Pyrotechnic-filled mega-hit popcorn flicks are not all the same, by the way. Some have redeeming qualities with others just alternate overlarge things breaking with people reciting wooden dialogue.
Godzilla is the latter, and it sucks.
Monsters, the first movie by director Gareth Edwards, used its CGI beasts as a kind of metaphor for nature and even dipped into a bit of sociology. In Godzilla, the monsters are just metaphors for monsters, and the only lesson that we might draw from it is that if a giant praying mantis and a giant dino-sized lizard emerge from the depths, we should trust the lizard.
So, in lieu of being entertained while watching this, I spent a lot of the movie working on a theory that I know to be completely untrue. The theory is that Godzilla, 2014 edition, is actually an arch meta-commentary on blockbusters and their slavish devotion to formulae. Warning: This movie is dull and clearly not smart enough to substantiate this theory. But thinking about this notion is the only fun I had watching this paint-by-numbers bore-fest.
Herewith, I offer my evidence for the plainly false idea that Godzilla is a covert attempt to comment on the nature of the modern blockbuster.
(Spoilers abound below, btw, at least in part because I don’t expect you to put yourself through actually watching this thing. You would do much better listening to the How Did This Get Made podcast on the 1998 Godzilla.)
the characters are just as bored as you are
Somewhere around the mid-point of Godzilla, it occurred to me that nobody seems terribly shocked by the appearance of a gargantuan super-reptile and two building-sized bugs. Bryan Cranston’s father character is hysterical, but he’s the only one having an appropriate reaction, and he dies at the end of the first act. Everyone else is at worst mildly phased by the arrival of three creatures each large enough to level a city.
The borderline-indifferent attitude was epitomized for me in a single line. It comes after the monsters have emerged, and our hero Ford Brody is chatting with a soldier on the march. The soldier says, with a sort of shrug, “I guess now we’re bug hunters.”
I can’t quite convey in writing how poorly this line is delivered; it’s hard to imagine a reading with less conviction, and it’s legitimately hard to figure out the meaning behind this comment. Is he being sarcastic? Is he angry that he hunts bugs now? (And why would he be resentful? That seems like action any gung-ho soldier would love to get in on.) It’s as if the primary effect of Godzilla in this guy’s life is one of tempered annoyance.
This odd disinterest is a meta-commentary in that it is not properly the reaction of the characters in the movie, but the reaction of an impatient audience, who, having seen the preview and knowing full well who Godzilla is, are not surprised at all by his arrival. Thus, the movie seems to be watching itself.
put a kid in it!
Do you like cute children shoehorned into a plot? Good, because Godzilla has more than its share.
For starters, there’s Ford’s son (whose apparent age doesn’t make a lot of sense in the film’s chronology, but whatever). But in a movie this dedicated to bland formulas – why develop character when you can show us a helpless 6-year-old? – we get not only another child of the same age, but a third.
First, Ford has to take care of a little boy separated from his parents through the nefarious machinations of an automated tram. But then, intercut with that same scene, there is another child, also around 6, who sees “a dinosaur” off the shore before the beach she’s on is destroyed by a tsunami. (Don’t worry, though, she’s probably fine; we follow her and her parents until they escape. Most of the other tsunami victims are adults, though, so their survival isn’t really interesting to the movie.)
Who would be so bold as to immediately introduce a third cute child after having only introduced the second mere moments before? Why, a filmmaker trying to point out the absurdities of formulaic action films, of course!
death, sweet merciful death
Name actors Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche only seem to live long enough in this movie to show us how terrible their hair can be. Seriously, it’s awful. Anyhow, one suspects that they looked at this script and negotiated their roles down to some bare minimum.
(Why they would have signed on in the first place is beyond me. Maybe it was just enough screen time to buy stuff. My guess for Juliette Binoche is that it was a Godzilla-sized chunk of chocolat. And for Bryan Cranston, well…)
In sum, characters only survive in inverse proportion to how much it hurts their career. Coincidence? I think not.
For as long as I can remember, the possibility that satellites can pinpoint people anywhere in the world almost instantaneously has been a given in several science-fiction films that posited the dangers of a near-omniscient state apparatus. It’s a bit of a cliché, although nowadays it seems almost prescient.
In a brilliant twist on this trope, Godzilla takes place in a world in which we don’t seem to have any satellite technology. On top of portraying the military as oddly ambivalent toward the monster threat, the world of Godzilla is one in which it would seem the acme of intelligence technology is a pair of binoculars and a CB radio. “There are reports of…” is a phrase used in this movie to talk about creatures approximately 100 feet tall, as if the military has been reduced to using rumors to find their targets. What a fresh take on the exaggeration of our surveillance ability!
(I will admit, the fact that multiple countries recently lost track completely of an entire commercial flight gives me pause on this point. Like…that can happen in 2014? I digress.)
the cgi man in a costume
The titular Godzilla of this movie actually seems to have great dexterous potential, showing some very precise use of his hands. Between this, and his noted weight-gain from previous movies, this computer-generated monster is looking more and more like a regular old person. What if he were to wear clothes and begin talking? Why, he’d almost look like…
Which is to say, the producers spent untold millions to create a creature that moves and acts like a man dressed in a foam rubber suit of yore.
establishing a skill that is not used
As part of Godzilla‘s flurry of exposition, most of which merely delivers the premise that monsters walk the earth, we learn that protagonist Ford Brody can disable bombs. We could assume that the movie would eventually have him disable a bomb as the climax of the movie. Right?
Nope. He just passes out next to a bomb. And then he’s rescued moments before it explodes. Blast radius and radiation be damned, he’ll be fine.
In this way, the film cleverly subverts the genre by establishing a skill that is never used. This apparent lapse certainly wasn’t the result of crummy screenwriting, I can assure you. (If a 6-year-old had appeared to dismantle the warhead, however, I admit I would have been suspicious.)
In a word: Cloverfailed. (Self-high five for snarky cleverness!)