The last time people of my generation (or at least most of them) saw Gojira/Godzilla was way back in the 90’s, when the titular Giant Lizard crashed into the Manhattan area while Matthew Broderick was excited about lots and lots of fish. Now that movie was bad but it wasn’t a Cinematic Abomination like the entire TWILIGHT movie franchise and it was still a pretty stupid movie that was an enjoyable dumb B-movie at best. That being said, I had close to no knowledge of the big scaly motherfucker’s stint as the star of the World Kaiju Wrestling Federation outside of a giant moth called Mothra and the original 1950’s black and white movie (which I have to say wasn’t so bad but that’s another review for the future) I watched before checking out the reboot so I saw the 2014 take on Godzilla as an introduction to the franchise more than a new entry into a nostalgic title and for the most part, it worked.
GODZILLA (2014) is by far the anti-thesis to the awesome PACIFIC RIM, wherein giant monsters duke it out in cities with humanity literally stuck in the middle of the monstrous bitch fight. While PACIFIC RIM shows how fucking cool it would be to have Giant Robots punch Giant Ugly Motherfuckers in the face while turning entire cities into nothing but tiny dioramas that should be stepped on, GODZILLA decides to put emphasis on the devastation such an enormous event would cause. When Godzilla emerges from the ocean depths after an eons long nap, tsunamis drown out entire cities in his wake. When the aerial MUTO descends at full speed, it brings aircraft down with it in a hellish rain of fire and iron while people on the ground run for cover. Casualties from all over are shown or at the least mentioned with the right amount of audible verbal pain, effectively making the large-scale monster fights more dangerous than cool. With this kind of focus, GODZILLA becomes a rare realistic take on a Blockbuster Movie Event and it works perfectly. It’s very rare that we see a movie where the ramifications of the epic nuclear explosion or the CGI laden wanton property damage are shown since the hero almost always walks into the sunset with the girl in hand but that’s not the case in the reboot of GODZILLA. For a monster movie, GODZILLA was a pretty human take on the idea of a Kaiju movie.
At least it was thematically speaking, not so much in the narrative department.
While the ruling mentality and overlying idea of GODZILLA was the catastrophic effects of a monster fight and it showed just how fucked things could get for anyone who isn’t a blue fire breathing behemoth, GODZILLA didn’t do that well in its personal view of the disasters unfolding onscreen. Sure, it’s more than possible to be with the general populace in being shit scared of the Humongous Nuclear Flying Mantis that just fucked up an airport by simply walking and you feel the dread the US military shows when they’re forced to deal with such a monstrous threat no one has ever seen before but when it gets to the main characters of the story, it’s hard to give a fuck about them. The central cast of characters in GODZILLA are nothing but One-Note Cardboard Cutouts, and while they’re not your usual set of Monster Movie Stereotypes (for one, the military is shown to be professional here instead of being a bunch of Right Wing Dickholes out to diss the Main Character for no reason other than their ego), they’re still pretty fucking flat and blank.
The main character (or at least the one dude the movie follows for majority of the story) is a Boring Soldier with no personality and while it’s good to see him prioritize his family over fucking a flag and spouting patriotism wherever he goes, it’s pretty damn hard to give a shit about him while he just monotones his way through the world’s most surprising zoological discovery. Everyone else with him is pretty much the same, only showing the same fucking shocked face every time they pop up on screen. Obviously this makes sense when you see Giant Motherfuckers are rampaging in the San Francisco area but they’re supposed to be people, for fuck’s sake, not video game NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) that only react to anything but don’t do jackshit about it save for whine at the main character to do something.
To make matters worse, GODZILLA fails to take full advantage of two very talented actors at its disposal, namely Bryan Cranston (fresh from his BREAKING BAD fame) and Ken Watanabe. Their characters do get to say some of the movie’s more memorable lines but all in all they only get maybe 15 minutes of combined screentime, which sucks because their talents and skills were relegated to Cranston going nuts over his conspiracy theory and Watanabe being limited to talking in the language of Profound Japanese Dialogue. Seriously, every time Watanabe’s onscreen, he sounds like he’s quoting a bunch of Post-War Eastern Philosophy Books instead of talking like the scientist his character’s supposed to be. All these characters may not have been your usual Cut-Outs but if you’ve seen a Monster Movie before, you could pretty much pinpoint where each one in GODZILLA came from.
Speaking of limited screen time, the one set of characters GODZILLA really throws the shaft at are its fucking main stars: the motherfucking Kaijus. All in all, GODZILLA only gives the titular guy less than 10 minutes to show up onscreen and when he does, the asshole decides to play Hide And Seek. There are times when this “Less Is More” philosophy works perfectly, like in the instances when Godzilla walks out of the smoke or when the MUTOs emerge from the cover of the dark night but most of the time, this philosophy turns out to be one big fucking cocktease. Rather than show some of the major fights (like what the hell happened in Las Vegas or how Godzilla fought the MUTO in the airport), the movie abruptly cuts to some random news report saying that, yes, this shit was devastating, wish you could’ve seen it. It gets frustrating when the movie pumps you up for what should be an epic smackdown between monsters with some really well-timed tension only to jump back to a bunch of dudes talking about the events. What the fuck movie, don’t be playing with peoples’ expectations and giving them high hopes for nothing. That’s a politician’s job, not a movie’s.
I’m all for this Less Is More take on Monster Movies to emphasize how dangerous and epic these monsters are since the few times the Kaiju do pop up, it’s really a sight to behold and I really like the human look at a Kaiju attack and just how helpless humanity is in the face of these ancient titans but GODZILLA is still a Blockbuster Movie. Those movies are meant to entertain and while GODZILLA showed a unique reflection on the whole Man Vs. Nature thing from the perspective of a monster attack, it didn’t do so well in balancing the Human Moments with the Monster Moments. The core cast was flatter than fucking paper and the reason why most people drop by to see a GODZILLA movie was mostly just teased at rather than shown.
In its defense, this GODZILLA reboot is following the footsteps of the original 1950’s Japanese movie which served as a warning about the dangers of nuclear weaponry and nature’s wrath. Thankfully it wasn’t as heavy handed as its predecessor with its themes on how humanity is really nature’s bitch and not the other way around but it didn’t bother changing what issues the black and white movie had. Like in the original, the pacing can be a drag at times and it’s still hard to give a fuck about the human characters at the story’s center but this take on GODZILLA is something today’s generation of moviegoers really needed.
In an age of CGI movies that continually murder the humanity of movies with their heavy reliance on fight scenes rather than the people who fucking star in the story, GODZILLA provides a unique and bleakly refreshing take on something we’ve grown numb to as a movie audience. It may have its downsides and flaws but it’s still something worth checking out. If you’re new to the franchise, this isn’t such a bad place to start and for the few who saw and appreciated the original 1950’s movie (myself included in that small number), the 2014 GODZILLA is the best re-introduction the Legendary Giant Motherfucker could ask for even if it’s far from the epic proportions some were hoping for.