Godzilla 2014 Review
So did you see this one at the drive-in too?
Dude, it’s a movie about a giant monster. Of course I saw it at the drive-in. I also figured out one more advantage of the drive-in. You can turn down the bass on your car stereo so the whole fucking movie doesn’t sound like a high school kid blasting raps on his sound system.
Are you a big Godzilla guy?
Sorta. I’m old enough to have watched the old ones on non-cable TV a lot as a kid during the eighties. “I wonder what’s on the tube,” you’d say. Sometimes it would be “One Day At A Time,” but mostly it would turn out to be Godzilla, kung fu movies, The Three Stooges or The Little Rascals.
Well anyway, I definitely prefer Godzilla to King Kong. I like the fact that Godzilla is both a destructive monster and a hero who rescues us from more malevolent monsters. That’s a pretty unusual idea and it allows us to unreservedly root for an entity that wields mass destruction like a flyswatter. Even if he squishes a few of us. Who are we little blobs of goo to complain about the occasional squishing? “Oh, boo-hoo-hoo-hoo, Godzilla squished me!” “Waaahh, Godzilla made a tsunami that kiwwed my wittle family, woe is me!” You’d prefer that some space monster destroys the whole planet, you ungrateful punk?
I guess you could say that it’s sort of like rooting for non-zilla-God, who wipes out human life left and right in The Bible, and we’re supposed to like him anyway because he’s fighting Satan, who is even worse. However, the idea of Godzilla has always been better than the movies. I guess that’s inevitable because Godzilla is a giant lizard.
What happens in this movie?
Well, there’s a bunch of American scientists and a bunch of Japanese scientists and a bunch of army guys. They are hanging out in a place called The Q-Zone, which I am going to assume is a Simpsons reference. Here, we meet the bad monster, which is sort of a giant, lurching insect that seems to relish human suffering. At first I thought it was Ann Coulter. They’re figuring out how to cope with the giant insect when it comes back to life–it had been dormant, feeding on radiation from a nuclear plant–and a Japanese scientist suggests that the solution will present itself in the the awakening of an ancient apex predator: Godzilra!
Accents are races now? Anyway, that’s what he says. In fact, it’s probably the correct pronunciation, so suck on it. They give the movie a nice Japanese element. They use some Japanese instruments in the excellent score and a lot of the monster battle in San Francisco happens in, er, Chinatown. Another cool thing with the score was that it paid homage to similar movies from the fifties and sixties. When something big happened the horns would go “Buuuhhh!!! Buuuhhh!!!” On the whole it’s kind of a retro movie in that it is earnest and the characters take everything pretty seriously, where the more sophisticated and contemporary approach would have them look at the camera and say “that’s ooooooonnnnne big lizard, baby!” and then fart.
So a second Ann Coulter monster awakens in Las Vegas, where I live, and demolishes The Strip, which I quite enjoyed. I was kind of proud to think that I would be among the dead if this fantasy was ever made real, though I’d prefer to be killed by Godzilla himself. Plus, I’ve always felt Vegas is underrepresented in landmark destruction movies. There’s a funny scene where the TV in the casino is showing the monster rampage through The Strip and none of the degens notice until it tears the roof off the joint. This is pretty accurate. I saw a guy collapse into unconsciousness in a poker room once and everyone just kept playing.
There’s a Doomsday Preppers element to it, which is pretty cool. One of the Ann Coulters uses EMPs as a weapon and that kills all the regular technology, just as preppers have warned. Computers go blank and planes fall from the sky. So when they try to nuke the bad monster, they have to use a clockwork detonator. Also, there’s a tsunami, mass panic, all sorts of cool stuff.
Isn’t Breaking Bad in it?
Yeah. I never noticed it before, but he has a bit of Harrison Ford in him. He growls a lot and has a redoubtable presence, even though he’s a middle sized, middle aged guy. Anyway, they sort of Janet Leigh him, which was probably a mistake as he has the most screen presence of any of the actors. Anyone who doesn’t own the screen, like Will Smith in ID4, is just going to seem like an extra in a movie like this. So all of the human interest stuff is kind of bland. Fucking boring humans. All they’re good for is squishing. The only really memorable one is Ken Watanabe’s Japanese scientist who says, “let them fight!”
What about all the ‘spolsions an monster fights?
That stuff can be pretty great. Especially compared to something like the Transformers movies, which are just big shit castles. One reason Godzilla crushed the box office is certainly that you could watch the trailers and glimpse some well directed, exciting scenes, like when the paratroopers jump out of the plane.
The smartest thing director, Gareth Edwards does is to recognize that CG still looks pretty bad. While I am generally an advocate for practical effects, with this particular movie, computers > rubber suits. However, the images are still dark and a bit cartoony. So, in an excellent stroke of common sense, Edwards finds excuses to set most of the action in darkness: night time, a rainy day, the smoke of a demolished metropolis. He moves the monsters in and out of our view quickly and efficiently, which creates drama but also prevents us from getting many long looks at them. He understands the lessons of Jaws. There were still some moments where I couldn’t see what was happening just because everything was so dim, but such is life.
Interesting sidenote here. If you do an image search for this film, you will find a lot of drawings and other enhanced images, but very few naked screenshots. The point of this is, presumably, to present us with clearer images than the ones in the film. The images released by the publicity team tell us what we are supposed to see and that shapes our perception of what we really see. It gives us a form to have in mind when regarding imperfect material manifestations. I’m saying the marketers of this movie are shrewd Platonists.
Edwards builds and releases tension well and can present a coherent sequence of interconnected events. There’s the large scale event, Godzilla closing in on the Golden Gate Bridge. We see each side of that event, as they maneuver into position. Then there are individual actors on the human side. A school bus driver, who by some miracle does not hate all children, tries to race them to safety. Soldiers fight and die. The generals back in the secret Army room react and strategize on the fly. It all fits together in a single,flowing sequence of events for a good 20 minutes or so. Yes, it should be the case that anyone who directs a $200 million action movie can pull all this off, but it is not the case. So luckily, Godzilla got a guy who can pull it off. I got really caught up in some of the big action scenes.
All of this took place in the context of a simple but effective overall story. We don’t have tons of subplots or twists, just a nice slow build up to the showdown, like a well promoted boxing match. The Brawl By The Bay. The Throwdown In Chinatown.
And the conclusion?
There’s a monster novelty death, as Godzilla pries open the maw of one of the Ann Coulters and gives it mouth to mouth, but with lethal radiation. I got a bit lost for a while, but eventually the Coulters are dead. Also, Breaking Bad’s son blows up all their Coulter eggs. It looks like Godzilla is dead, but he wakes up. We get a good look at his face and, for the first time, he has a bit of personality. He’s kind of canine and cute, which goes well with his body which–and I’m not trying to be insensitive–is kind of dumpy. He’s like a giant, Coulter-killing Jack Black. So he gets up and goes back to the ocean and everyone claps for him. “He squashed a lot of people, but I liked him better than the other ones,” someone says “those insects were going to squish us and squish us until there is nothing left.” But, of course, this is San Francisco, so people have a broader outlook. In Mississippi, they take a different view. “I ain’t bout tuh surrender my sovereignty to no Japo monster,” one is heard to remark, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the Ann Coulters are their ultimate enemy. His buddy says, “Yup: Honolulu, Las Vegas, and San Fran-cisco! You think the monsters hit them cities by luck? It was God’s will.” The nation enters a long decline.