Godzilla Goodness: GODZILLA (2014)
By Witney Seibold on June 2, 2014
In the 32nd and final installment in Nerdist’s Godzilla Goodness, we look at the most recent film in the series, the American-made 2014 film, and the first (perhaps) in a fourth Godzilla continuity.
It has been ten full years since the last Godzilla film, making it the longest gap between Godzilla films in the series’ 60-year history. It’s the second Godzilla film to be made by mostly Americans and using American money. It’s the third longest in the series, and definitely the most expensive. It’s one of the only films to be rated PG-13. It’s tempting to compare Godzilla 2014 to Godzilla 1998 in these regards, and while there are similarities (worldwide cast, an attempt to make the film more about the human characters, etc.), Godzilla 2014 bears a closer resemblance to something like The Return of Godzilla, or Godzilla 2000 in its bold new statement of a new Godzilla mythos.
This new Godzilla pays homage to original, but creates a new origin story for our favorite monster from scratch. This new Godzilla was an ancient deep-sea dinosaur that feeds on “radiation from the Earth’s core.” The nuclear bombs did not create it; this Godzilla simply evolved that way (as evidenced by over-credits shots of pages of The Origin of Species), and the nuclear bombs he encountered were actually part of a secret military strike against him. Once again, we’ve wiped the slate clean and removed all other monsters from the Godzilla canon. Although there is a cute reference to Mothra.
The new Godzilla design is pretty cool. The tendency throughout Godzilla history is to make him more and more animal as time passed. In 1998, we was essentially a giant iguana, and even the Millennium Godzilla was more hunched and wicked-looking. This new Godzilla is thick-bodied, snub-nosed, and walks bolt upright again. It’s a good design, although it would have been nice to see a man in a suit play Godzilla, however impressive the CGI effects are in 2014.
There is a new monster enemy in the Toho canon: a giant, flat-headed insectoid nicknamed MUTO by the U.S. military. Humans accidentally hatch a MUTO cocoon, and it immediately begins rampaging. MUTO can strike its massive spindly leg against the ground and cause an EMP pulse, making all nearby machines inert. That’s a neat power. When a second MUTO, a much larger female, also hatches out of captivity, Earth’s favorite monster bouncer has to rear up out of the sea to destroy them both. There are many shots of Godzilla swimming and lurching up out of water.
Here’s a frustrating thing: Not enough monster mayhem. The filmmakers clearly wanted to make this a human story, and have eschewed a lot of the more exciting monster stuff to depict various human characters running around on various quests to set off bombs, hide in hospitals, and deal with the military. The cast includes Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, and our bland leading man, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. There is was too much human backstory, and Godzilla doesn’t show up properly until what seems like over an hour into the film. By the time this Godzilla really gets chugging along, most Godzilla films would have been over for ten minutes.
Indeed, a lot of the monster mayhem is simply not shown. There is a scene where MUTO approaches the Las Vegas strip, eager to wreck stuff. But rather than a fun and awesome scene of the monster knocking over famous landmarks, the film cuts quickly to the immediate aftermath of the monster. When Godzilla first appears, he does so to fight MUTO. There is a dramatic shot of Godzilla finally standing up and roaring. And what happens then? We immediately cut to news footage of the fight’s aftermath. Also, we’ve been waiting this whole film to see Godzilla fight another monster in a giant battle royale to the death. And what happens when the two monsters are finally shown clashing on camera? A character closes a door in front of the camera, obscuring our vision of them. I didn’t come here, sirs, just to have someone close a door in my face right when Godzilla was biting another monster.
Otherwise, the monster stuff was pretty fun, and we have radioactive monster eggs, a flaming train chase, and a lot of other cool kaiju film visuals along the way. What’s more, Godzilla himself seems to have his old personality back; he’s again the badass bouncer and protector of humanity. He fight evil monsters because he’s gonna restore balance, bitch. This film is certainly more in the spirit of Godzilla than the 1998 American film. Overall, it falls somewhere in the middle of the Godzilla canon in terms of its quality. It’s a well-made film, but I felt like, now that we’ve established this new monster, we can once again head toward more outrageous monsters, better-lit fights, and a well-known relationship with an old friend.
Thanks for reading Godzilla Goodness, friends. Skreeonk. We’ll see what the big guy has in store for the future.