|Another day's work done for the Big Guy.|
That’s right. Do not expect to hear some reasonable explanation of how this prehistoric mega-monster survived from the Paleolithic era in the depths of the ocean. Or how his nemeses, the MUTOs—Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (or something, I was crunching popcorn at the time)—slept deep in the earth, close to its core, until disturbed by human mining operations. They eat radioactivity! They want to breed! Nothing will destroy them!
All of this is explained to us by those staples of 1950s sci fi flicks, the Good Scientist (Ken Watanabe—wonderfully soulful) and his Smart Girl Assistant (Sally Hawkins—wide-eyed, but ever ready with the facts). Dr. Serizawa tells everyone who listens that the hulking beast wading out of Honolulu Bay to do battle with the MUTOs is actually the good guy, sent by Mother Nature to restore the balance. The U.S. Navy admiral charged with defending the world (David Strathairn), takes some convincing. He just wants to blast all monsters to hell.
Of course, if you’ve seen any kind of monster movie before, you know how this goes. Godzilla and the MUTOs play hide and seek from Honolulu to San Francisco. Then they clash in a climactic CGI frenzy of destruction, laying waste to the City by the Bay. Along the way, we learn, through various subplots, how humans have been complicit in creating this disaster—by ignoring the warning signs, by trying to manipulate the MUTOs for “research” purposes, through ignorance and arrogance. Like the original GODZILLA of 1954, the monsters of this film are tied to nuclear proliferation (this time for energy, not weaponry). It’s no coincidence that the MUTOs find the nuclear missiles launched against them to be a tasty snack.
The talented Bryan Cranston, fresh off his turn in BREAKING BAD, chews up the scenery in one of these subplots as a nuclear technician who loses his wife in an early breakout by one of the MUTOs. He never gets over it, and keeps pushing to discover the real reason why his power plant imploded, but didn’t leak radioactivity everywhere. His son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) becomes the human hero of the film, suiting up to deliver the bomb that finally destroys the MUTOs’ nest.
But the real hero of the film, as it should be, is Godzilla, the “king of the monsters”. Battered and beaten, he rises from what looks like certain defeat to kill his Mothra-like enemies in the end. Then he roars in triumph (who can forget that “BLAAAAAAATTT!” sound?) and stomps off into the sunset, er, ocean.
You have to expect that a movie like this one would have great special effects, and it does. But GODZILLA has something else, too. It has heart, a kind of root-for-the-underdog, cheer-at-the-end simplicity. The human characters do their jobs, and in most cases, they are sympathetic and relatable. (Watanabe and Cranston are, after all, really good at what they do, no matter how silly the context.) But it is Godzilla himself we recognize as the star of the show. He is the Dr. House of the monster world—crusty and misogynistic on the outside, willing to die for us on the inside.
Much of the appeal of Edwards’s GODZILLA is born of a respect for the original material and the time in which it was produced. The first GODZILLA, produced by Toho Films and directed by Ishiro Honda nine years after the end of WWII, was weak on special effects, but spoke to the deep pain in the Japanese psyche left from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It became an instant classic, not only in Japan, but around the world. And Gojira himself, as Godzilla is called in Japanese, became a cult hero, with a spate of sequels in which he saves Japan over and over from any number of threats.
Edwards recognized this and gives Godzilla his due in this film, unlike the 1998 film of the same name starring Matthew Broderick. Fans dubbed that monster GINO—Godzilla in Name Only—because he set out to destroy New York like any other ginormous radioactive beast. The credits in Edwards’s film stress the nuclear connection, also, with old film stock of bomb tests juxtaposed with redacted material about the bad-guy corporation of the story. Coupled with a number of “Easter-egg”-type references to the original film, you get a real sense of the director’s love for his subject.
So, pass the popcorn, y’all. I’m in the mood for a ten-story tall, scaly, green lizard hero.