Godzilla movies are a serious crapshoot. It's easy to see why - the original and its ilk, so beloved by many, are a particular flavor of sci-fi cheese. They are not 'good movies.' They are Godzilla movies (later just 'Japanese monster movies'). There have been several attempts to bring Godzilla into the modern era. The most recent I had seen was the 1998 version starring Matthew Broderick that was…well, it was terrible, let's be honest. And not just a terrible movie - it was a terrible Godzilla movie. That's inexcusable. I heard there was a Godzilla 2000 that I didn't see.
So it was with trepidation that I went to see the latest iteration, which I've chosen to node here as Godzilla 2014 because I already have a commentary w/u in Godzilla.
The movie has a hard task to pull off. It had to (in my mind) properly draw on the history of and in fact pay homage to the original film and series. It had to hold up technically in an age of Pacific Rim and very well done modern disaster/giant mecha/monster CGI effects. It had to, most importantly, hit that particular range of camp where a bunch of actors achieve Godzilla by being VERY SERIOUS on screen, and trusting the film to produce the requisite cheesiness purely through the dialogue, the context, the pacing, etc.
The opening credits sequence perked up my hopes. It's really very clever.
Note: I'm not going to worry about 'spoilers' in this review. Godzilla movies contain a veritable checklist of things that MUST exist for them to succeed, and telling you whether they're present or not is part and parcel of judging the Godzilla movie. I'll try to avoid non-Godzilla-standard plot information, although really, who cares about that?
The opening credits can possibly be used to determine if this is a movie you'll enjoy. They are a montage of old photographs and film clips, taken from the atomic testing era. Some have been manipulated. Basically, for each credit, they print a paragraph of text which is relevant to either Godzilla or atomic testing or both and contains the credit name, and then quickly 'redact' every part of the paragraph except the name. It's well done. The photos and film clips, behind the text, look like they're telling the story of atomic testing. This is perfectly sensible, given the historical 'origin' of Godzilla as being born from said tests. However, as they go along, they are modified subtly - and the attentive watcher will realize they're telling their own story, one which differs from the 'classic' Godzilla origin story and weaves in the idea of cover-ups and secret history. Very nice.
The movie does start with a sequence that takes place in the past - its date is given as 1999, and covers two Pacific Rim nations. It then jumps forward to present day.
So let's get to the meat of this review. Are the elements of Godzilla that we need present? Let's just give in and do a checklist.
That's not a comprehensive list. But it should demonstrate that we're being very, very faithful to the canon here.
What else? Hm.
OTHER GODZILLA PLOT ELEMENTS:
- Monster combat: Check.
- Very Serious Japanese Scientist: Check.
- U.S. Military all cranked up: Check.
- Nuclear weapons: Check.
- Monster Reproduction: Check.
- Background-scenery-in-spooky-scenes-suddenly-moving-because-it's-the-monster: Check.
- Futile but inevitable attacks on monsters: Check.
- Collateral damage: Check.
- Completely inconsistent physics/time and continuity/believability issues ignored with straight face: Check.
I could go on, but I'll leave it there.
To tl;dr this for you - this is not a 'good movie.' It is, however, an EXCELLENT Godzilla movie. If that excites you, I strongly recommend it. It departs from canon in a couple of ways, notably around the origin of Godzilla, but pays loving homage to it everywhere it can, to the point of individual scene elements and events tossed in all through the film.
As I mentioned earlier, it had to hit that balance between cheese and camp and silly, done with carefully straight faces. ACCOMPLISHED. Everyone in this movie is very serious at all times and not sarcastically so- and it's only when you pull your head back into the context or the movie as a whole that you can see how much they're laughing their asses off at it, while enjoying the hell out of it. Brilliant.
There was some complaining about the amount of screen time Godzilla gets in this movie. Yes, he's only directly onscreen for less than 12 minutes or so. But you know what, it doesn't matter - it preserves him as this huge unstoppable force, rather than letting us stare at the CGI and pick apart flaws.
Oh yeah, and as a New Yorker - SUCK IT, SAN FRANCISCO! It's your turn, we had the Avengers blow away midtown, now it's all you!