Film | Nathaniel Rogers

Weekend Movies: 'Godzilla', God Among Monsters

Scientists. They're always discovering things that need to stay buried! 


If Hollywood's goal is to infantilize all audiences into impressionable insatiable snot-nosed consumers of movie-product (remember how easy it was for a commercial to make you all "gimme!" as a kid) they’re doing a great job this year. Though movie studios churn out plenty of all-quadrant dross every year that's aimed at pleasing children of all advanced ages and genders, it rarely goes this well. The year began in the shadow of Disney's unexpectedly unstoppable Frozen and the critical and commercial smashes keep coming. The Lego Movie and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are the two biggest hits of the year (thus far) and not undeservedly. They're like joyful corporate filmmaking - cash grabs, sure, but no robbery is involved since they give you your money’s worth. And here comes the third home run: Gareth Edwards' Godzilla (2014).

[Insert prehistoric monstrous rawr here]

Can my review just be wild-eyed hyperactive childish pointing? "LOOK!!!"

No? Fine. A few slightly more coherent thoughts featuring hot soldiers, worried women, and monster smash-ups AFTER THE JUMP...




Most franchises today don't like to acknowledge their own histories. It makes regurgitating the same film over again much trickier, leaving us with "the reboot". The new Godzilla instead uses its own history as a comeback springboard, acknowledging that the original Japanese movies occurred (okay, maybe not all 28 of them or the world wouldn't be so surprised that monsters exist) but that the truth was buried as Godzilla went out to sea in the 1950s. Enter our three inciting characters from different countries (British Sally Hawkins, Japanese Ken Watanabe, and American Bryan Cranston) making upsetting discoveries in 1999.

[MILD SPOILER] They all have deep-rooted histories with either the Godzilla cover up or the strange infrequent electro magnetic pulses from what they believe is a monster spore which may or may not be related to the Godzilla legend. Tragedy strikes the American when his wife is killed in a freak power plant accident leaving his son motherless, which ends the movie's prologue. [/SPOILER]

Screen shot 2014-05-16 at 9.14.58 PMCut to: 2014. The American's son is now a bomb expert soldier (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, still easy on the eyes, still somewhat lacking where the charisma is supposed to go). He has returned to Japan to take his crazy conspiracy theorist father home when, by the father's design, they end up back at the scene of their shared original tragedy. Naturally it's just that night when all hell breaks loose (you know how these things happen). The long dormant spore suddenly activates and what looks like a behemoth mutant cockroach emerges and escapes, presumably to wreak immediate havoc in a nearby metropolis.

The rest of the film, then, becomes a chase and hunt movie as the scientists and soldier pursue this MUTO ("massive unidentified terrestrial organism") from Japan to the US. (For once, it's worth noting, New York City is not the site of mass destruction; we get to live this time!). Along the path of destruction, the heroes realize that Godzilla has reemerged from his decades of exile at the depths of the ocean and appears to also be chasing the Muto. The genre trappings, story beats and themes are nothing new, at all. It's hard to be new with sixty years of your own franchises history within the very populated subgenre of sci-fi / horror known as the monster movie. I also wish I could be super enthused about the human cast, who get a lot more screen time than you'd expect, but despite a collection of very fine actors there's not much in the way of character specificity: The men have little to do other than sell fear mixed with their passion in their heroic convictions (Aaron Taylor Johnson is rescued for awhile from film carrying duties by a team of soldiers - hello Victor Razuk!) he meets in mid chaos) and the women have even less to do, working intense variations of worried for the world / worried for their men and in Sally Hawkins' case worried for Godzilla.


What's fresh and redemptive, though, about this particular Godzilla is the artistry and confidence of the young director Gareth Edwards and his team (the cinematography, visual effects, production design, and original score are all super). Edwards made his name on the inventive strength of his low budget alien invasion debut (Monsters, 2010) but he never seems to be straining for effect or letting his new colossal budget squash his storytelling instincts with a Godzilla sized foot. He doesn't let the effects do the work for him. He goes for gorgeous minimalism whenever possible: silhouettes of monsters in the fog, telltale shadows on broken buildings, and some of the most beautiful strokes of color I've ever seen in a blockbuster. That's especially true of a dreamy sequence late in the film involving paratroopers. It's weird to call a movie with typical monster thrills (the crowd goes wild whenever Godzilla unleashes his best fighting tricks) "beautiful" but it is just that. Godzilla is more like a moving painting than a motion picture at times.

The first of many memorable images in this crazy/beautiful blockbuster is the title card. "Godzilla" with all the hysteria and nostalgia the name provokes, emerges faintly on a white screen obscured only by drifting ashes. The score makes almost no fuss about it. The world's beloved embodiment of its own atomic age anxiety went boom long ago and this king of monsters disappeared. The title card is quiet and surprisingly funereal. But the movie that follows is no elegy for the monster movie, childhood awe at massive animals, or even for old school blockbuster filmmaking. Gareth Edwards might well be a new mad genius Doctor Frankenstein because this Godzilla (2014) is a bonafide resurrection of all of those things. The only thing it's going to bury are the basic bitches that follow it.

Kick back and watch with jaw dropped. Chew your popcorn like it’s a tasty skyscraper that got in your way.


Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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  1. Am I the only person who just has zero interest in seeing this movie? If I wanted to watch mindless reptiles lay waste to society, I'd watch Fox News.

    Posted by: Sergio | May 17, 2014 1:49:41 PM

  2. Am I the only person who just has zero interest in seeing this movie? If I wanted to watch mindless reptiles lay waste to society, I'd watch Fox News.

    Posted by: Sergio | May 17, 2014 1:49:49 PM

  3. I cannot wait to see this :)

    Posted by: Rob P | May 17, 2014 1:58:25 PM

  4. Saw it last night with husband and a friend. We loved it! There are a few sly homage winks and nods to the original Godzilla and to some of the films made along the way.

    It was a good monster-smashing-city flick, and some genuinely suspenseful moments.

    No, Sergio, not every movie is high art; this one is definitely not. But it sure is fun.

    Posted by: Raybob | May 17, 2014 2:01:05 PM

  5. So looking forward to this. I'll take city-smasher fun over Oscar-y drama snoozes any time.

    Posted by: dw | May 17, 2014 2:10:15 PM

  6. "No, Sergio, not every movie is high art; this one is definitely not. But it sure is fun."

    Yeah, I clearly made the assumption that every movie is high art. Have fun with your cartoons, boys.

    Posted by: Sergio | May 17, 2014 2:46:33 PM

  7. I'm not feeling this one. It gives off that empty 'Transformers' vibe.

    Posted by: Håkon | May 17, 2014 2:50:27 PM

  8. Just got back from seeing it. I found it dry, flat and boring without an ounce of humor and some of the most wooden performances I have seen in a long time.

    Posted by: AJ | May 17, 2014 3:43:25 PM

  9. I'll add to AJ's spot-on comments - the writers came up with some of the most absurd gender-stereotypical behavior you could ever cringe at. There was one bright spot - Sally Hawkins seemingly effortlessly made me believe in her character, and every word coming out of her mouth, in an understated performance. When she was on screen, I felt like I was watching serious sci-fi, not a Saturday night Creature Feature with improved CGI.

    Posted by: PlaidCat | May 17, 2014 6:07:41 PM

  10. I went to see "Neighbors" which ok (it's not "Animal House" ) but I don't know if it's age thing but I found beefy hairy Seth Rogen a lot sexier than Zac Efrom

    Posted by: jarago | May 17, 2014 7:26:43 PM

  11. I had zero interest in seeing it but went along with friends that wanted to. It didn't suck.

    Posted by: Davelandia | May 18, 2014 12:02:17 AM

  12. Saw it with a friend who wanted to go. Just take it as an example what Moore's law, possibly assisted with graphics co-processors, has brought forth. It should be nominated for an academy award for the most CPU cycles spent producing a film.

    The premise of the film is that Godzilla decided to make over his image after devastating Tokyo and became the "good monster" in this film, with Godzilla's contribution being primarily due to a fight with other monsters.

    The other monsters' "electromagnetic pulse" thing was hokey - an electromagnetic pulse propagates at the speed of light, and things that get broken (e.g., sensitive electronic components) stay broken. Then there is the idea that these creatures "feed" on radiation. Even if you believed that, they would have little interest in a nuclear bomb until it detonated as a bomb sitting on the shelf produces very little radiation. Oh well. Welcome to Hollywood.

    Posted by: Bill | May 18, 2014 2:05:16 AM

  13. I saw it last night. Not for those with short attention spans. But, I thought it was really fun. It always amazes me how many critics believe the director didn't do enough with the "monsters" in the film of that name. Those critics (like the ones panning Godzilla) just didn't get that the monsters WEREN'T the beasts. I counted at least six other film homages during Godzilla (I won't list them), and 3 of them weren't Godzilla films. Again, really fun.

    Posted by: Craig in Portland | May 18, 2014 11:36:13 AM

  14. Saw it yesterday. It's a fun trifle. Wooden performances -- check. Goofy plot -- check. Awesome special effects -- check. Great suspense -- check. It was good to see Godzilla stomping about.

    Posted by: gregor | May 18, 2014 8:15:48 PM

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