Sci-fi/Action, 123 Minutes, 2014
I had every intention of spending this entire review snarkily discussing the weird similarities this movie has with 1998’s universally riviled “Godzilla” [IMDB]. I had that intention all the way up until the moment that Cracked did it better, first. Bastards. Instead, I’ll take a different tack and discuss why so many of the things in this movie worked compared to the previous attempt. (There may be minor spoilers ahead.)
Firstly, Godzilla gets something to fight. Something other than the ineffective military, that is. We do see a lot of the military totally botching trying to kill giant monsters. It’s fun, sure, but not nearly as fun as watching those giant monsters duke it out with each other. This is something that the amazing “Pacific Rim” [My Review] reminded us all of last year.
Because he gets something to fight, we don’t need any other explanation. No need to create ridiculous, mind-numbing, pretzel-shaped plot devices to explain his motivations. He’s not chasing fish or birds, following ley lines or returning to his ancestral spawning grounds. Godzilla is here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and he’s all out of bubblegum.
Secondly, this is actually Godzilla. No irradiated iguanas, lost dinosaurs or science experiments gone horribly awry. This isn’t an animal stomping mindlessly through your good time. This is god-damn Godzilla: a force of nature and an avatar of the planet! Also, Godzilla’s a dude, dude. No offense to the ladies, but Godzilla’s a dude. To be sure, he’s an anti-hero, more concerned with the bigger picture than with our safety or comfort, but isn’t that as it should be?
Also, Godzilla breathes fire. Circular reasoning is fine here: Godzilla breathes fire and, so, Godzilla breathes fire. No attempts at explanation are attempted nor should they be. It’s a fact: Godzilla breathes fire. As to why Godzilla is there at all, we get some appropriately pseudo-spiritual babble from the sadly underutilized Ken Watanabe [IMDB] (who spends the entire movie with the same facial expression) but that’s it. Even that is probably too much. Godzilla isn’t logical and the movie, thankfully, gets that.
Most importantly: the movie feels like a Toho Godzilla movie. The CGI creatures look and move like they could, just maybe, have uncomfortable Japanese actors in them. I’m not sure if that was intentional, but I like to think it was. Beyond and above that, they got the spirit right. Godzilla isn’t exactly a savior, but he’s far from a villain. Sure, he crushes your buildings, but he also saves your planet (even while being a royal dick and trying to blow him up). There’s a certain amount of respect required that was sadly lacking in previous efforts. Godzilla isn’t just “a monster”, after all, he’s the King of Monsters.
The best compliment I can pay the movie is that long-time fans, or anybody with a soft spot for the big guy, should love it. Everybody else will appreciate, at the very least, the kind of effects and destruction that $160 million buys. That the movie is good at all, given Hollywood’s track record, is surprise enough. That it’s damn good is downright shocking.