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Godzillla is back and so is the welcome corn
If someone were to ask why I prefer “Godzilla” to 2013’s giant monster extravaganza “Pacific Rim,” I’d have a hard time coming up with a coherent answer.
Both are titans in the industry of slick-looking CGI behemoths, both are patently absurd, and both feature the kind of realistic urban destruction I’ve longed to see since my days playing “Rampage” in the arcade at the local mall. “Pacific Rim” even included skyscraper sized Rock’em Sock’em robots to pummel large bipedal shark creatures into submission.
And yet, “Pacific Rim” felt overlong and noisy. It was entertaining for about half an hour, but I was soon ready to move on. This year’s “Godzilla” is the opposite. I was never aware of how long the film was, only that I didn’t want it to end. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia built into the character itself—it reminds me of days spent in the library as a child, reading books about movie monsters like The Creature from the Black Lagoon and King Kong, fascinated by the creature effects and costumes.
Godzilla was certainly the king of those books, and seeing a faithful adaptation of the original films was an absolute joy. Perhaps it’s that the filmmakers didn’t try to Americanize or modernize the story; it maintains a 1950s perception of nuclear radiation, never apologizing for this deliberate misunderstanding but reveling in it and celebrating the ignorance. Whatever the reason, “Godzilla” proves that films like these don’t need to make sense. They just needs to exist.
It’s the fear and reverence for the power of the atom that makes Godzilla a distinctly Japanese creation. Japan is a country that felt the full devastation of nuclear weapons. Godzilla is the personification of that destructive force. This film marks the 60th anniversary of the creature and, to its credit, maintains the theme of nuclear energy as a consumptive and dangerous arrogance on the part of mankind. This is silly, of course, but so are city-destroying monsters. It’s just an exploration of humanity’s irrational fear of what isn’t easily understood.
The monsters are explained as leftovers from a previous Earth, a time millions of years ago when the surface was much more radioactive. These creatures fed on the radioactivity, but as it dissipated on the surface, the creatures retreated underground, closer to the Earth’s core. Man’s newfound technology has begun to draw them back to the surface once more. The main antagonists of the film are a pair of “Cloverfield”-esque type monsters, insectoid creatures with lots of limbs, looking to mate and reestablish their dominance in nature. Godzilla exists to balance that force. He emerges to do battle and hunt them back into extinction.
The MUTOs, as they’re called, are surprisingly sneaky despite being essentially mayflies the size of mountains. The humans are constantly losing them, even though from above they appear to leave a pretty large trail of breadcrumbs. The stealth of these colossal beasts might be my favorite part of the movie.
As to the main event, the appearance of titular character, I can’t say enough about the design and rendering of the fire-breathing lizard. Where 2001’s box office bomb tried to update the character, making it more lizard-like and realistic, the 2014 “Godzilla”maintains much of the original look. In fact, Godzilla moves almost exactly the way a man in a rubber suit would, with a bit more grace. These battles look exactly as they should—recreated versions of the older films completed with the best CGI current technology has to offer.
This is a film that begs to be seen at a drive-in-theater, late at night, surrounded by fireflies and fogged Chevy windows. The performances by the human actors in the film are exactly as they need to be: barely there. This isn’t a film that calls for strong acting. As long as the characters can look sufficiently afraid and astonished, they’ve done their jobs. At the same time, the characters take the events in the film deadly seriously, which makes a film bordering on camp able to maintain its quality.
It is inspiring that a film like “Godzilla” can still be made. This is an extremely simple premise, one that doesn’t need much dissection or over-thinking. There is an ongoing trend in recent films, insisting on updating previous franchises with realism and overwrought emotion.
I have no doubt that there were dissenting voices while this film was being made, voices hoping to “update” the film to reach a modern audience with gritty reality. Luckily, “Godzilla” avoids both parody and ironic severity. It aims to be a monster movie and succeeds in all areas.