Godzilla Raids Again: A Review of Godzilla 2014

Godzilla is back.

Whether you love the new movie or hate it, there is no denying that the creature on the screen is the King of the Monsters. 1998, you are forgotten. This new movie is not the Jurassic Park-wannabe disaster that Roland Emmerich created. That said: do not set expectations fifty stories high. While Director Gareth Edwards has succeeded in creating a new narrative that tells a unique story in the Godzilla universe, this is not the definitive film that some of the early trailers led audiences to believe. For that honor: 1954 still reigns as king.

The plot and focus of the movie draw attention to one of my larger criticisms: I do not feel that this film should have simply been called Godzilla. My review title is in reference to Godzilla Raids Again, the second film of the Showa Series that was released in 1955. This is the Godzilla film that Gareth Edwards’ vision most closely resembles. The good news is that this iteration is much better than what was released nearly sixty years ago.

Fun fact: the United States changed the title of Godzilla Raids Again to Gigantis: the Fire Monster. They didn't think anyone would want to see a 2nd Godzilla movie. Thirty films later...
Fun fact: the United States changed the title of Godzilla Raids Again to Gigantis: the Fire Monster. They didn’t think anyone would want to see a 2nd Godzilla movie. Thirty films later…

The film opens with the discovery of MUTO. Two eggs are discovered in the Philippines, one of which has just recently hatched. The newly hatched monster heads straight for the first nuclear energy source, which as it turns out is a nuclear plant in Japan under the supervision of Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston). Muto arrives and wreaks havoc, resulting in a family tragedy. Fast forward fifteen years and Brody’s son (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is grown and with a family of his own. He is a military man returned from service who is trying to connect with his family. The problem: Joe Brody has become something of a conspiracy nut in the past fifteen years. He keeps insisting their was something more to the nuclear disaster, something that the military is hiding.

Meet Muto, Godzilla's newest bug bad guy.
Meet Muto, Godzilla’s newest bug bad guy.

Of course, the audience can guess where it goes from here. Brody recruits his son and the two arrive at the old wreckage just in time to witness a full grown MUTO hatch. They meet Mr. Serizawa (Ken Wanatabe) who lets them in on a little secret: MUTO is not the only giant monster out there. Yes, it turns out that Godzilla still showed up in 1954, only this time he did not destroy Tokyo. Enter one of the film’s main weak areas: Godzilla’s origin is glossed over. The audience learns that he appeared in 1954 and that nuclear weapons were used to try and kill him (Godzilla is some type of ancient animal from the day’s when the world was a lot more atomic in nature). The weapons didn’t work and Godzilla has been doing… something for the past sixty years. Don’t worry though, the military has wisely been using that time to not prepare any contingency plans, should Godzilla ever grow aggressive.

The plot doesn’t allow any time to dwell on this rather bizarrely timed bit of exposition. Muto is heading for Hawaii and our heroes must give chase. Notice the problem so far: Muto is driving the story action. This never really ends throughout the movie. Muto is the main monster of the plot. This echoes other Godzilla movies where the antagonistic monster is more closely tied into the story. The problem is that the studio decided to call this film Godzilla, creating a set of expectations that he would be the main presence. Godzilla is in the movie to be sure, but he is not the sole star.

The plot revolves around trying to stop the spread of Muto eggs.
The plot revolves around trying to stop the spread of Muto eggs.

Go back to my title, Godzilla Raids Again. This was the first movie that Godzilla shared with another monster and both kaiju drive the plot forward. That said, Godzilla Raids Again was also attempting to be an incredibly personal story about one family in the midst of this epic monster battle. Edwards’ Godzilla is like this also. The audience follows Johnson’s character, Ford Brody, really from start to finish. Every shot of the movie is at the human level. This is both a strength and a weakness as this film provides some of the most breathtaking perspective in the series, while at the same time some of the fights feel restricted. There’s no areal view to show everything like in Pacific Rim.

The things they are able to do with CGI. This really is a gorgeous film.
The things they are able to do with CGI. This really is a gorgeous film.

Godzilla is an epic, and there is human drama aplenty to carry the film through its 123 minutes. Things never drag and the story maintains a slow, methodical pace (similar to the hulking steps of Godzilla). People seeking monster brawls and plentiful amounts of the big G might be disappointed. The final fight is cool but it isn’t overly long.

This image was from the initial teaser. Evidently there was a monster design that went unused.
This image was from the initial teaser. Evidently there was a monster design that went unused.

Overall Edwards movie isn’t a classic but it isn’t a disaster. It is somewhere in between. If this is to be the first in a series then mission accomplished: the King of the Monsters is back, and I can’t wait to see who else he is going to fight.

 

The king has returned.
The king has returned.

Marketing Method: Godzilla (2014)

Trailers can reveal a lot about a movie. They can showcase the plot, the tone, and the characters. Often times, a film audience can tell the quality of a film, based on its previews. This May, the second American Godzilla remake will release across the world. This 2014 makes another attempt at adapting the Japanese creation for American audiences. The first attempt in 1998… did not go well. Just to recollect, here is the teaser for the 1998 remake:

I still remember seeing that in front of Men in Black. At the time I thought it looked fun and badass. Godzilla was taking out a T-Rex – take that, Jurassic Park! Oh, what foreshadowing that was. Godzilla 1998 never did get past that image of the T-Rex and those movies that came out right before it. But, enough about this movie, maybe I’ll talk about it another time.

I would like to show you the first teaser to the 2014 film, but sadly it was never legally released. All I can say is that it exists online and is worth checking out. This time, there were no mentions made of T-Rex. Instead the teaser was solemn, filled with images of destruction and the following quote:

"We knew the world would not be the same. A few people cried; most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'"
“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people cried; most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'”

The teaser concluded with that image of Godzilla roaring at the sky. It gave goosebumps and sent a message: this remake was trying to capture the tone of the 1954 original. The first Godzilla was not a fun action movie, I have already spoken about it at length. After the debacle in 1998, director Gareth Edwards wanted to send a message to Godzilla fans that his film would be different. Message received. Here is the first, publicly-shown teaser:

Leaves a different impression from the 1998 version, right? While both teasers are light on the actual plot and characters (as teasers often are), they mainly exist to showcase a tone. The 1998 teaser was light and fun, while the 2014 teaser provided shots of death and destruction. Godzilla himself was also featured much more heavily in the 2014 teaser: showcasing the monster as the main presence of the film.

In the trailers since then, this image has been reinforced. The audience has gotten snippets of plot (Bryan Cranston appears to be a scientist, Aaron Johnson is his son, the soldier) and how Godzilla is being presented. He is shown as a force of nature. An unstoppable juggernaut that even nuclear bombs cannot slow down. The shots are dark, often set at night or filled with shadow. There is very little normalcy shown, the audience instead being treated to soldiers, scientists, and other figures who are playing central roles in the action (there is only one shot of a “happy couple” dynamic in any of the trailers).

This looked like a disaster movie, when mankind trying to survive Godzilla instead of a volcano or meteor. Then came the first real trailer, and another factor was added to the mix. Godzilla is not the only monster in this movie.

While it is hard to say exactly what MUTO is (other than a bug), this monster is definitely not Godzilla.
While it is hard to say exactly what MUTO is (other than a bug), this monster is definitely not Godzilla.

Dubbed M.U.T.O., there isn’t much known about this adversary, other than it is an original creation (there is no Japanese film where Godzilla fought Muto in the past). With the appearance of this new plot element, questions arise about the films tone. Can it still echo the somber nature of the 1954 film (Gareth Edwards spoken intention) while featuring something as blockbuster as a monster fight? The trailers seemed to back this up. That is, until the most recent one:

Of all the Godzilla marketing, this preview is the most apart, in terms of content and tone. While other previews spoke about Godzilla in very realistic terms (almost as if the events were actually happening), this one adds some definite movie lines. “No, a god”… really? A god…zilla, you mean? Yeah, it’s kinda cheesy. “Let them fight” also is marked departure. If destruction (and the horrors of) is a central theme, then why are the humans encouraging the giant monsters to battle each other?

The destruction is still highlighted, but this time it is also an effects shot.
The destruction is still highlighted, but this time it is also an effects shot.

It creates issues. The tone of the original Godzilla is what helped it to be such a powerful movie. If that tone is battling with say, another monster, it looks as though it is going to break down. Again, however, the trailers could be trying to simply appeal to a wider audience. Note back to that 1998 teaser: how prevalent were the children? Pretty easy to spot that film’s target audience. This new Godzilla has looked far more scary by contrast, and the marketing department may simply want to show that there are other elements of the film beyond Godzilla destroying things.

It remains to be seen just how well-made a movie this new Godzilla is. That said, the marketing has certainly done its job creating excitement for the movie. Whether the tones conflict or not: destruction, ominous lines, and dark shots of the monster seem to be all that is necessary to make an effective monster-movie trailer.

Oh yeah: and budget for believable special effects! Always forget that one.