* Warning: This review contains….SPOILERS!! Consider this your official Spoiler Alert.
I grew up loving Godzilla movies. Godzilla and The Planet of the Apes were the things I loved the most as a kid. Other kids were into Star Wars...what a bunch of nerds!!! Godzilla and Planet of the Apes on the other hand, made me super-duper cool and a total chick magnet. Or at least that's what I keep telling myself. That is a brief history of my relationship with Godzilla. To put things into a more present day context, I haven't seen a Godzilla film since the 1998 "Godzilla", directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Matthew Broderick, or as I prefer to call it, "Ferris Bueller Saves Manhattan". That film was an abomination, not only to Godzilla fans, but to humans beings, or any sentient living entities for that matter. I feel the same way about the Tim Burton "Planet of the Apes" atrocity from 2001, which makes me so angry I have vowed to punch Tim Burton in the groin the next time I see him, to assure the world that he never, ever is able to procreate, but that is a diatribe for another day.
Having not still not fully recovered from the brutalizing I took at the hands of '98 "Godzilla", I saw the trailer to the latest "Godzilla" and was impressed. It looked cool. It had Bryan Cranston in it, a really great actor I admire, and it had some cool shots. I thought…maybe…just maybe…we will get an actual good Godzilla film. So, I went to the movies, not with high hopes, but certainly with hopes.
I am here to report that "Godzilla" is not a good movie, not even close. I will say this though, 2014 "Godzilla" is head and shoulders above 1998 "Godzilla", which is sort of like being the tallest midget at the circus. The reasons being: one, I got to watch Bryan Cranston instead of Matthew Broderick. Two, the CGI is fantastic, Godzilla and his enemies look great (when we finally get to see them). Three, they took the subject matter and played it seriously, as opposed to the '98 version which played the entire thing as a farce. In fact, the best thing about the new film is that it got the tone right. If you are going to make a Godzilla movie, you cannot do it with your tongue in cheek, or with a smirk on your face. 2014 "Godzilla" gets the tone exactly right, it plays the film seriously. I mean, what is the sense of going to a Godzilla movie if no one involved pretends Godzilla is real and can kill them? You'd be better served going to a Muppet movie. The 1998 Ferris Bueller "Godzilla" is exhibit A in my case against playing Godzilla as a farce. That film was a smirk-fest from start to finish.
2014 "Godzilla" should be praised for it's tone. Making a monster or action movie without 'the smirk' is no easy task. I've had lots of clients come to me to work with them on auditions for these types of films. It is not the easiest thing in the world for an actor to work on. To be rolling around on the floor pretending to be in a shootout with aliens, or screaming that the T-Rex is "Coming back!!", while you are in an audition room with stone faced, bored people watching you (when they're not watching their phones), is not the funnest thing for an actor to do. Many actors completely freak out over these circumstances because they feel so foolish playing something so absurd. I always point out to them that the only thing more embarrassing than having to roll on the floor while pretend shooting at pretend aliens, is to half-ass it as you roll on the floor pretend shooting at pretend aliens. The people in the room watching...producers, writers, directors, casting people, won't think less of you if you totally humiliate yourself by buying into the scenario of the scene, even if you have no props, no costume, no set. They will think less of you if you feel the need to let them know you are really cool and totally in on the joke, because the joke in question... is the film...the film they have written, are directing, and have put tens of millions of dollars into. So, if you sort of wink and nod your way through the audition in order to let them know you're cool and that you know this is foolish, they are sure to have zero interest in trusting you to convince the masses to give them their hard earned money in order to watch this ludicrous hunk of poop. If you want to laugh and joke afterwards about it, go crazy, but just remember that while you may not take this stuff seriously, these people do, at least on a certain level, so don't ever demean the material in front of them, no matter how fantastically awful it is.
Now, speaking of 'fantastically awful', let's get back to "Godzilla". One problem with the new "Godzilla" is a problem I have noticed in many recent big-budget-blockbuster-type films I have seen lately (I am thinking of "Noah" and "Transcendence"), namely, that they are structurally unsound. What I mean by that is that the fundamentals of the storytelling are so deeply flawed that the film collapses under the weight of it's own conflicting narratives and complexity. Leaving it unable to succeed on any level, be it myth-making, storytelling, art or entertainment.
"Godzilla" starts off with a storyline about Bryan Cranston's character trying to solve a mystery at the Japanese nuclear power plant where he works with his wife. We watch Cranston arguing for someone to listen to him and coming up against corporate resistance. Then we see him lose his wife right in front of his eyes due to a nuclear accident that is caused by the mystery earthquakes he is trying to solve. Cranston is a really good actor, so we are drawn to him, we relate to him, he makes us connect.
Cranston dies about an hour into the film. Right when the first monster, a giant moth type thing, arrives. We then switch protagonists and now have to follow his son as he leads us through the story. The problem, of course, is that we don't know, or care about the son in the least. The film has already established our connection to Cranston, and given us a powerful glimpse of his humanity. The son? We have only just met him moments before. The work the story did in attaching us to Cranston cannot be passed off to his son, storytelling doesn't work that way, or at least it doesn't work well that way. So the first hour of the film is a waste, storytelling wise. Now, I am sure the filmmakers made the decision to do this so that their protagonist was younger and more attractive to younger audiences, it is a decision many filmmakers make with an eye to trying to build the box office, but it is a decision that undermines the story. Another reason they did it was to have an active figure who could actually engage in combat with the monsters in the film. Again, I understand the reason why, I just am telling you that it completely distorts and destroys any coherent or effective audience attachment to the main characters.
A big complaint I have heard from people regarding "Godzilla" is that it takes nearly an hour for Godzilla to show up. I actually disagree with this criticism to a certain extant. The structure of the film could work if you use the first hour of the film establishing a connection between the audience and the lead character, and building tension for the arrival of Godzilla. "Jaws" is a great example of this structure. We spend the first part of the film unravelling a mystery and getting to know Chief Brody. It works very well in "Jaws". But a big difference between "Jaws" and "Godzilla" is that Chief Brody doesn't die an hour in and then we have to watch his kid chase a shark. Or more accurately stated, we don't watch his kid fight an octopus that shows up before the shark. That's what happens in "Godzilla". The first monster we see isn't Godzilla. It's the MUTO, or Mothra monster. This goes against every storytelling convention there is, and so if switching main characters from Cranston to Johnson is strike one, then giving us Mothra first when we want Godzilla is strike two. (Also, there is a strike two and a half…namely…when Godzilla FINALLY arrives, and does battle with Mothra Number One in Honolulu, we only see about ten seconds of it, then they cut away and don't show us anymore. The main rule of Godzilla movie making is that when Godzilla shows up, you keep the camera on Godzilla. He is the goddamn star of the picture. The film isn't titled, "Unkown Guy I Don't Give a Shit About", it's titled "Godzilla" fergodsakes, so when Godzilla arrives, everything else becomes secondary..everything…and also…never, ever, ever cut away from a Godzilla fight. It's a sin.)
Here comes strike three. The main structural flaw of the film is that it tries to make a 'superhero' movie instead of a 'monster' movie. In this film, Godzilla is the savior of mankind, he fights two "mothra-esque" creatures and saves humans from their destruction. Even though it is highly flawed, this film still could have worked if it only corrected that main flaw. Godzilla is not the savior of mankind. Godzilla is wrath upon mankind. Godzilla is punishment for man's sins. Godzilla is the God encounter, not in the new age, light, love, puppy dogs and rainbows version of God, but in the old testament, wrathful, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Flood, and Job- type of encounter with God.
The original Godzilla film, "Gojira" from 1954, is a fantastic film. (It is Japanese and not to be confused with the 1956 American re-cut which has Raymond Burr in it, which is pretty terrible). In it, Godzilla is a result of the use of atomic weapons. He is nature pushing back. Mankind thinks he is beyond nature, more powerful, Godlike even. Well, Godzilla/God is here to tell you that your cities will burn, and a thousand years from now Godzilla will still be here and you humans will not. Godzilla is Leviathan from the Old Testament.
2014 "Godzilla" turns Godzilla into mans protector, which changes the structure of the film and the myth of Godzilla and renders it useless. Godzilla as a super hero lacks much, but Godzilla as a monster has much to offer. In a Superhero Movie (a good one at least), you get to know the superhero, you get to know the villain, and you get to know the people the superhero is trying to protect. For instance, we know Batman, we know Batman's love interest, we know the Joker, we see the Joker try and hurt Batman by trying to hurt his love interest. Pretty simple. So when we spend time with Batman's girlfriend, it propels the movie along because she is an integral part of the story and shows Batman's human and softer side.
Now, with a Monster Movie, we get to know the people the monster is after, and we root for them to survive the monster encounter, or if the monster is a metaphor for God, we see them survive, or not survive the God encounter. "Jaws" is a fantastic monster movie. "Jaws" wouldn't work if the shark is trying to save children from a ravenous octopus.
And while we are at it, there are times in the film when we hear that Godzilla has appeared to fight the Mothras (or is it Mothri? In any case, there are two of them), in order to "restore balance" to the earth. What sort of tortured logic is this? I agree that Godzilla, the original myth, is meant to restore balance to the earth, he is in fact sent by "earth" or "God" if you will, to restore balance, the balance being restored is the one which puts mankind back in it's place. Godzilla is meant to humble man, not save him. If the current Godzilla is meant as a metaphor for environmentalism, then the best thing Godzilla could do is not kill the Mothras, but kill the people. The Mothras didn't fuck the earth up, we did. That's why God/Mother Earth sends Godzilla to us…to kick our ass and put the "fear of God" in us.
If you've ever been in, or witnessed, a hurricane, a tornado, a tsunami, an earthquake or a volcanic eruption…that is the God encounter, that is Godzilla. In our entertainment driven culture, we don't like to make people feel uncomfortable. We want, not necessarily a happy ending, but at least we want mankind to win and to be the "good" guys. Godzilla is not a myth where we should win or where we are good. Godzilla is a myth about mankind's sins and our helplessness in the face of the destructive power of God. Godzilla is wrath, Godzilla is the Goddess Kali, Godzilla is Old Testament God putting us in our place.
Mankind likes to think it is in control, likes to think it is in charge and that there is an order to the world. The Godzilla myth is meant to shatter our illusions of control, and to show the power and helplessness that results with chaos being unleashed and reigning in our world. Godzilla is the God of War unconsciously released into the world by man who thinks he can control it. War cannot be controlled, it has a power and mind all it's own. War is chaos. Godzilla is war. Godzilla is coming to get us, and there is nothing we can do about it. We can build walls, he will topple them. We can send armies to fight him, he will kill them. We can drop nuclear weapons on him, he will absorb their power and get stronger. Godzilla is retribution for sins committed against the earth. Godzilla is retribution for man's sins against man. Godzilla is man's punishment for arrogance. Godzilla is death. Relentless, unstoppable, unforgiving. You cannot argue with it, you cannot fight it, you cannot make it pity you. You can only step back and marvel at it's enormous power and bow down and kneel at the almighty horrific divinity that destroys all the minuscule and ridiculous plans of man.
That is what a Godzilla movie should be. Instead we get narratively incoherent niceties telling us that Godzilla is our friend. Just more lies we tell ourselves so that we can avoid thinking about the beast from the abyss that is closing in on us every moment of every day.
Soon...some day very soon, Godzilla will be here…he is coming for you...are you ready to meet him? He isn't coming to save you, he is coming to obliterate everything you have ever known, or will know. He is coming to annihilate you. Don't be a fool….Prepare.
ADDENDUM: Some people have asked me what I think the film should have been. Here is what the film "Godzilla" should have been. It should have been Bryan Cranston trying to get to his son in San Francisco after the beast that killed his wife has risen again and is bearing down on the Bay area. Cranston would try to: one, convince people Godzilla is real, two, convince people Godzilla is coming and, three, figure out a way to stop Godzilla. He would succeed at the first two only because Godzilla would show up, thus proving he wasn't crazy... but he would realize that there is nothing to be done to stop Godzilla once he is here, nothing but to run and hide and pray that he spares you. Then the military would fight Godzilla, and Godzilla would win. The bay area would be destroyed, mankind humbled and Godzilla would slowly walk back into the Pacific ocean leaving us to think about the lesson he has taught us. We would see him walk away and pray that he would never return. But of course, we could never be sure he wouldn't return. He would be lurking in the back of our minds as he lurks in the depths of the Pacific. Then you could make a sequel where he does return, and this time, if you really wanted, you could have him fight other monsters and in a sense be a savior, because you have already established his fearsome power in the first film. The first film would be Godzilla as punisher, the second film would be Godzilla as savior. But instead we got the piece of crap film they gave us, which of course will have a sequel, but what kind of sequel will it be? It will be Godzilla saving us from different monsters, because that is all you can really do from here on in, more of the same. So with the wrong myth driving the story, audiences will be left unconsciously unfulfilled, leaving them with a vague sense of dissatisfaction. They are stuck in the superhero narrative now, not the monster narrative. So like mankind, the makers of "Godzilla" are reveling in their monetary success which they interpret as genius, but they have committed a fatal error in tampering with the myth of Godzilla, and eventually…the myth, like all powerful myths, will exact its revenge, on their box office and on our psyches.