One of the first stuffed animals I ever received was a three foot Godzilla from my parents. I still have it, and because of that, I have always thought of Godzilla as a good guy. And there’s good reason for that.
Godzilla first hit screens in 1954, making 2014 his 60th birthday. In his first appearance, with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in the Japanese consciousness, Godzilla was the result of nuclear bombing aftereffects. He was a true chimera, incorporating features from a Tyrannosaurus, an Iguanodon, a Stegosaurus, and an Alligator. He had an upright standing posture (which just made it easier for the actor inside the original suit), and scaly skin, muscular arms, spikes on his back and tail, and a really furrowed brow. Sometimes he’s green, but he’s usually gray with white spikes. And then there is the distinctive roar, and the signature “atomic breath”, a nuclear blast generated inside his body and unleashed from his jaws. Also – he can breathe underwater.
Originally, Godzilla’s relatively human-ish appearance and lumbering 'guy-in-a-rubber-suit' movements endeared him to audiences, and made him a likable monster, despite his tendency towards mass destruction. In fact, he was really only the ‘bad guy’ in the first appearance, and through the 28 subsequent movies, became the hero (or anti-hero) – as well as a representation of the result of humankind’s arrogance in the face of nature.
Because Godzilla has been such a cinema mainstay, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin (who had done some really great movies – Universal Soldier, Stargate, Independence Day, etc.) attempted to update and Americanize him in 1998. The result was horrific. Not because it was horrifying, but because the movie was so incredibly terrible.
To celebrate Godzilla’s 60th birthday, we have a new Godzilla movie, directed by Gareth Edwards. Edwards is previously best known for a small movie called Monsters starring Scoot McNairy. This new Godzilla brings the world’s most famous monster into present day, but still honors his original stories and appearance.
This one has the largest Godzilla ever – he is 350 feet tall, his tail is 550’4” long, his palm is 34’4” across, and he has 89 dorsal spikes on his back. And yes, the furrowed brow is back.
The plot of the movie (does it even matter?) is actually fairly interesting. There’s an American scientist working at a nuclear plant in Japan 14 years ago. There’s an earthquake (or is it?), which causes a huge disaster at the plant, resulting in the death of his wife, and also unearthing a pod, or cocoon, or egg, or something like that. Cut to 14 years later, the scientist’s son is working in the bomb disposal unit in the military, eager to get home to his own son and wife, when he receives a call that his father has been trespassing in the quarantined area in Japan where the accident occurred. He reluctantly goes to get him. While there, they witness the pod-egg thingy hatch. From it comes out a M.U.T.O – a massive unidentified terrestrial object – like a UFO, but bigger, and from here. It’s like a combination of a cockroach and praying mantis, and it is sure hungry for radiation, also - it's a walking EMP, which shuts down all our electrical devices near it. The folks on the ground who are working for Monarch (a mysterious company) knew something was there, and while they were prepared for it – they weren’t prepared enough, so it takes off, looking for more radiation, but not before stomping the hell out of their secret base.
The son of the scientist then gets bounced to a new military group who are looking to stop this thing. Meanwhile, the Monarch Japanese scientist mentions that maybe they won’t have to – nature has a plan, an ancient monster whose job it is to restore balance. Now that this MUTO has awoken, and is looking for radiation (and something else), this balance-restorer is sure to come and handle it. He encourages the military to wait, and not to try to blast the creature with a nuclear weapon (it eats radiation, what the hell are you thinking?).
Sure enough, Godzilla wakes up, and sets off to take on the MUTO in downtown San Francisco – because after all, Godzilla cares about restoring balance, he doesn’t care about people or skyscrapers.
Edwards has been very vocal about not wanting to reveal the monster too early, and using the same smartness from Jaws, Alien, Predator, and all the classic movies where the creature isn’t revealed until near the end, giving the audience time to build excitement. It works beautifully in this, and when he finally is revealed, he’s gorgeous. He definitely is a throwback to the original Godzilla, and he has all the classic attributes. Watching him stomp around a bit of Hawaii and then downtown San Francisco is glorious.
Now, because we as an audience have to relate to the movie, there are humans in it, and they do a decent job.
- Bryan Cranston plays Joe Brody, a preoccupied Nuclear plant engineer in Japan 14 years ago. After losing his wife – very briefly played by Juliette Binoche – in an accident. He goes slightly crazy trying to figure out what happened. He does a great job, but seriously, what is the deal with mens’ wigs in Hollywood? Why can they not find a decent wig? And, why not just have the character be bald if the actor is currently bald? Whatever – he’s great at playing crazy determined.
- Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who will be your new Quicksilver as of next year – Evan Peters is Quicksilver this year) plays the son, Ford Brody. He’s good, and his accent didn’t slip, and he’s perturbed that his dad won’t let the whole ‘devastating-nuclear-accident-that-killed-my-wife’ thing go.
- Ironically, his wife is played by Elizabeth Olsen (who got all the height that her twin sisters did not get), who will play the other half of the “twins” in Avengers 2. Try not to let that weird you out as you watch them play a married couple in this (after all, that will be next summer, and they'll both look different in that). She’s okay, she doesn’t have a ton to do aside from look worried and concerned and cautious and then panicked.
- Ken Watanabe plays the Japanese doctor Ishiro Serizawa, who knew something was coming, and then encourages everyone to just wait for Godzilla to handle it. He spends almost the entire movie looking into the distance with a shocked look on his face.
- Sally Hawkins plays Dr. Serizawa’s assistant Vivienne Graham. She again, spends most of the movie looking shocked, but also spouting off figures and some background exposition.
- David Strathairn plays a very David Strathairn-type character, Admiral William Stenz of the US Navy (who agreed to participate in the movie, while the US Marines declined). He comes up with a couple of various plans to get the MUTO under control, none of which work all that well. Maybe Dr. Serizawa is right, and you should just let Godzilla handle it?
- Richard T. Jones plays Stenz’s number one go-to guy, Captain Russell Hampton. He’s helpful and determined that they can get this creature before it does too much damage. He’s wrong.
- The star, of course, is Godzilla himself (which is technically ‘itself’). He looks like a dude in a suit, even though he is completely computer generated. He’s big, he’s lumbering, and he looks fantastic.
The movie is great – it’s a little too long, and some of the humans are a little boring – which is not their fault; no one can really compete with the awesome-ness that is Godzilla. I also did not understand the final scene (minor spoiler here). We’ve been told the whole movie that Ford’s job in the military is disarming bombs, he helps build the bomb their using, and over and over again it’s mentioned that he’s the only one who can turn it off. Why then, does he not turn it off? Why do they let it explode? He’s alone on the boat with it (he gets away just in time), but it seems like movie-making 101 to have him disarm it with like three seconds left, thus validating all the time you spent telling us that was his special talent.
9 out of 10, Lost a point for all the humans but Cranston being boring and looking shocked for the whole move (I get it, the mosters are shocking! Pull it together!) Gained points for Godzilla, for the way he walked, for his furrowed brow, for him being awesome, and for the nuclear breath. Someone asked me how that worked, because it didn’t make sense. Hey – it’s Godzilla, he’s always had that. The science is sound. Here’s hoping for sequels where we see some of his famous friends: Mothra, Gamera, King Ghodirah, etc.
Bonus Video 1: This Snickers commercial cracks me up.
Bonus Video 2: 1954 Original Godzilla trailer.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews
Here's a photo of one of the original Godzilla suit actors - because it cracks me up!