Godzilla: hero or villain? Over the multiple decades of Japanese Godzilla films, this question has been the tension undergirding it all. Godzilla vs King Kong, Mothra, and various others has Godzilla as more of a villain (along with the originals Gojirah and Godzilla King of Monsters). These films operate on the allegory of nuclear weapons being our destruction, and the “natural” being humanity’s redeemer. Then there are a plethora of other films: from Godzilla vs Ghidorah all the way to Destroy all Monsters which has Godzilla as a hero. Though the hero Godzilla messes with the original allegory, it did add for some fun and entertaining filmmaking.
What has been difficult in the process of remaking Godzilla for modern-day audiences is how most Godzilla movies did not take themselves seriously (Godzilla flipping himself upside down and using his fire breath to fly like a jet engine, or Godzilla dancing an irish-style jig after defeating a monster are just some examples). The question becomes: how does the new Godzilla film fit within the canon of Godzilla movies? Does it do what is necessary to possibly launch a new series? To answer these questions, allow me to analyze the movie’s drama and its spectacle.
It takes about an hour for Godzilla to first appear. For a 2 hour movie, that means over half the film is about something other than Godzilla. The drama is a little longer than some may appreciate, but the story is what allows a movie to progress and gives the Godzilla elements a place and purpose. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who was in the Illusionist and Talk to Me) and Elizabeth Olsen (who is in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron) provide the main storyline. While some will criticize the dialogue, the campy happy ending, etc., these are the very elements that allow for the emotional connection to the original Godzilla films (remember they were campy, happy, etc.). Thus, the storyline fits…but are not the reason people watch Godzilla. They watch for …
Make no mistake, this is a true Godzilla film, especially when concerning the monster battle scenes. In fact, the only thing lacking in the battle scenes is that I wanted more of them. Though the effects were amazing, what was really fun were the battles themselves. Godzilla using his tail, his fire, and kicking butt were the highlights of the film, and even got the crowd cheering, ah-ing, and clapping.
Director Gareth Edwards (known for his movie Monsters) does something very intelligent. Several times he took what made Monsters a good film and implemented those techniques in Godzilla: not being afraid of putting some of the best moments in the background of a wide shot. Most directors want their money shots front and center, but Edwards is bold enough to allow those moments to be behind-the-scenes so-to-speak. Yes, there are plenty of close-ups of Godzilla, and direct shots during the crucial battle moments…so you will get to see the goods front-and-center…AND Edwards allows for some great moments to happen just off-screen which allows for anticipation, expectation, and rooting humor. These moments also advanced the tension of Godzilla being a villain who ends up being the hero (yes, this movie actually shows the transition of people fearing him to respecting him to loving/praising him).
I was raised on Godzilla. For over 35 years I have watched just about every Godzilla movie ever made. I remember seeing Godzilla 1985 in the theater (I was 9). So I went into this new Godzilla with excitement, expectations, and was not at all disappointed. In fact, I would love to do a repeat viewing. I recommend this film…and I recommend it in 3D if you can do it. Yes, you will feel like you wasted your extra dollars during the first half of the film (however, there was this old lady in the theater I was at who must have been seeing her first 3D movie, because she screamed at an Atom Bomb stock footage explosion coming at the screen), but you get more than your money’s worth by the end. True to the legacy of Godzilla, and setting itself up perfectly for a sequel or four, Godzilla is what it needed to be…monsterous fun!