As Holly mentioned yesterday, we got plenty of movie watching in on our flights to and from Australia. I watched a great Australian science fiction film (Predestination) that I am going to talk about later (it comes out in the U.S. January 9th, it looks like – I recommend it!). I also watched a pretty miserable Australian science fiction/comedy called The Infinite Man (which I would NOT call a comedy…), and maybe I’ll talk about that too at some point.
But today I wanted to talk about Godzilla. We had been reluctant to see this film, and with the number of LitFlix we had going in May and June, we just did not make it to see this movie on the big screen. And it’s the sort of movie that probably begs to be seen on a big screen, with big monsters and all… instead we watched it on the tiny, tiny airplane screens. Such is life!
The most obvious comparison is to the 1998 Godzilla, but I can easily say this movie was better, and move on. I think instead I’ll make some less obvious comparisons to the movie, because after all, it’s Comparative Geeks! And because I’m not sure this movie stands on its own in my mind, it makes me think of too many other things. So spoilers ahead for 2014’s Godzilla!
Big Ol’ Destruction Movie
Godzilla is a destruction action movie, as it should be and always has been. Maybe it’s not Tokyo being destroyed now (which is almost too bad – you look at a movie like Pacific Rim and it did great internationally, which might mean international audiences like things that aren’t totally U.S. centric!) but it’s still big monsters rampaging around. Things are going to be destroyed, even if only on accident.
However, they kept in a lot of human element as well. And in doing so, they followed a trend that we’ve been seeing in a lot of movies like this: we follow the adventures of one family, who just happen to be in all the right places at all the right times to see the action, while also surviving it to show up in the next right place at the appropriate next right time.
We saw this last year with World War Z, and in doing so it was a big departure from the book (one of many). We spend a lot of time with Brad Pitt and his “family” as they move around the world, and especially as he travels to all of the important places as the action happens, to keep things moving forward.
I would also add in movies like War of the Worlds, which did much the same thing with Tom Cruise, and probably in a lot of other ones I’m not thinking of. I think one that did a whole lot of this and might be a reason we see so much of this is Independence Day, where it’s more than just one family we watch, but they all end up together and they save the day.
The goal is to humanize a story that is not, entirely, about humans. To take something huge that’s affecting hundreds or millions, and get us to relate to it with the struggles of just a few. That’s probably good, as it’s a hallmark of dictators that they lose that small view of people, and it becomes huge numbers of faceless people. Dehumanizing is bad, humanizing good. But it also feels like a way to lean on your big-name actor, when really, the big name we came to see in this movie was Godzilla.
At Least It Wasn’t Transformers…
By which I mean, at least we didn’t spend a whole bunch of time dealing with the “mystery” of what on Earth is going on. That’s how I felt about the first Michael Bay Transformers. We spend entirely too long with the humans, who spend entirely too long trying to figure out that there are some friggin’ robots in disguise around. While as the audience, we’re all sitting there going “It’s Transformers! We know! It’s the title! It’s why we’re here!”
At least, that’s what I’m shouting internally while I watch it. If I’m evoking a mental image, then imagine me also throwing popcorn at the screen.
Anyway, Transformers is also a movie where they try to humanize it like in the movies above. Except unlike the aliens in Independence Day or War of the Worlds, or the zombies in World War Z, the Transformers actually talk and have emotions and thoughts and morals of their own. They have far more capacity to carry the story on their own, and it’s not a humans-versus-aliens story.
So yes, Godzilla doesn’t do that. The audience gets some hints very early on about Godzilla, flashbacks to the 40’s. From there, we have people who know he exists, experts to bring in and answer the questions the military might rightly have about what’s up with the giant monsters. And while the military has doubts about the expert’s theories that Godzilla might actually be friendly, they are at least dealing with the solid knowledge of what’s going on from early on.
I should mention, that tension of them not deciding whether he’s friend or foe was a little odd to me. The fleet sails with Godzilla for miles and miles, then he gets to shore and they all shoot him. Really? Was that the plan all along? Did someone panic? Was that at all a good idea? I don’t know. But it’s there.
We Got What We Came For
Despite all of these other comparisons, maybe the most important one is to original Godzilla films. There are a few things that I would compare, though I will admit I am no expert on those films.
One is the all-important nuclear energy fear. Godzilla was a product of the country that actually had nuclear weapons used on it, and who rightly feared the unintended consequences of what radiation might do. When we were at the EMP Museum earlier this year, Godzilla was part of the horror exhibit. It taps into the Cold War fear of nuclear war. They have to change this same to set the movie in modern times, with it being nuclear reactors that bring the monsters out. But it’s a way to reintroduce this fear into a generation that has lived without it.
The other important comparison, the awesome traditional aspect, was that it was not a movie of humans versus Godzilla. Nope. It was Godzilla versus other monsters. That was awesome! The other monsters probably got more screentime, as they did more of the destroying and were there first. Then Godzilla returns to the world, its protector, to kick their sorry butts back to the stone age. It’s what you go to see in a Godzilla movie, and they delivered.
As a final aside (and comparison), it was a bit odd seeing Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen onscreen together, playing a married couple. Odd because this coming summer, they are going to be playing the Maximoff twins in Age of Ultron. They’re brother and sister! They can’t be married!
It was also a little weird to see how much older Taylor-Johnson looked, given the last I saw of him was as a high-schooler in Kick Ass and Kick-Ass 2. I guess he was cast as a little older than that, and now a little younger than the character he played in Godzilla. Just interesting, I guess.