This post does contain some minor spoilers for Godzilla. Please refrain from reading this if you have a spoiler sensitivity.
The first couple of movies that I was exposed to in the Japanese medium were Kaiju and Mech films. Rented for pennies on the dollar from local video stores, these stories were some of my favorite growing up: watching Rodan tear through the sky, the arena-like fighting of Robot Jox, or connecting to the childlike Minilla, this larger-than-life display of struggle filled me with imagination and wonder. Justin was my source for everything Kaiju- and Mech-related, and we fawned over combinations like Mecha King Ghidorah and Moguera.
Needless to say, when I hear of modern movies like Real Steel, Pacific Rim, and the new Godzilla being made, I figuratively wet my pants over the anticipation. Part guilty pleasure and part dissertation of the dangers of modern technology, these movies bring the fanboy out in me, obviously being part of the hardcore audience compared to the general one. The following is a critique of the new Godzilla: directed by Gareth Edwards with an A-list cast, accompanied with writers who have worked on the likes of Seventh Son and The Expendables, it follows not only the eponymous Kaiju, but the lives of people trying to cope with the forces of nature and man.
Although I did appreciate the acting abilities from the likes of Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston, I was a little irked to find how small their roles were as characters. Heavily featured in many of the trailers and posters, I was excited to see two actors of different schools mesh together to make a believable American Kaiju film, but their interaction with each other is little to none. To have two critically acclaimed starts never cross paths in the same movie is a confusing choice from a storytelling standpoint, and I personally feel that the movie would only have benefitted with exchanges from these two. There was already a pre-crafted emotional tie between the two: both had loved ones that were lost to the production of atomic power and weaponry. To see these two passionate characters work together would have added another layer to a movie rife with social and political themes, but unfortunately this did not happen.
This could have been intentional though, lending to a very interesting theme that was touched throughout the entire movie: the idea of man’s ineffectiveness when it comes to the forces of nature. Cole made a joke last night after the movie that nobody completed any mission that they were tasked with, and while it is unintentionally funny, there’s a truth to it that speaks volumes to the crafting of the film. Take the efforts of Dr. Ichiro Serizawa and Lt. Ford Brody, for example. Dr. Serizawa was tasked to contain and neutralize anomalous events, resistant to the efforts of atomic power and wary of its destructive force, yet in the end he realizes that nature will take care of its own needs, even if it needs to employ something that man created accidentally. Lt. Brody had a different task at hand; being an EOD Specialist, he was assigned the mission of dismantling an atomic device that ran off of manual controls, yet in the end his body is too broken to complete his mission and has to be airlifted out of the blast zone. Even in smaller matters throughout the movie people are constantly faced with failure: whether it was delivering a child to their parents or being arrested for trespassing, there was a constant feeling of disappointment and incompletion.
Godzilla was an incredible homage to its 1954 counterpart in many ways, where both general and hardcore fans could appreciate the nods to its history. Dr. Serizawa in the original was the creator of the Oxygen Destroyer, and battled with the same struggles that were reminiscent of Atomic Age scientists; this is seen in the struggles of the new movie as well, where knowledge is treated with an undesired weight on many characters’ shoulders. The obtaining of knowledge was extremely dangerous for all characters in the movie: Joe Brody is haunted by his scientific findings to the point where the guilt consumes his life, while Lt. Ford Brody is not able to protect his family, since he is the only one with bomb disposal knowledge. This idea of knowledge as a curse not only built a bleak and emotionally heavy backdrop, but also highlighted the original film’s message of restraint through times of adversity, and some characters pay dearly for not exercising said restraint.
Equal parts love letter and modern adaptation, the new incarnation of Godzilla requires an open mind when viewing. This film deals less with the battles of Kaiju, but more with the social, political, and cultural implications that arise when knowledge is either abused or neglected. This is meant to be a mix of unimaginable action and a vehicle to promote thought-provoking ideals, but I have a very strong feeling that the general audience isn’t ready or accepting of a serious Kaiju film. With some unintentionally funny and questionable scenes, the film still doesn’t pull its emotional punches, and I highly recommend seeing it if you’re in a thinking mood. Really, I just want to see the movie do extremely well, for the sake of seeing Mechagodzilla treated in a serious and intriguing way.