Godzilla (2014)

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“The arrogance of man is thinking that nature is in their control, and not the other way around.”

In 2014, Godzilla returns to American theaters with another take on the legendary monster.  The license has passed to Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers, and Gareth Edwards, best known for his film “Monsters”, is the director, and it stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olson, Ken Watanabe, and “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston.  This movie sticks closer to Godzilla’s origins than the previous American Godzilla did; Gareth Edwards specifically cited the 1954 “Godzilla” and the movie “Jaws” as inspirations.

An accident at the Janjira Nuclear Plant near Tokyo leads to the destruction of the plant and the death of several workers, including Sandra Brody, wife of plant operator Joe Brody.  Fifteen years later Joe’s son, Ford, is called to Japan to retrieve his father, who has become obsessed with the idea that the accident at the plant wasn’t caused by an earthquake as the official report claimed, but something else.  These events lead to the discovery of a reawakened ancient creature dubbed a MUTO-Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.  Eventually, another MUTO is discovered, and the two creatures begin to converge on San Francisco, where Ford’s wife, Elle, and son, Sam, are waiting for him to return.  Nothing the military tries can stop the MUTOs, but Dr. Serizawa, the head of a secret organization called “Monarch” feels that nature has a way of restoring balance, and that balance may come in the form of a lifeform first seen in 1954 called Godzilla…

Want to know what happens?  See the movie!

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I admit, I went into this movie expecting it to be mostly wall-to-wall monster action.  The fact that the last movie I saw was “Godzilla: Final Wars”, which moved around more than a 5-year old after a few bags of Fun Dip, didn’t help.  I expected lots of explosions and lots of monster fighting action.  And while there are explosions and monster fighting to be found, they aren’t the crux of the movie.  I knew going in that there would be a focus on human drama in the face of a giant monster attack, but after so many monster movies focusing on the actual monsters themselves, I expected the human drama to drop off quickly to let the monsters have center stage.  Instead, the human drama IS the film.  Godzilla isn’t the hero of this movie; he’s the backdrop.  The humans, specifically the Brody family, are the heroes.  It is through the trials and tribulations of this family that we see the MUTO’s rampage and Godzilla’s appearance.  Because of this, we wind up with a much more personal film than we might of had the movie focused on the destruction of a city.

Not that there isn’t destruction.  The male MUTO makes a particularly impressive entrance as it destroys an airport by causing a chain reaction of exploding airplanes.  The female MUTO also causes a fair amount of destruction in Las Vegas, and Godzilla’s appearance in San Francisco doesn’t bode well for the famous bridge.  And, of course, the final battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs is quite spectacular.  But where the movie truly succeeds is in the aftermath of the monster attacks.  The ruins of Honolulu call back to the ruined scenes of Tokyo in the original “Godzilla”, and the mob of people looking for lost loved ones recall the scenes of the dead and dying in the hospitals in the original movie.  After so many years of smashed buildings and wrecked city streets, this movie takes a minute to actually survey the damage and remind us that, at some point, somebody is going to have to rebuild all this and move on.  There are actual consequences to giant monsters fighting in a human-populated city.

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The monsters themselves are fascinating creations.  The MUTOs are new creations and are not based on any past Toho monsters, though some similarities can be drawn.  While they cause much destruction in their wake, they are truly only animals being driven by instinct, and some have labelled them almost “tragic” because of this.  There is a scene when the two monsters find each other in which the male MUTO presents the female with a stolen nuclear bomb (they eat radiation) as sort of a mating initiation.  They then nuzzle their noses while making clicking noises, then head off to build their nest.  This scene actually generates sympathy for them, as it reminds us that their only interest is in finding each other to lay eggs.  However, because of what they are, we are not able to coexist with them and we must fight them for survival.  Godzilla is stated to be a member, possibly the last, of an ancient species that existed millions of years ago when the Earth was covered in radiation.  The MUTOs are the natural prey of Godzilla’s species, and so he must hunt them, which brings up several questions about Godzilla’s character.  Is he hunting the MUTOs out of instinct?  Or does he hold some interest in protecting humanity?  Godzilla doesn’t cause as much direct destruction in this movie as he normally does.  In fact, there are times that he seems to actively avoid causing harm, such as times when he swims underneath a group of destroyers and a time when he avoids a large group of people.  He also makes eye contact with Ford Brody at one point and almost seems to empathize with him, indicating an intelligence beyond mere instinct.  As a savior who still causes destruction in his wake, he seems to have a lot in common with Gamera from 1999’s “Revenge of Iris”, or as a more benevolent version of the idol from the “Daimajin” trilogy.  I was also surprised that it took so long for Godzilla to show up, but I went back and found that this isn’t too dissimilar to the original “Godzilla”.  His presence is often felt rather than directly seen, much as it was in the original movie.

I enjoyed “Godzilla”, though I’d like to see it again to properly absorb parts of it.  At first I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t a straight monster-action fest, but after some thought, I realize that THAT movie has already been made.  It was called “Pacific Rim”, and it was perfect for doing what it set out to do.  But while “Pacific Rim” celebrated the fighting and action part of the giant monster genre, “Godzilla” celebrates the more introspective side.  Where “Pacific Rim” sets out to “fight the hurricane”, “Godzilla” tells us that “the arrogance of man is thinking that nature is in their control, and not the other way around.”  “Pacific Rim” showed us the unconquerable power of the human spirit, “Godzilla” showed us that there are forces we can never conquer and must simply survive.  They are two sides of the same coin, presenting the genre from two different vantage points.  Once I realized this, I came to appreciate Gareth Edward’s vision for Godzilla, and considering the box-office returns, it looks like I will be able to see more of it.


At one point, the Brody household has a clear insect cage with the word “Mothra” on the side.  The early part of the movie also contains lots of “moth” imagery, such as a classroom of students looking at a moth diagram.  Could Mothra appear in a sequel?

When Godzilla fires his nuclear breath, his spines light up in sequence, starting from the tip of his tail to his head, instead of all lighting up at once.  This is very similar to how he fired it on “Godzilla: The Series”, the cartoon that followed the 1998 movie.

Andy Serkis, famous for portraying Gollum in “Lord of the Rings”, advised Edwards on how to capture the movement of Godzilla.  Serkis also portrayed Kong in Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” in 2005, meaning that he has technically worked with both famous monsters.

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~ by Chris on May 19, 2014.

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