After the horror that was the 1998 American production of Godzilla, I (like many others) was cautious about expecting too much from this film. Godzilla 2014 met my lowered expectations and may have even slightly exceeded them in some respects. I think the biggest hurdle for this film to jump over is one that’s more cultural than anything else. America just isn’t used to making monster movies. Last year’s Pacific Rim film was a huge step in the right direction with that kind of film, but it’s still not the norm. What we are good at is making disaster movies and that’s what about 3/4 of this movie is.
In this incarnation, Godzilla is a naturally occurring prehistoric creature. Godzilla, along with many other creatures like it, thrived during a time when the Earth was much more radioactive. As time progressed, most of the creatures went extinct but the survivors moved closer to the Earth’s core to absorb the energy radiating from it. The existence of this creature has been known about for decades, since the invention of the nuclear submarine, and there have been lots of failed attempts to blow it up.
Of course, we find all of this out after the first 30 minutes or so of the movie. The beginning of the movie takes us through the back story of the main character, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, aka Kick Ass), starting with his parents. Ford’s father Joe (Bryan Cranston) was an engineer working at a power plant in Japan with his wife. The plant is destroyed under mysterious circumstances and Joe’s wife is killed. Joe is confident that it wasn’t radiation that caused the accident and spends the next 15 years trying to prove it. His search leads he and his son to a restricted location where they end up getting held by scientist and resident giant monster researcher, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe). In the same place, they are also researching a pod that contains a creature from Gozilla’s age. After absorbing enough radioactive energy, the creature emits an EMP pulse and escapes from the pod, killing Joe in the process and leaving Ford to give the scientists a few small leads based on his father’s research before trying to return home to his family.
The scientists and military dub the parasitic creature the “MUTO” or “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism”, which is appropriate…until it sprouts wings and flies away. From this point on the movie is a scramble for the military to try to find a way to contain and destroy the MUTO before it does serious damage. This task is made more difficult when a 2nd MUTO appears from another pod that was being stored in a nuclear waste facility in Nevada. They figure out that the MUTOs are male and female and are trying to mate, having consumed enough radiation to reanimate themselves. Along with the 2nd MUTO appearing, the original giant monster whom Dr. Serizawa has dubbed Godzilla has also resurfaced. According to Dr. Serizawa, Godzilla is THE apex predator and he has returned to hunt the MUTO that have now appeared. The military concocts a plan to destroy all 3 monsters at once by using a nuclear bomb to draw them in off the coast of San Francisco and detonating it. This plan ultimately backfires when the MUTO steal the bomb in order to use it as food for their offspring.
The middle hour or so of the movie is really just the MUTO and Godzilla randomly appearing and destroying things while Ford tries to get back from Japan to his family in San Francisco. This is when the movie becomes, essentially, a disaster film. The monsters are there but they’re mostly in the background of the action or being shown on TV. I actually felt a little cheated when Godzilla appears and confronts the first MUTO only to have the movie cut to showing the fight on a TV screen. I mean, I get it if you don’t have the time or money to show multiple fights between the monsters. However, if that’s the case I think that budget could have been cut elsewhere. As much as I love Bryan Cranston and as good of a job as he did, his part could have been easily been cut from the movie. I would’ve been perfectly happy if we just started with Dr. Serizawa’s explanation if it meant more giant monster fights. As Dr. Serizawa himself says when talking about the monsters, “Let them fight.”
Ford Brody is also having like the worst couple of days ever. He originally went to Japan to get his dad out of jail and ends up in the middle of this giant monster attack. In his attempt to get back home he keeps jumping on with different military groups in order to get transportation. Instead of getting back home, he just keeps getting in the way of the monsters but somehow surviving while everyone else around him gets killed. Ultimately, he ends up getting drug into the final big fight where Godzilla is taking on both MUTOs at the same time. He inadvertently saves Godzilla when he sets the MUTOs hive on fire in order to kill their babies before they can hatch. He then manages to get onto a boat and drive the hijacked nuclear bomb out into the middle of the ocean before he passes out and shares a moment when he and Godzilla look into each other’s eyes (yep, that happened).
Now at the end of the movie, we get what we’ve all been waiting for: a knock-down-drag-out fight between Godzilla and the mommy and daddy MUTO. That fight doesn’t disappoint and that’s an accomplishment. It’s hard to construct a convincing fight scene between two giant monsters but the movie manages to pull it off. The real topper is that last finishing move from the “King of the Monsters” where the MUTO gets up close and personal with his blue-flame breath.
Since this is a monster movie, so you expect for there to be some logic or plot holes that are easy to poke fun at. Here’s a few that I remembered after leaving the theater:
- If these monsters feed on radioactivity, why is everyone’s solution to Nuke them? Even if the initial blast kills them, wouldn’t it just attract more of them? Considering how little they actually know I’m surprised no one is ruling out the idea that there are more of these things lurking around somewhere.
- In Nevada, how could the guys in the helicopter not see a giant creature stomping through the desert before the soldiers even went into the facility?
- When the military dropped the bomb team, why did they need snipers? What exactly did they think they were going to be able to snipe from a rooftop? In this situation, doesn’t being on top of a building pretty much just guarantee that you’re gonna die?
- Dr. Serizawa kept saying that Godzilla was the solution to the problem. How did he determine that, I mean what evidence was there to support the idea that Godzilla wouldn’t be just as big a problem as the MUTO after killing them?
- Assuming that Godzilla was hunting the MUTO…why was he hunting them? I would understand if he was hunting them for food or to protect his territory but he just killed them and then walked back into the ocean. I can’t think of anything in nature that just slaughters stuff for no apparent reason.
- At the end of the movie, why are people cheering for Godzilla? I mean, the audience has been told what’s happening but there’s no way that all these people have heard all the details of what’s happened. Even if they had, Godzilla caused just as much damage and death as the MUTO did…so why’s he the good guy? On top of that, odds are the people cheering are sitting next to a person who’s relatives or friends were actually killed by him.
All of that aside though, I think this was a pretty good Godzilla movie. I think it got one of the most important things right, which was the look of the movie. The monsters look good, the destruction looks good and there are some outstanding individual shots (like the scene where the soldiers parachute into the monster battle zone). That being said, I wish they had gotten to Godzilla quicker, the set-up for the movie took long enough that I found myself checking my watch to see just how long the movie had been going on (which is never a good sign). Again, even though I enjoyed Cranston’s performance I don’t think it really added anything to the movie and I think removing it could have allowed more time for the monster the movie’s named after to be on screen. When I take all of this into consideration I do feel a bit conflicted about my rating and recommendation.
The “C” shouldn’t be considered a negative rating but an average one. I wouldn’t run screaming from this movie by any stretch of the imagination but, at the same time I can only think of a couple of reasons to go see it. It’s the kind of movie that I don’t regret seeing or not seeing but, if I end up in the theater watching it, I’m alright sitting through it.
Given that I gave the movie a “C”, recommending that you go see it may sound counter intuitive. The reason for this recommendation is that the cinematography is a strong point of the movie. So, if you are going to see it, it’s worth seeing on a big screen so you can get the full effect.