Not since 1954’s Gojira has any movie company managed to portray Godzilla with the majesty that the new Godzilla (which is at least the third movie to bear that one word title) does. Never before has a monster been so breathtaking, so simply awesome. Godzilla makes every one of the monsters rather brief appearances an event. The word gets thrown around to the point of making it meaningless, but Godzilla is truly worthy of being called epic.
Many of the detractors of the new movie tend to reference Pacific Rim as a superior alternative. As someone who also greatly enjoyed that film, I find this comparison to be empty. Pacific Rim is a much more fun film. That film is fun from start to finish. There are somber and serious moments, but they wash by in a deluge cool awesomeness. Pacific Rim is about humanity rising up to defeat a seemingly insurmountable enemy. It is about the power of humanity. Godzilla, though, takes things the opposite way. It is far from being about the power of humanity, it is about humanity being powerless. In Godzilla the seemingly insurmountable enemy actually is. It is like watching a natural disaster; it is awful and horrible and there is nothing you can do to stop it. It does make for a movie that is less strictly fun to watch, but it also makes for a movie that is all the more effecting.
Godzilla starts in Japan, with Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) futility trying to uncover the source of some seismic anomalies that are affecting the nuclear power plant where he works. His concerns are ignored by the higher ups and the he ends up facing tragedy as things prove worse than even he surmised. All on his birthday. Fifteen years later he is still trying to uncover the cause of that disaster, while his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) tries to put it all behind him. When Ford is called back to Japan because his father was arrested trespassing on the site of the accident. He goes to get his father, only to get caught up in the uncovering of the long hidden secret of the disaster.
The title kind of gives away what the source of the disaster is. The stays grounded, shown from the perspective of the people seeing the monsters. Yes monsters, it is not just Godzilla but 3 distinct monsters. Godzilla himself does not appear for quite a long time in the movie. Even when he does, it is just glimpses to start. The movie teases the viewer it quick snippets of Godzilla or two monsters fighting. It is agonizing, but enthralling. Luckily, the human characters are strong enough to carry the other parts of the film. Ford is consumed with a desire to return to his family in San Francisco. Unfortunately for him, his path happens to be the same one the monsters are on. The military does all they can to stop the beasts, but all of their attempts are for not. It gives the movie a ground zero feeling; it puts the viewer on the same level as the characters, looking up at the rampaging monsters.
The majesty of the monsters makes the human characters seem all the more powerless. They have a plan to destroy the monsters, but it is doomed to fail. The last desperate effort they make is not to stop the monsters, but to stop the tragedy they enacted trying to stop the monsters. It really helps that the monsters themselves are solid characters. Godzilla is a bully and a brute. He is the alpha predator of alpha predators and he is on the hunt. The MUTOs, each distinct from the other, are actually quite sympathetic. Sure, they are killing thousands of people and destroying cities, but there isn’t any malice there. They are merely too large to coexist with humanity. Godzilla shows humanities reach exceed its grasp. We push forward with technologies, but awaken forces that we have no hope of controlling. It is not about backing off of scientific discovery, just about realizing that we aren’t necessarily the nature’s masters. There are still things we don’t know and can’t control.
Apparent from the last name of the main characters (Brody, the same as Jaws), this Godzilla takes many cues from the works of Steven Spielberg; most notably Jaws and Jurassic Park. It feels like his work while watching. Not as directly or as heavily as Super 8 did, but more effectively. It feels a little like a throwback, paced more like a movie from a couple of decades ago than a modern blockbuster. It takes its time, not rushing right to the money shots of Godzilla destroying a city. That wait makes the shots worth it. Cheers erupted from the audience when I watched it at two separate moments. Both showed Godzilla at his most awesome. This movie does that well. It may not feature the titular monster quite as much as one would hope, but his time on screen is unforgettable.