Bennett
8. ChristopherLBennett
A lot of the Heisei- and Millennium-era Godzilla movies centered on military protagonists. The last three films in the Heisei series were mainly about G-Force, the UN organization established to fight or contain Godzilla (with little success).

And Godzilla returning to the sea, either by choice or after being defeated by the hero monster (when he's the villain), is pretty much the way most Godzilla movies end, with not too many exceptions. There are only three movies where Godzilla (actually or apparently) dies at the end -- two of them while he's in the sea -- and maybe three more where he seemed to be decisively contained or neutralized in a way other than incapacitating him and dumping him back in the ocean (buried in avalanche in 1955, buried in volcano in 1984, wormholed into another dimension in 2000).

As for the coincidence factor in the lead characters' respective jobs, it's not that much worse than in the original film, where the leading lady was the daughter of the paleontologist who advised the government on Godzilla and the fiancee of the scientist who devised the weapon used against Godzilla.
Elisha Sears
9. shintaza
My one complaint is just the ludicrous amount of buildup for the final fight. While I have no complaints about the final fight (as mentioned, it is badass) there is just about an hour of not amazing dialogue you could just kinda splice out without losing much of anything. They spend so much time with the military as a focal point, but they ultimately accomplsih nothing. I realize that part of the message is to show how inferior we are, but it started to almost seem like a tribute to man's stupidity. "It is a walking, talking, emp." What do we do? We fly planes around it. Genius. "It could smell radiation literally thousands of miles away." Let's lure it with a bomb and pretend that our thin metal can shield the smell of delicious radiation.

Yeah...that makes sense.

I feel like this movie just needed one more good fight in the middle to keep the audience entertained. Why didn't they just show the fight in Honolulu? I think that would have added that extra little element to keep the audience fully engaged as opposed to just going through the motions, disregarding dialogue, and eagerly awaiting the end battle we know is sure to come.
Vanye
10. Johnnyboy
SPOILER ALERT!!!

I was loving the story until Bryan Cranston was killed off. I could watch that man all day long! Any intrigue just disappeared with him, it just became a road movie with his boring son and last samurai tracking the monsters and not being able to do anything productive.
Tabby Alleman
11. Tabbyfl55
Worst Godzilla movie since the 1998 debacle. After that, and the glorious comeback that was Godzilla 2000, I thought we'd learned our lesson. If you're going to use CGI to put Godzilla on the screen, DON'T BOTHER!!!! Godzilla can only be played by a guy in a rubber suit.

And they even got the roar wrong. Do the Japanese have some kind of international trademark on the real Godzilla roar so that American filmmakers are not allowed to use it or something?
Christopher Bennett
12. ChristopherLBennett
@9: Actually, I'm sure that most modern military equipment and vehicles are hardened against EMP, since after all they're designed to function in nuclear-warfare scenarios if necessary. So the EMP really shouldn't have knocked out the military stuff as easily as it did.

Not to mention that the lights shouldn't have come back on after the EMP effect faded, because EMP totally burns out equipment that can't handle the current load, and once it burns out, it's not going to magically regenerate. Film and TV pretty much never get EMP right.

Anyway, most Godzilla movies, and a large percentage of monster movies in general, spend a lot of time focusing on the military's ultimately futile preparations to deal with the monsters.

And they did show the fight in Honolulu -- they just showed it on the TV in the Brodys' apartment. They gave us enough to whet our appetites and saved the big fight for the third act, which I felt worked very well. I wouldn't have minded seeing a little more of the action, but they were right not to give us too much too soon. It made the payoff at the climax more effective.

@11: Wow, you liked Godzilla 2000? I thought it was one of the most generic and pointless G-films ever. It was too routine to be effective as the start of a new series and new reality, and its alternate reality was too vaguely defined to be interesting. I found it too half-hearted, neither close enough to what came before to feel grounded nor different enough to feel that the changes served a purpose.

Not to mention that 2000 did, in fact, feature a CGI Godzilla in a number of shots, the first Toho film to do so but not the last. The Millennium films used a mixture of "suitmation" and CGI to create the character, just as the preceding films used a mix of suitmation, puppetry, and occasionally full-size components (like the life-sized hydraulic Godzilla foot that crushed cars in a few shots of the 1984 reboot). Besides, no stuntman in a suit could convey the sense of vastness that this movie's effects achieved. (Did you see it in 3D? The sense of scale it provides is awesome.)

As for the roar, I gather it's based on the original roar. I think they slowed it down and modified it, or else used the slowed-down original as a template and created something that was equivalent. Of course if they're allowed to use the character Godzilla, they'd be allowed to use his roar as well. (Indeed, his roar has been used as a sound effect for other creatures in other productions over the years.) They just chose to alter it and make it slower and deeper and more imposing. Personally I love the original roar and wish they'd stuck closer to it, but the new one grows on you.
Tabby Alleman
13. Tabbyfl55
Well I haven't re-watched G2k recently, so it's not a fresh comparison by any means, but after the horrible 1998 movie, I remember being positively Thrilled that they went back to the rubber-suit, and the silly plots.

No I didn't see this movie in 3-D, but I did see it on a 50-foot IMAX-style screen. I find it impossible to believe that 3-D would have changed my opinion of the movie.

On further reflection, the biggest thing that was missing to me was a connection to Gzilla. In rubber suit movies, I can believe I'm watching a living creature. I can connect to him, I can feel worried when he's losing and triumphant when he wins. Throughout this movie, I felt nothing. The only scene that had anything resembling an emotional impact for me was when Juliette Binoche died, predictable as it was.

Maybe the "vastness" that you speak of translated to "distance" for me, I felt like this Gzilla had zero personality.
Christopher Bennett
14. ChristopherLBennett
I felt they captured Godzilla's personality very well. He's not just a brute-force bruiser, but a calculating fighter, springing clever and unexpected moves on his foes when they have him on the ropes.

And CGI has long since reached the point where it can convey a living organism far more convincingly than a hunk of lifeless rubber worn over someone's head and body. Also the performances of Godzilla and the MUTOS were evidently performance-captured based on live stunt actors (with Andy Serkis as a consultant), so there was a human element to them (although of course there's a human element in any animation, thanks to the human animators).
Vanye
15. rochrist
I disagree about lack of personality. I thought the personality of G was on of the things this film nailed. The expressions on his face were priceless!
Vanye
16. SilverTpt
I did not like this film, and it really comes down to a couple of egregious anti-scientific choices made which were not necessary to the plot. I'm fine with suspension of disbelief if it's required to support a premise, but this film just craps on science for fun.

First offense: The cave gets more radioactive after they open it? Because of "catalysis" with the air? Come on. This is high school level stuff. Radioactivity always decreases. And for those about to claim "well the remaining MUTO in the cave was making it" remember these guys are radiation sinks, not sources - they eat the stuff. If they made it, they wouldn't need to.

The Godzilla-tsunami in Hawaii. Yes, Godzilla is big. However, he is NOWHERE NEAR big enough to move that much water. He would make some waves, sure, but what was shown basically seemed as bad as what hit Fukushima. He is orders of magnitude too small to account for this. I would forgive it if the waterline went out a 10-20 feet or so, on a shallowly sloping beach near where he comes ashore. Absolutely no excuse for the minutes of destruction and sheer magnitude of the tsunami shown.

And you know what? I would have even forgiven that, if the filmmakers had been somewhat self-consistent. But no. Then he comes to San Francisco, and no wave! Also, no tsunami when he flops back in at the end of the film. So this was a deliberate choice to thumb their collective noses at physics.

Third: I'll accept these monsters are hardy. Even very hardy. But you know what? I never noticed so much as a single scratch, wound, or ounce of blood shown until the final MUTO's head was removed from its body. Even if these monsters are so superhuman that bullets and bombs don't do damage - they should at least sting, but I digress - they definitely should have shown wounds. A lot of wounds. While they were fighting each other.

When Godzilla first engages the female, he goes for a death blow immediately. Grabs her shoulder, bite to the opposite side of her neck. That was probably a death wound, but apparently monsters shake off however much you want them to for the sake of the plot (until they get tail-whipped through a building). I also expected Godzilla to rip a wing off the flying male to level the playing field, but was disappointed.

This film was just... terrible from a scientific and self-consistency standpoint. I am not familiar with the entirety of past Godzilla films, but even if some of this crap is canonical we know better now and should demand better to suspend our disbelief. Again, none of what I just mentioned was essential to the plot! Thus, it was a deliberate choice by the producers and I think they're getting way too much of a pass for it.
Christopher Bennett
17. ChristopherLBennett
@16: You're expecting science in a movie based on the premise that creatures far larger than the biggest whale are somehow able to walk upright on land? It's a given that the whole thing is impossible. This is fantasy. Godzilla is basically a mythological beast. Some kaiju, notably Mothra, are treated as literal deities, while still being animals. The Japanese don't draw as much of a distinction between the mundane and the divine as Westerners do.

The original movie said the dinosaurs died out 2 million years ago. The '70s movies featured human-appearing aliens from Venus (changed to Mars in the English dub for some reason) and from Planet X, which is perpetually hidden behind Jupiter. The '80s and '90s movies alleged that exposure to radiation would turn normal-sized creatures into giants -- and that Godzilla's heart was a nuclear reactor. The 1991 movie features a plot where characters go back in time to prevent Godzilla's creation -- and when they get back, he's disappeared, but everyone still remembers the rampage he was on just before the time travel. Believe me, the scientific problems in this movie don't hold a candle to those in the original franchise.

Godzilla was created as a symbol, an allegory for nuclear fears. He and other kaiju were also embodiments of the natural disasters that had plagued Japan throughout time -- earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, tsunamis. It's no accident that both Rodan and Mothra destroy by generating hurricane-force winds with their wings. Or that Godzilla always strikes from the sea. Having Godzilla cause a tsunami may not make much scientific sense, but the symbolism fits perfectly. The Godzilla of 1954 was an embodiment of the nuclear weapons that were a source of fear and destruction at the time; the Godzilla and MUTOs of 2014 are an embodiment of more recent disasters like the 2011 tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear incident it triggered. (And maybe I'm reaching, but I have to wonder if filmmakers' perennial love of destroying the Golden Gate Bridge is somehow a reflection of San Francisco's history of disaster and our awareness that it could fall prey to another major earthquake at any time.)
Vanye
18. SilverTpt
@17 - I'm familiar with the allegories. I'm well aware the film is ridiculous. As stated, if these were necessary for the plot, I would accept them. They are not.

My points stand: those allegories are still as powerful - even more so - if the most token efforts had been made for self consistency and scientific accuracy within the context of the film. That's all I ask. Don't thumb your nose at science for fun, when you don't have to.

It's not a high bar to clear, but these directors failed completely.
Christopher Bennett
19. ChristopherLBennett
@18: I have a physics degree and write hard science fiction for a living. I have no interest in thumbing my nose at science. I think science is wonderful. But expecting science in a Godzilla movie is like expecting science in Harry Potter or a Roadrunner cartoon. It's just not the right genre for that. You might as well complain about the lack of profound drama in a Mel Brooks spoof or the lack of explicit sex scenes in My Little Pony. (Although, come to think of it, there are bound to be people on the Internet with exactly that complaint...)

Like I said, there's no possible way a creature the size of Godzilla could exist in the first place, certainly not on land. It would be too heavy to move. Its circulatory system couldn't push blood all the way up to its brain. It would be as helpless as a beached whale. Not to mention that there's no way a predator of that size could've existed in the oceans without leaving a pretty clear footprint in the ecology. So plausible science is out the window from the basic premise alone.

If you want good science, great. There's a lot of fiction out there, mostly in prose, that has solid science in it -- my own body of work included. But there's also plenty of fiction out there that's pure fantasy, fiction where you go in with the knowledge that science won't be in play. And that's the genre that Godzilla movies belong to. For all their lip service to dinosaurs and mutation and whatever, these are movies about a dragon god.
Alan Brown
20. AlanBrown
I finally got to see the movie, taking time out from a rainy Memorial Day to attend the matinee. I enjoyed it quite a lot. The human drama of the beginning kind of dragged a little, but I liked the fact that they teased us with Godzilla until the end--it made his final battle even more exciting. I liked the fact that they had other monsters in the movie, because nothing is better than a big monster slugfest.
My wife's only quibble was the fact that Godzilla never clicked his fingernails together like he often did in the old movies.
The science was kind of iffy, but that is to be expected. At one point, I found my mind trying to figure out the physics of a monster cocoon absorbing all the radiation from a wide geographic area, but then resisted the temptation, and just went with it.
The military tactics were even more iffy. Packing SF Bay with destroyers is not something they teach at the Naval War College--modern warships are designed to engage at long ranges, not go toe to toe with monsters. Not to mention the military dialogue. I got the impression David Strathern was embarrassed at times with the platitudes he was given in the place of some real dialogue.
And, instead of radiation, I started thinking that perhaps the MUTOs could detect, and were somehow fixated on, DNA of Bryan Cranston's descendants. If you think about it, that would explain a lot of what would otherwise be strained coincidences.
But again, kaiju movies are not about plot or dialogue or science, and this one delivered a lot of good, old fashioned fun and adventure!
Vanye
21. YipeeKiYayMotherFockers
@16 Science? You expect science in a Godzilla movie?Put it this way: a living organism eats food as building blocks for its body. Radiation is not matter, it's energy, so where did all the extra mass of the growing MUTO come from? See, the very premise is not intended for science, so don't bother.

As a film I have to say it exceeds Pacific Rim by being a kaiju flick that's not only fun, but thrilling and with heart as well. Its downfall was that boring, dull, emotionless Ford, who is so second-rate actor to Dad Joe and Serizawa, hogs a lot of screen time.Also, the lack of early action, if they showed the Honolulu fight it would be far more engaging.

By the way, was it just me or do the MUTOs generate too much sympathy? The couple's tender moment in San Fransisco and MomMUTO crying at her nest's destruction make you feel so bad for them, to 'tragic love story' levels.

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