Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)
Here’s what I want to know: Which investigative reporter finally got to tell Ford Brody’s story? Seymour Hersh? George Packer? Because it’s kind of insane.
“So wait, your mom was killed by the male MUTO, or Mothra, back in ’99. Then your dad, who was obsessed with the disaster, was killed 15 years later when the thing came out of its pupae stage ... and you were there to witness it? Then you were on the train in Honolulu that it attacked, and on the train delivering the nuke to San Francisco that the female attacked? Then you skydived into Chinatown with the team that stole the nuke from the female, and you were the one who torched her eggs to save us from dozens, maybe hundreds, of these things, then faced off against her again on the boat with the nuke? And you were the one who sent the boat out to sea? Thus saving San Francisco from nuclear disaster?
“Um, I think I’m going to need some corroborating witnesses.”
Suggested title: “The Greatest American Hero.” Or “Mothra Magnet.”
Patricia and I saw “Godzilla” in Europe this summer, and I immediately dismissed it. Didn’t even plan on writing about it. But when I got back I kept hearing murmurs of praise from critics I respected. Was I wrong? Had I missed something? So I decided to watch it again.
I wasn’t wrong.
The trailer for “Godzilla” was good for a reason. Trailers are all about teasing the audience and “Godzilla” turns out to be one big long tease. It’s all delayed gratification. Maybe that’s why other critics like the movie. It recalls “Jaws”: not showing us, for a long time, the reason we came. We don’t see Godzilla until an hour in, when he finally squares off against Mothra (M) in Hawaii; and even then the movie cuts away and we only get a few grainy TV shots of a pitched battle. When Mothra (F) shows up in Vegas, same deal. Director Gareth Edwards keeps doing this. He keeps giving us stunning after-effects of monstrosity. Look how big the thing that WAS here ... is. Probably. And when he finally does give us the big battle between Godzilla and the Mothras, it’s filmed so dark you can hardly make out what’s going on.
I do love the opening credits: taking us from cave paintings of Godzilla, to medieval folio drawings of Godzilla, to early filmed footage of Godzilla’s scaled back submerging beneath the water. The credits keep getting redacted as if by the U.S. military, and all of this is followed by an atomic-bomb blast—an early attempt to kill the creature, we find out later—that turns the screen white. After which we get fallout dust, ghostly music from Alexandre Desplat, and the title: GODZILLA. Cool! It all goes by too fast, to be honest. Unlike the movie.
What’s the most annoying thing about this “Godzilla”? That Ken Watanabe is reduced to gazing, dazed, into the middle distance? That he carries around a stopped pocketwatch and tells Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn) that it was his father’s, and that it stopped at 8:15 in the morning on August 6, 1945, and Stenz, after a long, long pause, nods and says “Hiroshima,” as if we wouldn’t know? Is it when we first meet Stenz on his ship and he’s giving some kind of Knute Rockne peptalk to almost no one? Or that he’s filmed from behind until the very end when we get the Big Reveal? Hey, it’s Edward R. Murrow! John Sayles’ friend! You know. The rich perv in “L.A. Confidential.”
Gareth Edwards is big on the Big Reveal. He keeps doing it with his monsters. See? No, you don’t. See? Psych!
During the Knute Rockne speech, Stenz informs his people, and us, that the creature about to attack Honolulu is called MUTO: Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism, adding, almost apologetically, “It is, however, no longer terrestrial; it is airborne.” That made me laugh out loud. Maybe he should’ve added, “And no longer unidentified, either.” So ... MIAO then.
How about when Ford (Aaron-Taylor Johnson), our hero, is riding the nuke train and his superior radios ahead: “Snake Eyes, this is Bravo to November. Is the bridge clear?” He gets static and sounds of shouts, screams, general panic. “Snake Eyes, I need to know if the bridge is secure or not. Over.” Again, shouts and screams. He tries a third time: the same question in the same tone. Another laugh-out-loud moment.
And what makes the San Francisco police stop all the cars and school buses on the Golden Gate bridge as both Godzilla and Mothra approach? Sure, the Army needs to set up shop. But doesn’t it leave all of those schoolkids, including, of course, Ford’s son, rather, um, vulnerable?
A contender for most annoying moment has to be our military strategy to fight the monsters. Even though we know they literally feed off radiation, the plan is to lure them to Alcatraz ... and nuke them. Which is a little like weakening Stone Cold Steve Austin by feeding him power bars.
All of those are stupid, but the most unforgivable moment, at least to me, is when they kill Bryan Cranston 40 minutes in. What a waste. He only could’ve helped.
Savoir of Our City?
Ken Watanabe, who at least gives us a great rendition of “Gozira!” has a different plan than the military men. Being a man of science, he thinks, without evidence, that Godzilla is a force for good, or at least balance, and so Godzilla can solve our Mothra problem for us.
He’s right, of course. Godzilla spends the movie pursuing the Mothras as if he’s Javert. Oddly, despite being stomped to the ground by both Mothras, Godzilla waits until the 11th hour to deploy his signature move: fire breath. Even more oddly, it’s blue. Then he collapses, dead. No wait, he lives! And he fights and kills the second Mothra before collapsing dead again. No wait! He lives! And out he goes to sea, ready for the sequel.
This leads to the movie’s final, stupid moment. As Godzilla wades into San Francisco Bay, cable news trains its cameras on him, and we see the graphic: “King of the Monsters: Savoir of Our City?” Wow. That soon? No one’s still freaked by a giant lizard from the sea who breathes fire? We’re ready to embrace him already? Godzilla may be big, but I guess human beings are bigger than I thought.