When I heard there was going to be a reboot of the popular Godzilla franchise, I instantly determined that I would have to see the film first run on the big screen. Delaying for a cheaper price at a second run theater, or waiting for the DVD release would simply not suffice for this film. I was genuinely excited, even “stoked” for seeing how the most venerable of all movie monsters would be reimagined for the first time in a decade.
Growing up in the 1970s, I had always enjoyed watching those cheesy (but lovable) Godzilla flicks on Saturday movie matinees. Another beloved facet of my youth was a regular family trip to Cape Cod for vacation. The group of cottages where we would stay (owned by my aunt and uncle) was but a mile from the ocean. Do you think I so enjoyed making those trips to South Chatham to enjoy the (then) unspoiled beauty and charm of Cape Cod? Of course not. I was looking forward to Creature Double Feature on the Cape’s Channel 56, which often showed the Godzilla classics on Saturday afternoons. I make this personal disclosure so that you, the reader, will understand what you are dealing with. Although I just turned 50, the little boy who revered “B'” sci-fi and horror yarns is still alive and well in the recesses of my soul.
So I recently entered my neighborhood theater with the same boyish anticipation that preceded my lost afternoons in front of Creature Double Feature, hoping to recapture some of the “magic” that came from taking in a Godzilla classic from the 50s or 60s. (King Kong vs. Godzilla from 1962 was a personal favorite; Kong shoves an entire tree down Godzilla’s throat! What more could a kid ask for?) I knew that at the very least the digital technology would do more justice to the Big Fella than ever before, although I do concede a certain affection for those low-budget Toho Film effects, such as the guy in the big rubber Godzilla suit (what a great job that must have been!) melting those cheap plastic model tanks and such with radioactive breath. Well, upon leaving the theater some two and a half hours later, I sighed with resignation as I realized that the visual effects were, in my eyes at least, the only redeeming feature of this disappointing film.
As I walked away from the theater, I was compelled to look back at the listing of movie titles on the building’s facade. I wanted to be sure that the title of the film I had just watched was, in fact, Godzilla. The reason for this behavior was my belief that the film could just as easily have been titled “Young MUTOS in Love”, or “I Left My Monster in San Francisco”. There was surprisingly little “face time” for the supposed star of Godzilla. The insect-like MUTOS were given more screen time than Godzilla himself, and quite frankly, I went to this movie to see the “King of Monsters”, not a pair of submarine-munching mutant bugs.
I had also gone to this movie with the perhaps absurd notion that I might gain some new insight into Godzilla as a living creature (I know he’s a 350-foot tall lizard, but he can have feelings too!), but all I sadly came away with is the fact that he apparently likes to swim. Perhaps Godzilla should take on Michael Phelps in a sequel. When he trudges back into the Pacific at the film’s conclusion (was that “nap” he was taking supposed to arouse pathos in us in that we thought he might be dead?), my only reaction was, “Hey big guy, I hardly knew you!” I realize Godzilla and King Kong, for example, are completely different creatures, but Peter Jackson’s update on Kong a few years ago (a truly spectacular reimagination of a classic beast) allowed the viewer some access into what makes such a bestial creature tick, and the viewer actually felt something for the legendary creature by the film’s conclusion.
To continue, Godzilla is somewhat unique as movie monsters go because over the decades he has been cast as both villain and savior of the planet, so it might be difficult to try to any kind of meaningful “character development” with him. I will say, though, that changing the premise of his origin, and no longer portraying him as a symbol of mankind’s scientific arrogance (the MUTOS took on that identity) makes Godzilla less interesting. He’s no longer the nuclear terror that mankind has leased upon itself, and with that change a lot of potential story substance and irony is lost.
As one-dimensional as Godzilla was, though, even more uninteresting, if that’s possible, were the human characters in this film. Most of the characters in this movie had all of the personality of a baked potato, and the only remotely interesting character, Bryan Cranston’s tormented Joe Brody, was killed off early in the film. When the younger Brody’s family is reunited at the film’s conclusion, I literally felt nothing, as the film, with its tepid screenplay and plot action, had not given me any good reason to truly care about these characters (I’m really not a hard-hearted guy, though!).
Interestingly, with the release of this new Godzilla feature, there has been renewed opportunity to comment on all of the perceived shortcomings of the Matthew Broderick 1998 Godzilla incarnation. While that film certainly had its failures, it offered two elements sorely lacking in the new film. First, it had some genuinely humorous moments, which any movie needs. I understand that perhaps the intent was to purge some of the campy feeling that may have come with the 1998 version, but the 2014 movie had not a single scene that I can recall as even remotely funny. A lighter moment now and again would have helped break up some of the intensity.
Second, and remarkably at the same time, this ultra-serious movie offered very little that truly kept the viewer on the edge of his seat. The 1998 film, to its credit, had a good pace with some action sequences that made the viewer feel the sense of danger that the characters were experiencing. As I watched this Godzilla, I had no vicarious sense of “participation” in the film whatsoever. I felt detached and uninvolved in the events of this movie.
In spite of all the issues I obviously have with the updated Godzilla, however, one in particular raises my dander more than all of the rest. As that well-known Jim Croce song said, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape”, and so on, there is one other thing that you simply don’t do…….
You don’t mess with Godzilla’s primal scream.
The “new” scream is certainly effective in its own right, and similar enough to the old one, but the classic Godzilla shriek remains one of the great and venerable movie sound effects of all time. Call me a hopeless purist, but some things require no tinkering. Period.
As a final comment that actually speaks in favor of the new film, I will say to those who have been critical of the new Godzilla’s look as being somewhat “chunky” that they are way off-base. Godzilla is not supposed to look anorexic like some chic runway model. He should appear a bit pudgy like his lovable ancestor. After all, we all know that radioactivity is highly caloric.
Long live the King of Monsters in whatever film he finds himself!