Godzilla: The Monstrous Superhero We Need

In 1999, a nuclear power plant meltdown caused by an unknown electromagnetic force devastated Janjira, Japan. For the last 15 years, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) has been trying to figure out what caused the destruction. His son, Lt. Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) thinks he’s crazy. That is, until they make their way into Janjira to find an organization called Monarch led by Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) has set up camp to monitor a prehistoric monster they found nesting under the former power plant. MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), feeds on radiation and destroys using electromagnetic pulses. Unfortunately, the only thing big enough and strong enough to take out the MUTOs is another legendary monster, Godzilla.

“Wait…what? I thought Godzilla was a scary monster in a horror movie, not a superhero,” you might be thinking. And yes, that’s true. Godzilla is usually painted as a giant creature destroying Japan (By the way, Godzilla was, at one time, thought to be symbolic of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1945, hence Dr. Serizawa’s reference to Hiroshima in the movie). Later, he became more of a cartoonish monster for children’s stories and films, where he either destroyed cities or kicked the crap out of other prehistoric monsters.

When Godzilla was revived in the 1985 film, he returned to “monster” status, pulverizing Japan yet again. Then, there was the absolutely heinous mess that was the 1998 film starring Matthew Broderick (How was this casting a good idea?), where it destroyed New York City and made baby Godzillas. Now, I wouldn’t say Godzilla (2014) views the creature as a true superhero, especially since he levels an entire island in Hawaii, as well as Downtown San Francisco (and we all know how well FEMA responds to disasters). But he’s kind of an anti-hero superhero, if that makes sense. Let’s break it down.

Godzilla only appears from the depths of the Pacific to destroy the MUTOs because he “restores the natural balance” of the Earth. So, I mean, he’s got a god-like positioning already. Also, the MUTOs are assholes, so you’re kind of hoping someone kills them (and their demon spawn), and who better than a badass dinosaur? Plus, while he’s not exactly helping mankind, he’s not hurting them either. In fact, we never directly see him crushing people (though it’s implied when he knocks over entire buildings while fighting the MUTOs). Really, Godzilla is just there to kick radioactive ass and take names. And if you still don’t think he was the hero of this movie, I would point you to his rippling muscles and CGI human-like facial expressions. They pretty much turned him into Superman—if Superman were a lizard.

Basically, think about the T-Rex at the end of Jurassic Park. She (Yes, “she,” because I actually paid attention to the genetic engineering part) killed and terrified the park visitors for the entire movie, yet she came in and pummeled the crap out of the velociraptors, who were about to kill the humans. Because nature. And also, deus ex machina. Yeah, that’s what Godzilla does in this movie. He’s the lesser evil.

Honestly, I really like what director Gareth Edwards did with this movie. We’ve all seen the super cheesy yet classic Godzilla (1954). And we’ve seen the ’80s and ’90s Godzillas that danced the line between monster movie and action sci-fi (and did so terribly). So it was really a toss-up for how the 2014 remake of a remake of a remake of a remake (Okay, you get it) was going to turn out. Would it err on the side of camp or the side of too-serious action (like RoboCop)? Personally, I felt it had some of both, and that made it great.

With references to Mothra (See: young Ford Brody’s moth aquarium in Japan), the opening credit sequence with the “monster movie” film score callback, and the epic fight between the MUTOs and Godzilla in Downtown San Francisco (where everyone in my theater was like “DON’T HURT GODZILLA!”), it felt like it had just enough fan appeal without pushing the average blockbuster audience away.

And can we talk about how amazing these action sequences were? For example, the best scene (in my opinion) was the one we actually saw in the teaser trailer, where the special ops team drops into San Francisco in the middle of the monster fight to disarm a nuclear warhead. The cinematography of this particular scene is beautiful, as is the rising tension of its action. The creepy music, Brody’s heavy breathing, Godzilla in the background. God, it’s well-crafted. Also, I’d like to point out that there’s a shitload of patriotic symbolism. Notice the red streams, the bluish-gray night sky, and the military men falling in star-like positions. You can’t tell me this was done by accident.

My only complaint about this movie is that Bryan Cranston was like 100% of the trailers and 25% of the movie. What the hell? Don’t promise me the Cranst-dong and then take him away from me.

Overall, Godzilla is your stereotypical summer blockbuster (and I mean that in the “This is what blockbusters should be” kind of way). It’s got big-budget CGI, a solid cast of heavy-hitting actors, tons of action intermixed with character drama, and, well, an ass-kicking superhero who just happens to be a gigantic, prehistoric lizard. Sure, it’s not as classic as the 1954 movie, but who honestly cares? This movie is ridiculously fun. And, I mean, it’s not often that movies can get me to cheer for a giant lizard in a monster throwdown.

So which kaiju should be the next monster Godzilla fights (because you know they’re going to greenlight a sequel to this)?

Godzilla: A

For my radio review of Godzilla on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 25:56 mark).

2 thoughts on “Godzilla: The Monstrous Superhero We Need

  1. The creepy music was by Ligeti, as used in 2001: A Space Odyssey, eg when the astronauts were walking down the ramp to see the lunar monolith. That jump sequence was one of my favourite bits too, making something quite real look otherworldly and strange. Planes are flying at sunset all the time, after all, and there are clouds every day, and people are parachute-jumping every day (albeit not into skyscraper-infested cities, and never mind the monsters).

    I enjoyed Godzilla, though some bits were pretty silly… mind you, I laughed out loud at the Yucca Mountain sequence, which I thought an utterly implausible but funny and economical bit of story-telling: not much time wasted there. I bet they laughed at the audacity too while making it. But there were odd gaps: for instance, if they were so interested in what Cranston’s character was working on, why not go and visit his den/apartment/office full of cuttings and talk to the fellow-conspirators he seemed to have been talking to?

    Basically, though, I liked that Godzilla and the MUTOs were doing their thing without much reference to humanity. We got in their way a bit, and stung them, and created radioactivity the MUTOs liked, but basically we were irrelevant to their motivations and what did or didn’t make their days. In that way Godzilla was thematically similar to Monsters, Gareth Edwards’ 320x cheaper ($half a million budget) and half-an-hour shorter debut film, in which massive lit jellyfish “monsters” roamed the landscape caring not a fig for humanity’s borders or actions and not even seeming that capable of noticing us.

    The humans’ stories in Godzilla, especially Ford’s, were just a method of getting us from one set piece to another to view what the monsters were up to; they would have been having their fight if humans never existed (apart from our nuclear actions waking them up). The family stories were tried too hard to manipulate us into feeling emotion and didn’t really succeed. The same day I saw The Wind Rises, an animated film by Miyazaki based on the life of a real Japanese fighter-plane designer, Jiro Horikoshi, in the 1920s and 30s, and that was emotionally much more affecting. Weird.

    1. Good to know about the music! Also, the Yucca Mountain had me laughing, too. Like…really? You guys didn’t notice a giant hole in the side of the mountain, where a 300-foot monster escaped?

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