It will come as small surprise to longtime readers of this blog that I’m a fan of creature-rampage movies. Needless to say, last year’s “Pacific Rim” was a highlight). Naturally, “Godzilla” was high on my summer movie list – and happily, it did not disappoint.
(It makes me unreasonably happy that enough people are patronizing these sorts of movies that more are getting made. But I digress.)
Fifteen years after losing his mother in an earthquake-induced nuclear accident at a Japanese power plant, soldier Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is called to the scene when the mysterious tremors begin again. The source? A gigantic insectile M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) from the prehistoric era, with a proclivity for consuming sources of radiation as nourishment. Shortly thereafter, the mythic Godzilla himself – an indestructible dinosaurian colossus – emerges from the sea to “restore balance.” City-mashing devastation follows as the monsters slug it out in San Francisco Bay.
As expected, it’s CGI carnage on a massive scale, yet simultaneously infused with a sense of restraint. Up until the final epic showdown, the camera shies away from depicting monster-on-monster battles or even providing a good look at Godzilla himself. Unlike the cacophonous “Transformers” flicks, here there’s a sense of real awe. Helmed by Gareth Edwards, a director previously known only for the indie alien-invasion film “Monsters,” “Godzilla” is a solid summer blockbuster that’s well worth watching; moreover, it’s also a solid franchise reboot that succeeds in updating the series for contemporary audiences. Here, imagery of giant waves, reactor accidents, and toppling skyscrapers stands in for the dread of nuclear devastation which characterized early “Godzilla” films.
From the opening credits onward (which splice pseudo-historical film clips together into a slick montage), it’s clear that this is a film designed to tap into the fears of a new generation. Taking a page from H.P Lovecraft’s playbook, here the monsters have no discernible affinity or animosity towards humanity: they simply are, colossal and impassive quasi-deities who just happen to stumble into a world littered with civilized beings. The fear of these monsters is the fear of the utterly random, the unpredictable and uncontrollable circumstances which can upset carefully ordered lives in an instant. In an age characterized by the ever-greater embrace of technology and movement toward a seeming hyperawareness of reality, Edwards’ movie posits the emergence of paradigm-challenging developments that are utterly, completely outside of human control. This theme is driven home by the MUTO’s electromagnetic pulse power, a weapon which knocks out all electrical devices within a given radius. Against such an ability, technology-inspired humanistic hubris collapses. Accordingly, in “Godzilla,” awe mixes with humility – a humility certainly not characteristic of the millennial generation.
That being said, this is still first and foremost a movie about gigantic digital beasts leveling everything in sight. And on that front, it’s quite great. The “human story” leaves more than a little to be desired (there’s a fair amount of hilariously cheesy scripting), but by the end, I didn’t much care. I paid to see Godzilla bring the pain to civilization-trashing monstrosities – and if there happens to be some veiled societal commentary underlying things, so much the better.
For once, I can say without irony that I’m really looking forward to the sequel. Bring on King Ghidorah!
An impressively well-orchestrated summer action film. Well worth seeing for fans of this type of movie.
Normalized Score: 5.8