Have you ever seen that 1998 Godzilla film with Matthew Broderick? Well, allow me to assure you that Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla makes that movie look like a morbid comedy.
Actually, let me take that back. The 1998 movie doesn’t need any help looking silly, because it just is. In contrast, you’ll find nothing laughable about the latest outing of our favorite giant monster.
While Godzilla may not be a terribly fast paced film, it makes up for this with its mysteriousness. Despite the fact that the plot initially unravels in a somewhat leisurely manner, it still manages to hold your interest and spark your curiosity. Its cryptic approach is rather erie, which feels refreshing compared to the in-your-face, I’m-a-giant-beast-smashing-your-city style we’ve come to expect from this type of movie. Don’t let me fool you, though. There is definitely some city-smashing, but it doesn’t completely dominate the scope of the story.
I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but I can’t guarantee that some won’t leak through.
A considerable portion of the plot follows the exploits of Joe Brody, former supervisor at the Janjira nuclear power plant in Japan, Ford Brody, a US Navy explosive ordnance disposal officer, and two scientists by the names of Ishiro Serizawa and Vivienne Graham.
Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is obsessed with discovering the cause of a strange seismic event that destroyed the Janjira power plant and claimed the life of his wife, Sandra, fifteen years prior. His son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), with whom he shares a strained relationship, reluctantly lends a hand in his pursuit. They soon cross paths with Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham, who we find camped out among the remnants of the power plant, engaged in their own investigation of the source of the tremors, which actually originated in the Philippines.
The culprit of the seismic activity from fifteen years ago turns out to be a parasitic life form which grows into a gigantic beast that thrives on radiation. It has cocooned itself in the grounds of the power plant for over a decade, gaining strength from the radiation in its surroundings, and now it has awakened. The monster (later called MUTO, or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) emerges to wreak havoc on civilization, and a race to stop the enormous brute’s reign of destruction commences.
We learn that Serizawa and Graham are part of the Monarch Project; scientists secretly devoted to the study of the prehistoric behemoth known as Godzilla, and some light is shed on its origins and history. Serizawa believes that Godzilla is a force of nature whose purpose is to restore balance, and is convinced that Godzilla will inevitably intervene in the chaos.
What’s fascinating about the film is that it’s not all about the CGI and special effects. It definitely has those elements working in its favor, especially the Godzilla monster itself; he just looks awesome. But there’s more to Godzilla than rampaging monsters and explosions. It’s just as much about the people. Most notable are Ford’s estrangement with his father, Joe, and Serizawa and Admiral William Stenz’s opposing views on crisis management. Despite Ford’s differences with his father, he exhibits enough strength of character to put his grievances aside and be there when Joe needs him. Regarding the crisis management issue, Stenz (David Strathairn) would rather rely on military force and strategy to get the job done, but Serizawa believes it would be wiser to stand back and let nature take its course. The Admiral seems resolute in his decision. However, when his initial plan goes to pot, he demonstrates enough humility to concede to Serizawa and basically says, “Okay, what now?” In addition, we see Ford Brody displaying some gutsy, selfless heroics. The monsters are cool, and the special effects are eye-catching, but the people – their interactions, relationships, experiences, actions, and reactions – are the glue that holds this film together.
As an objective viewer, I can’t help noticing some possible conflicting philosophies in the story. At one point Serizawa says the arrogance of man is believing that he controls nature, not the other way around. While there may be a bit of truth in that statement, it fails to give God credit as the entity being in control of nature, and almost seems to passively imply that nature is its own master. Furthermore, while our trying to literally control nature is futile, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been given dominion over the earth, as we are given to understand in Genesis 1:26: Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” At the same time, even though the mention of Godzilla’s species originating millions of years in the past might contain undertones of evolution, I find it curious that that particular buzz word is never spoken. One theme I definitely appreciate, though, is the closeness Ford enjoys with his wife and child. A young married couple in a healthy relationship with a five year old son they’re both crazy about. Amid a society in which the traditional family dynamic is under siege, how can you not love seeing that in a modern movie? And I can’t forget the team of paratroopers having a moment of prayer before embarking on their mission. Even if the filmmakers intended it to be part of the background noise, you can’t miss it. God may not seem to get a lot of attention in the movie, but it isn’t devoid of Him, either.
In a way, God could actually have a bigger presence in Godzilla than you might think. Godzilla is referred to at one time as “a god, for all intents and purposes.” Now, I could sit here and raise objections about that, or I could use it as a vehicle by which to draw a parallel. I’m electing to do the latter. Look at the role that Godzilla plays in the film. When humanity is being ravaged, he wants to run interference. However, Admiral Stenz wants to solve the problem his own way, and even ends up working against Godzilla. Sound familiar? How often in our lives do we find ourselves fighting against God and His plans when all He really wants to do is help us? We may not understand His methods and they may seem pretty frightening to us at first, but He is far better equipped to tackle our giants than we are. Surprisingly deep for a monster movie, isn’t it?
While I can’t say I’m in a huge hurry to buy it, Godzilla is an enjoyable movie. The film doesn’t have a ridiculous amount of bad language, but there is some in there. Also, there is a brief moment of passionate affection between Ford and his wife, Elle, but they’re interrupted by a phone call while they’re both still fully clothed and nothing more happens.
Some might complain that Godzilla isn’t center-stage the whole time, but I think that gives the movie more anticipatory buildup. He doesn’t make his first appearance until about halfway through the film, but it’s worth the wait. If what you want is a pervasive monster-smash session, then this movie isn’t for you; Gareth Edward’s Godzilla is more than just monsters.