*. There’s a difficulty faced by historical novelists and producers of epic historical films in integrating an individual story with the grand sweep of history. The same holds true for monster movies of the daikaiju school. These behemoths that destroy entire cities and mobilize the armed forces of nations against them dwarf all human action.
*. Making the problem even more difficult is the fact that audiences have paid to see the monsters, and cities being destroyed. They are not predisposed to be interested in what the human characters are up to. Basically, all the actors have to do is try to stay out of the way while the monsters fight amongst themselves.
*. That’s very much the way things play out in this version of the long-running Godzilla franchise. It’s something I couldn’t help thinking of because we’re introduced to a bunch of different characters who don’t play any role in the action at all. Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche are two of the biggest name stars in the film, but they play a husband and wife who are both dead before the monsters take over the movie.
*. That leaves us with Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. Heaven help us. He is Ford Brody. Really. She is Elle. Really. He is a Real Man (a soldier, or as Anthony Lane has it, “a valiant, buff, and indomitably boring naval officer”) and he has to have his Real Woman (a nurse) and his little boy to protect. They are reunited at the end in a big tearful hug that comes after the obligatory running together from a distance into each other’s arms. Really.
*. So no, I don’t care about these people. I don’t even care about Ken Watanabe, as he doesn’t even provide any information about the monsters that we couldn’t figure out for ourselves.
*. I also don’t understand why these individuals are so important. Ford Brody is just a lieutenant, and yet for some reason everything seems to revolve around him, and he can just bark out orders in whatever situation he happens to find himself in and people jump to carry them out.
*. I don’t want to belabor this point more than I already have, but why even bother with Binoche’s character and her tragic end? What’s the point of introducing all that back story from fifteen years earlier? They could have just brought the monsters on stage by some easier and more economic device. And the Brody family are even more useless than Brad Pitt’s wife and kid in World War Z. Elle and child are just there to represent the threat to all that we hold dear. They have no dramatic function. So why waste so much time on them? As David Orr remarked in his review, summing up the point I’ve been trying to make less efficiently here: “Godzilla is a film in which no deed or decision made by any human character seems to have the slightest impact on the inexorable mechanics of the plot.”
*. On to the monsters. Plural. Because Godzilla isn’t even the star of the show here. That would be the two Mutos. Or MUTOs, since it’s an acronym standing for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (in the sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, they’d be rebranded as Titans). These creatures look like videogame bugs of a standard Hollywood sort. Meanwhile, Godzilla, when he finally appears, is a fat upright lizard with a tiny head.
*. These monsters are bigger than previous incarnations, though they still have the ability to disappear from everyone’s radar whenever they feel like it. Which makes it even sillier that we’re still seeing individual men armed with submachine guns firing away at them. “The snipers are on the rooftop,” we are told just before the team heads into the climactic battle. Great. What good are snipers going to do, exactly? Especially as we’ve already seen that missiles, tank shells and .50 cal mounted machine guns don’t do a thing to these creatures even when fired at point blank range.
*. Apparently some people found deeper “themes” in this film than they expected in such a cheeseburger. What? Don’t fuck with Mother Nature? Beware the dangers of nuclear power? Don’t trust the government? I can’t see any of this as being operative, and even if I could I wouldn’t think it was new or significant.
*. “This alpha predator of yours, doctor. Do you really think he has a chance?” “Let them fight.” That’s the level the dialogue is pitched at.
*. I guess the way the cities get destroyed is well done, but seeing as most of the action takes place at night I had trouble seeing a lot of what was going on. In particular, I couldn’t even make out how Godzilla killed the first (male) MUTO. It all happens in the dark.
*. Not that any of this makes any difference. This was the first film made by Legendary Entertainment (in partnership with Toho Studios) in what they were calling their MonsterVerse. The next up would be Kong: Skull Island. These are nothing more than CGI blockbusters, and they seem to be performing as expected. Critics mostly fell into line because . . . well, what else were they to do?
*. As an example of how bad things have gotten, here is a line from Matt Zoller Seitz’s review of this film on the Roger Ebert website (where he is editor): “Unlike Star Trek: Into Darkness, Man of Steel and other recent blockbusters, this one’s aware of the devastation and death that would occur if its scenarios were real. Lots of people die in this movie, onscreen, screaming.” Huh? How “aware” is this movie about devastation and death? I’m sure lots of people die, but only when a building or a giant foot falls on them, or they get eaten or blown up. There are screams in the background, but they’re only white noise. I don’t think this movie has a human dimension at all, though not for lack of what are manifest failures in that regard. Seitz, who was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, isn’t making any sense here. It’s not that I have a different opinion (though I do), it’s that he’s describing something that simply isn’t there. There’s no “real” pain and violence here. I don’t even recall seeing any blood. The monsters don’t even bleed!
*. This is another one of those movies that I can’t believe I’ve spent (or wasted) even this much time talking about, much less watching. It’s every bit the waste the 1998 film was, and watching them both recently back-to-back I think I rather prefer Roland Emmerich’s version, which at least had a spirit of fun about it. This movie is just too damn dark and dismally plotted. OK, fine, I’m too old for this shit. But I’m not too old for the Toho Godzilla films. So maybe I’m just too old for the twenty-first century. Guilty.
A step up in terms of effects, but the central leads are awful, and like you, I’m not sure it’s an improvement on the previous US venture. But the sequel was even worse IMHO…
It’s all kind of forgettable. I think I wrote these notes up first a couple of years ago and I find I can hardly remember this movie now.
The sense of scale is good, but we start out with Cranston and Binoche, and end up with Olsen and Johnson, not a great like-for-like substitution, and the film suffers accordingly.