The original Godzilla was a dark film about the atomic bomb, in which a monster destroys everything in sight, and leaves little room for hope. It was a cathartic experience for a Japanese audience; a great unstoppable force is causing destruction, and man is helpless to contain it, so they largely accept it. Riddled with metaphor, the film was Japan’s reaction to a horrible war crime that destroyed two cities and caused the death of millions of innocent people.
Godzilla then spawned a plethora of sequels, most of which abandoned the serious tone in favor of men in silly costumes fighting each other over the fate of the world, with the audience rooting for the now-likeable Godzilla. Typically the stories involved some monster menace wreaking havoc, and our scaly anti-hero would emerge from his slumber to kick some dopey-looking shrimp-monster’s ass. Needless to say, these movies are loved largely only for their “B” charm.
So, which take does this new 2014 Godzilla remake go with? The simple answer is that it goes with the latter, all the while attempting to capture the tone of the former. The result is a monstrous disaster, culminating in a film with a script too weak to sell you on either its philosophy or its monster fights. Godzilla is neither smart nor fun, and considering the deceptive quality of the film’s trailer, it ends up being one of the biggest disappointments in modern memory.
If you went into this movie expecting just to be blown away by the destructive spectacle, know that you’re not alone. All Godzilla had to do was treat my eyes to some expensive chaos, and I would have lauded its escapist glory. Instead, the action is pushed second to expository dialogue, and a false sense of deeper value that the film seems obsessed with expressing over and over again, determined to make you believe that there’s something deeper here… Are you listening? This isn’t just a movie about a giant lizard fighting two bat monsters, and you’re going to acknowledge that. Dammit.
By the way, I’ve already summed up the story in its entirety – large bat-like monsters known as “Mutos” appear from the ground, which awakens Godzilla from his eternal slumber. He then hunts them down and battles them to the death someplace outside of San Francisco. Apparently this is Godzilla’s divine purpose, as we’ve learned in countless other films that the young me loved and the adult me never needs to see again.
We’re told that Godzilla is some force of nature that brings balance to the world, and I guess, somehow, we’re supposed to see his power as the counter-balance to the arrogance of man – at least, that’s what the film tells us, using some very dramatic dialogue at that. In reality, it’s just about Godzilla breathing fire at bat monsters — nothing more.
There’s a bizarre disconnect between the excessive expository dialogue and the action on screen. We are taken hostage by scene after scene that features men in rooms explaining what’s going on and alluding to a deeper philosophical undertone. Yet, the entire premise of the film is so asinine that there’s zero room for metaphorical messages. Any attempt to trick me into believing there’s anything below the surface feels superficial and shallow, if not downright laughably idiotic.
Part of the problem is that all of the human characters are one-dimensional archetypes, not even worthy of being named let alone thought about on an empathetic level. The cast features an overzealous military commander who’s first and only plan is force (David Strathairn), a mad scientist whose crazy theory happens to be right (Bryan Cranston), and a doctor who studies the monster and disagrees with brash military action (Ken Watanabe). Somehow, I’m sure all of these guys sound familiar to you. Throw in a family that inexplicably manages to be at the center of every moment of suspense, and you have yourself the most forgettable movie you’ve already seen, only this time it happens to come with CGI creatures.
I will give credit where credit is due: The special effects are great. The scenes of destruction, and of nature reclaiming cities, create a sublime aesthetic that’s super cool to see. But it all takes a back seat to the insane babbling of these human characters, who are way less interesting than the lizard and his bat nemeses.
In short, Godzilla is a disaster. It can’t decide if it’s a human melodrama, a deeply-philosophical exploration of human war culture, or a summer popcorn-flick designed to provide base-level fun. In the end, it’s none of the above. At best, it’s a pseudo-intellectual flop that aims for nothing and achieves no more than that. I don’t know how to fully absorb what I saw, because I’m not even entirely sure the filmmakers know what it is they were trying to present. If this didn’t have a massive budget attached to it, this latest Godzilla would have been just another poorly-dubbed joke that goes direct to video.