Movie Review: ‘Godzilla’

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Image from Warner Bros. Pictures via GMA News Online

Spoilers ahead.

I want to tell you that 2014’s Godzilla is,  as a film, as massive as the rather stocky creature on the screen. I thought it was going to be smart, visually arresting, and character-driven just as last year’s blockbuster kaiju movie Pacific Rim was.

But sadly, it wasn’t. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun to watch, however.

After an amazingly cool opening credits scene littered with old footage of nuclear explosions and Godzilla sightings in the 50s, we zero in on Japanese scientist Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, Inception) and partner Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins, It’s a Wonderful Afterlife) arriving at a humongous mine in the Philippines in 1999 (to which I promptly snorted and said, “We have something that big lying around here?”). Serizawa and Graham investigate what caused a collapse in the valley floor; they go underground and discover a gigantic skeleton and what I would not have had to look up on Wikipedia as egg pods if only the lighting had been a bit brighter.

Meanwhile, the first Brody family is going about its respective schedule in Tokyo–Ford to school and parents Joe (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad) and Sandra (Juliette Binoche, Paris, Je T’aime) to the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant. Something huge causes the plant to collapse, taking Sandra and life as the father and son know along with it. Worst birthday ever for Joe, and it marks the end of the first act.

Fifteen years later, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass)  is reuniting after 14 months away on duty with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen, Liberal Arts) and son Sam in San Francisco. However, he is unceremoniously called away again by the American Embassy in Japan, as Joe has been arrested for trespassing in the quarantine zone where they both used to live and needs bailing out. Joe is rambling about how Janjira has been covering up the true events behind the collapse of the power plant and claims that he will soon figure out the truth if he can just get to their old house and retrieve the data on his floppy disks.

Eventually, they both get caught and discover that the old power plant site is now the site of a huge scientific experiment, at the center of which is one of the egg pods from the Philippines. The thing hatches into a giant flying cockroach (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object, or MUTO), which promptly wreaks havoc with the electricity and infrastructure for miles. It sends a mating call to the other egg pod, located in Nevada, which hatches into an even bigger (but wingless) cockroach with a glowing egg sac. But before you start thinking that this movie isn’t about the giant lizard himself, Godzilla is also spotted, and he is intent on subduing the mating pair. End of the second act.

Meanwhile, Ford is desperately trying to get back to his family in San Francisco, and he gets into all sorts of mayhem along the way–including a suicide mission whose goal is to use a nuclear bomb as bait for the nuclear-feasting roaches. That basically ends the third act and the entire movie, and it is as rushed and crammed in as it sounds.

When you combine that with cheesy dialogue (“Joe, I’m not gonna make it. You have to live for our son”), indie film-style lighting, how nobody ever detects massive moving creatures whether the power is out or not (how does no one not notice a giant flying bug dropping a submarine in the middle of Hawaiian mountains?), and how much more screen time the MUTOs got than Godzilla himself, the movie sounds like a bummer.

Worse still is how the solution to the problem of three giant creatures breaking everything appeared to be, if I understand Serizawa correctly, “Sit there and let them have at it.” Essentially, that was a similar solution to the problem of a Martian invasion in 2005’s War of the Worlds, but I can’t help but feel that the latter established the human helplessness better.

There’s also the problem of the worldbuilding. Pacific Rim did a great job showing what a world that continually deals with kaiju attacks might look like. Yes, in Godzilla, it shows what is presumably the first time that kaiju attack humans on a large scale; but there are no news reports about the rest of the world might be sending reinforcements, or experts going on TV and speculating about the origins of the creatures, or even a bland, 30-second long montage about how people might pick up the pieces in the wake of such widespread destruction. Godzilla, presumed dead, suddenly wakes up and slinks back into the sea while everyone cheers, end of story.

But this is not a character-driven movie, I’ll give it that.

And somehow, after watching the movie, I couldn’t stop comparing it to Pacific Rim. I think it’s because of the original anti-nuclear war message of the original Godzilla movies (which I so wanna watch now), a dissonant but rather strange soundtrack, and how the people behind this incarnation of the gracefully lumbering kaiju didn’t even attempt to adapt that message to contemporary times (meanwhile, I don’t know if it was just me, but Pacific Rim made a great correlation between kaiju and natural disasters, and what the world powers are doing about these in the form of technology [the mecha suits]).

But there were some very good moments in Godzilla, such as the use of the power outages to convey suspense. Best moment: Ford is sitting in the darkness of a stopped civilian train in Hawaii, the lights come back on, and suddenly, the giant flying cockroach is worrying the tracks ahead of them. I was actually willing to let go of how nobody heard the damn thing coming in the darkness when it’s pretty loud with the lights on.

I was also pretty amused when the two roaches finally met and ate each other’s faces kissed. *INSERT NOW KISS MEME HERE*

I also liked how the brought back Godzilla’s glowing blue fire and how he practically vomited into the female MUTO’s mouth in order to kill her (and promptly fell asleep afterward).

And I appreciated how Ford went back into the MUTO’s lair and made all the eggs explode. That is probably the single smartest thing any character in this movie ever did.

All in all, this entire movie made me realize that I prefer a plot/narrative that needs fleshing out than to the cheesiness of 1998’s Godzilla. Don’t get me wrong, that was one of the movies of my childhood and I will always feel nostalgic whenever I see it, but…they barely did anything with Godzilla (except him pregnant, which was weird).

So, in the hierarchy of Western kaiju movies:

  1. Pacific Rim (2013)
  2. Godzilla (2014)
  3. Godzilla (1998)

I guess it doesn’t bode well that I need to keep comparing it to other movies to assess my own reaction to it. I did laugh in some parts, but I don’t think I was supposed to laugh at all. If you are simply looking for pure kaiju smackdown (with terrible lighting), then the 2014 Godzilla is your movie.

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