Before the release of the most recent American Godzilla film I read an interview on IGN with the director, Gareth Edwards, that had me chomping at the bit to sink my analytical teeth into his new movie:
“I love monsters full-stop. Giant monsters. And I’ve got some crappy theory… the idea that for thousands or millions of years we’ve lived as part of nature. In huts and caves, and every day there’s this threat that an animal’s going to come and attack potentially. I think it became hard-wired in our DNA to expect that. And be afraid of it and ready for it. Now in just this little period of time in the modern world we’ve pushed nature out and it’s no longer a threat any more. But I think that fear is still very much there in our DNA. That the animals are going to come and attack. So even when our caves grow and become 30-storey skyscrapers, then our fears and our nightmares grow, and the animals that we are worried about become 30-storeys high.”
The assertion that Godzilla can encompass a primal fear forever bonded to our animal selves is a fascinating one, one that I could get behind and one I was immensely looking forward to exploring in more depth as I sat down to finally watch Godzilla. I was ready to feel the most fundamental, human fear of my adult life. Like in the Kobayashi Maru.
Unfortunately, the ideas and concepts I was expecting from Godzilla are not the ideas and concepts I got, and the suspense I so eagerly anticipated didn’t seem to show up at all.
Let it be known, Godzilla is not the movie you think it is.
But that doesn’t mean it is a film without merit.
Bryan Cranston turns in a solid performance, as does Ken Watanabe, but the movie rests largely on the shoulders of Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, who are also set to co-star in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Call me crazy, but I think Quicksilver is dumb. That being said, after seeing Taylor-Johnson’s work here I’m suddenly interested in the character. I’ve seen critics bash Taylor-Johnson for a wooden performance, but I would argue he simply exercises restraint. I found his character extremely likable, which was an absolute necessity considering he was on screen roughly 800% more than God “Thunder Thighs” Zilla.
Which brings me back to those ideas and those concepts and my analytical teeth.
It took me awhile to get over just how off base my assumptions regarding the movie were, but it’s hard to deny the film’s most fascinating aspect. Godzilla. Go figure.
Godzilla will never be associated with America, or any other country that isn’t Japan for that matter. The beast is a personification of a fear of the atomic age that is uniquely poignant in the history and culture of Japan. The original 1954 film is a direct response by writer/director Ishiro Honda to events that took the lives of over 150,000 people less than a decade prior.
In 1998, Godzilla was adapted for American audiences and that fear of nuclear holocaust was skewed into a love of Jurassic Park, because hey, close enough.
Edwards doesn’t make the same mistake.
Rather than reorient the themes Godzilla was built upon to a specific American market Edwards instead broadens them while simultaneously flipping them on their heads.
For better or worse, gone is the idea of man’s atomic reach exceeding his moral grasp at the cost of the destruction of Earth. In 2014 Godzilla is an equalizer, an avatar of Mother Nature whose very existence reminds us that this planet existed long before us and will spin on long after we obliterate ourselves.
Where the 1954 Godzilla warns of our potential to destroy the planet, the 2014 film eludes to the idea that nature could all too easily wipe humanity off the face of the Earth, and that while humanity has certainly managed to harness nature it will never control it. It’s like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, but it actually sticks the landing.
It also presents a veiled critique of the American obesity epidemic.
I imagine Godzilla will be one of the more divisive movies of the year and I can certainly see why. The intensity and suspense of those phenomenal trailers isn’t exactly in abundance in the movie itself.
But while Godzilla isn’t the movie I thought it would be, it is certainly not without substance.
1. Did you know M.U.T.O. really stands for Dumb Thing Everybody Keeps Saying Even Though It Sounds Stupid And Makes Us Seem Like Idiots?
2. Did they ever address that egg that’s still in Madison Square Garden or are they just going to wait around for it to hatch and kill everybody like a bunch of idiots?
3. Can you prove Godzilla isn’t a racist?
For more big huge monsters and/or exquisitely eloquent prose, check out my thoughts on Pacific Rim.