Review; Godzilla (2014)

This review is for all the kids I used to play with in the same street. Now we’re all grown up and old, or so people tell me.

This review is written in two parts; one before I have even seen the movie to further elaborate certain things where I come from with Godzilla, and the second part will be the proper. I strongly recommend reading the first part before jumping to the second, but if you don’t give two shits about my premises, skip way down with the cutline.

The problem in a Godzilla since the first sequel is that there’s three kinds of Godzillas in extreme; the one that Godzilla originally was and to some extent, is supposed to be; secondly there’s the Godzilla that the plot needs, be it weak to electricity or using it to get stronger, or the good guy instead of the menace he used to be; thirdly and most importantly, the one culture, especially pop-culture, perceives it to be.

The third one is most important, because that’s how Godzilla is perceived most of the time. If we are brutally honest, the only thing really matters is that cultural image it has. Only purists and people who are deep into the Godzilla movies care about what he is supposed to be, and even then there’s a huge split between the people who root for the first movie’s themes and style and the people who perceive Godzilla movies as monster mash-ups, where cities are decimated and every movie brings in a new monster or three.

Who am I to say that the one image is more correct than the other? They are, after all, opinions and no opinion is ever more valid than any other as they are based on personal taste. You might think that someone else’s opinion is complete and utter shit, but at the same time your opinion is just as shit. Because of this there is no one true way to approach Godzilla; there only best ways to approach Godzilla. If the writer decides to make a Godzilla movie a giant monster mash, he is right in doing it. If he decides to take it back to the roots and explore the deeper message and meaning that a Godzilla has, then is right in doing it. However, is the writer right when he reinvents Godzilla to be something else? As much as my bias would want me to say No, we all know that the answer is the opposite. There are certain demands a Godzilla needs to have to be a Godzilla, but other than that all the options are free to be used. However, a Godzilla ceases to be Godzilla when some other character’s important elements are dropped in there, as neither of them are unique any more.

What Godzilla and the movies he is generally are perceived as is that it’s a about a giant green lizard duking it out against another monster, and they can breathe some sort of fire. Nerds have managed to punch through the cultural barrier a little bit and it seems that it is more common knowledge that it’s really called Atomic Breath. I wonder if people realize its hyper dense atomic vapour we saw in the first film. Catering to that is enough most of the time, as most Godzilla fans seem to be satisfied with that.

Godzilla has a lot of imitators, and most of them try to be the popular image of Godzilla. Very few of these have managed to escape their dime in the dozen stature, and one of the most important rivals to Godzilla in quality is Gamera. The Gamera Trilogy of the 90’s is by far one of the best examples how to revamp something while still staying true to the origin spirit. Showa Gamera was by all means horrible and stayed in American pop-culture through MST3K. However, it can be argued with very high basis that the Gamera Trilogy is better than majority of Godzilla pictures and for a good reason. They’re good, damn good. As someone who dismissed them for years as only a glitch in the monster loving crowd, I fully admit that if I have a choice of putting one of the three Gamera movies on or any of the Showa Godzilla, Gamera would win. Gamera has few key differences to Godzilla, which can be described as balancer in the nature, a destructive defender or as the Trilogy puts it, the Absolute Guardian of the Universe. Gamera is there to guard and he does it with extreme prejudice. This is what Godzilla is not; a friend, balancer or defender. Godzilla is an accident of human foolishness and a reminder what we have unleashed. In Gamera Trilogy, Gamera is there to protect the world, even if it means some human lives are there to be lost. Except for children. Gamera is friend of children.

I have a long history with Godzilla and as such I can’t be force myself to be absolutely objective about the franchise. Too much of it is tied to my memories and childhood friends, the times we played together, the times we fought and argued, the times we planned our futures, had sleepovers and were immensely happy when got our hands on a new Godzilla tape to watch. We watched the movies over and over again, talking and trying to get our hands on the toys if we ever saw any. At later life Godzilla is still tied to my memories, as I saw the 1998 movie’s teaser at the premier of The Lost World: Jurassic Park with my big brother, and the person I was then knew the second what it was. The teaser is still vivid in my memories, and is partially the reason I have a really soft spot for the mid and late 90’s.

As I grew up, I took a small break from Godzilla as the VHS gave away to DVD and the local releases pretty much stopped. I went back to the old movies, and the ones I didn’t care for became even less likeable as their faults became more apparent, and the ones I liked were good not because of nostalgia, but because they were by all means fun movies. My favourites have changed as I’ve started to value different things. While I still enjoy Showa Godzilla for what it came to be, there’s only a handful of movies from that era that I would pop in and watch at any time, whereas I can enjoy any of the Heisei and part of the Millennium movies just fine. I grew to love the original movie more for what it was and how it was made, admiring the cinematography and the atmosphere. I would argue that no other Godzilla movie has depicted the consequences of Godzilla so well and so strongly as the first movie without resorting to what we nowadays know as gore.

I don’t hate the 1998 Godzilla. It’s a bad movie, but it’s not the worst Godzilla movie out there. It is mostly inoffensive, stupid and fun. Most often I hear people saying that the monster in the movie is not Godzilla, but a big lizard. At this time I always remind these people that this image is exactly what Godzilla is to most people. I admit that I partially a binary person, it’s always either 1 or 0. With Godzilla this would mean that you either go with the popular image, or you go with the very hardcore purist approach with it. However, that’s just me.

What it means for the 2014 Godzilla then? Why am I going to see the movie despite my previous statements? The reason for this few of my international friends encouraging me to see it, to give it a chance and evaluate it properly than based on trailer and leaked materials. Another reason is Toho’s staff saying that it was true to the Godzilla of their childhood. The problem with both of these are that the expectations my friends have for Godzilla is most likely completely different what the Toho personal had. I would love to know what the original creators, even Tsuburaya, would think of this new Godzilla movie.

I wanted to love Pacific Rim. I expected so much from it. I expected it to be a great film, the likes of we would be talking years after as a shining example what you can do with a fantastic idea. I wanted it to become a corner stone where science fiction movies could be taken seriously again with a perfect blend of cerebral material and action. Of course, some people could and did laugh at me for waiting such things from a giant robot action schlock. A man can dream, right? Anyway, Pacific Rim is something I won’t even want to discuss because of my dislike, but I’ll this; it would have worked better as a TV-series.

What I got was a movie of adults playing with their favourite toys. Pacific Rim betrayed my personal expectations completely; it was boring, tedious, self-contradicting, far too long and absolutely unfulfilling. To compare it to foods as movies often are for some reason, Pacific Rim was the worst corner kiosk BBQ you could have because your friends told you it was good, only to find yourself throwing it up, getting a food poisoning and the shits at the same time. While I will be watching Godzilla 1998 sometime in the near future, I will never see Pacific Rim again, not its possible sequels.

What I am most afraid with 2014 Godzilla is the simple fact that too many people overlap with Pacific Rim. While I endorse the idea that the makers do not matter, only the end product does, we can all agree that a shit chef will be a shit chef unless he makes himself better through reinventing himself and becoming a true cook. Pretty much every major name I have seen with this Godzilla movie is more or less a mediocre cook that has 50/50 chance of giving you the shits.

To be honest, I am very afraid of this movie. Much like with Pacific Rim, I want it to good. Nay, I want it to be absolutely fantastic. I have heard people saying in an angelic choir This is the return of Godzilla and I am terrified about the thought of what kind of Godzilla it will be. I have read reviews, seen spoilers and all that, but they are all very, very vague. Only elements and titbits are dropped in, and perhaps that’s because the movie ultimately fails to be the gourmet meal I want it to be. If I go in and expecting it to blow me away, will I be left with hate in my heart towards the movie? I don’t expect Godzilla 2014 to be a good Godzilla movie; I expect it to be a stellar film on its own rights.

I’m afraid I will be disappointed greatly. Only seeing the movie will tell me. Now then, let’s move to the review itself.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Review proper

There’s no way this movie could have been bad. The reason for this is because of the matter of Godzilla-franchise’s life. Unlike with the 1998 Godzilla, if this 2014 movie would have been and bombed, Toho would not have stepped in to make a new series of movies. If this had been a bad movie, the series would have been finished; it’s life fibres would have been completely cut. There’s no denying it; Godzilla (2014) is a good movie, and the ticket sales alone tell us that. People go to see a Godzilla movie, and they’re getting one for sure.

However, this is a Godzilla movie that doesn’t have its own identity. It is a collection of good ideas that have been executed in a manner where they don’t go all the way, and while as a whole it’s slightly better ones in the series, it’s the details that pile up atop each other and keep this from being the movie I really wanted it to be.

As mentioned, there’s two extremes with Godzilla movies, and this is the monster mash one. However, how the monster mash is show, or isn’t in this case, is the problem. This movie is afraid of itself and goes long ways not to show you the monster fights, even if they are there. This is a huge problem, as the first time the movie turns away from the monster fight, it feels quant and creates build-up. However, they keep doing this until the very end, at which point the pay for all the build is very weak. You can have a cerebral human story with action, the two do not exclude each other out. Star Trek II; The Wrath of Khan still is a very good example of well written drama that does not shy away from the action. Godzilla 2014 knows what it is, but doesn’t want the audience to let on it.

The human drama itself is decent at best. How it is depicted and written is very American, which colours the movie in very different hue than any of the previous Godzilla movies. Whether or not you think this a good thing or not is completely up to you. The main character Ford is a military bomb expert, whose father is gone obsessive on finding the truth what killed his wife in a nuclear plant disaster. There’s the usual lost-and-found family drama, family child in peril moment, and they’re all fine and dandy but nothing that particularly stands out.  It’s just kind of there, and only character that has a true character arc is Ford himself, even if it’s a small one.

The monsters in this movie are a strange bunch. On one hand, they’re pretty damn good. On the other hand, they’re crap. Godzilla himself is no longer a man made mistake and thus we have lost the one thing that defined Godzilla the most. It is replaced with Big G as the ancient alpha predator, who is given some mythical, almost religious aspects by Serizawa as he calls Godzilla the being that would restore the balance to the world. The question then is; which balance? The one they had back when the MUTOs ruled the Earth, or the current one? Perhaps the balance is simply that Godzilla is the big shot, the King of the Monsters so to speak, and it is natural for him to find anything that would threaten his food source. If so, then kudos on that. However, if they give any leeway to the mythical aspect about bringing The Balance, then we have a Gamera in our hands. That would be bad, very bad.

Incidentally, the MUTOs go unnamed, which was very, very sad decision. In principle, Godzilla too is a MUTO, and whereas the two villain MUTOs are yet unnamed. I see no reason why these MUTOs could not have been named properly. Perhaps next movie.

The monster designs are lacking, in a sense. The MUTOs are repeated elements from Cloverfield and other American monsters we’ve seen in the recent years. Well, ever since Star ship Troopers, as there was a lot of common points between the Bugs and the MUTOs.  It’s not that American designers can’t design new kind of monsters, but that they are relying too much on the exact same elements and not going out there and finding something new. The old horrors and fears people have can gain new forms if one is willing to confront them. When people use the same starting points for their designs, and continue with the same lines, the end designs will be very similar. Godzilla himself is pretty good overall, but the stumpy legs looked really awful and the shortened snout is unnatural. Sure, it was taken from a bear, but that element does not work with this design simply because it doesn’t mesh well with other design elements of the Big G’s body. Godzilla has been integrating different animal traits for years now, and with this pugsy kind of snout Godzilla looks like a bred animal rather than a natural one.

A problem with the designs is that they’re in 3D. I hate to be a digital luddite, but it looked unnatural,  Don’t get me wrong, the animation was superb in all regards, but it still looks ‘just’ 3D. We never see the monsters in broad daylight in their full glory without darkness or smoke cloud. We lose details, and that’s a huge loss. Monster movies usually had great amount of detail in their environments and monster suits, but here we have neither to the same extent. It is partly because of the 3D used here that there are some troubles in making sense what we see on the screen, because they’re not really there. However, because the animation is superb, Godzilla has some serious character and they’re doing a lot of things that suitmation can’t do. They didn’t give in to the temptation of making the fights too fast, and there’s a weight to everything the monsters do to a large extent. The other reason why we’re losing detail is the large scale of the monsters. This new Godzilla is the largest Godzilla to date at over 100m in height, it’s far too big. An issue they had during Heisei era was that in and after Vs. King Ghidorah Godzilla got too large to properly portray the environments. The 2014 movie has this same problem, and while we see buildings collapse and things explode, we don’t see what happens from Godzilla’s waist down in pretty much every fight. However, I do give the movie a point or two for properly portraying what happens after the fights and how the cities need to take care of their citizens. It’s not just gazed over and hand waved away, but there’s no unnecessary concentration on it either. The main cast is there too, experiencing the disasters alongside the rest of the world. There is very little plot armour going on anywhere, which is a good thing.

The special effects are quality Hollywood, so I shouldn’t complain about them. They were more or less nicely impressive and cinematic. Yet there’s some points that just made me raise my eyebrow, like the Atomic Breath. In this movie, it really is just blue fire. It would make no sense to have it atomic, as that would feed the enemy MUTO. However, the flame was too slow to properly portray the destructive power it has. The Atomic Breath evolved from steam to a pint-point beam over time, and now we’re back at the mid-range weapon use. It was used well, but it could have used more impact. When we first see the Atomic Breath, Ford and soldiers mention how amazing it was, and you don’t need a scene like that. The audience does not need to be told how good or amazing something looks.

The messages here and there are not too heavy handed, outside how bad the nuclear weapons are. Because Godzilla has become just another monster in a bunch, and the nuclear message loses all the allegories with it. They mentioned that the nuclear tests during the 50’s were to kill Godzilla, but they didn’t succeed. Military was portrayed very well in this movie as a competent and direct organization that doesn’t chew any bullshit, until the monsters entered American soil. Then the whole issue of using nuclear weapons became reality, and at that point military people became more or less bomb masturbating caricatures that they often are portrayed and then you have a damn scene where the navy starts shooting Godzilla in panic. Of course, there’s one sole person in their ranks seeing the light in the end and making his own individual decisions to make the fare better. Outside these things, Godzilla 2014 doesn’t really throw in any messages, unless you want to read something into the family values. Nuclear disasters are not an issue here, neither is blind human foolishness that creates monsters, or the bravery we are able to muster whenever needed. In that sense, the movie is very light. If there was something like that in there, the issues were lousily written in and not apparent without overly analysing it. As such, the movie doesn’t comment on anything or take sides, unlike the recent Captain America movie. It’s mostly about the spectacle, but as mentioned, they do now want to show any of it you to see.

Next to the one or two things they keep as a message in Godzilla, I do give another point for the movie for taking itself seriously. Not once the movie mocks itself for having big monsters fighting each other, but that’s also a problem. To compare it to Jurassic Park, another movie that takes itself rather seriously, it lacks any sort of humour. It’s almost depressingly stoic and serious. There’s no quips or moment where the characters try to ease the situation for themselves. There isn’t even any good memorable lines like Jurassic Park’s Cleaver girl. No, Serizawa’s Let them fight does not count. It’s far too generic. While there is hope, it’s hope that tends to reside on the military actions, and is somewhat removed from the people not directly associated with our main character Ford.

Despite these big things going pretty well most of the time. However, there’s slew of details that just got screwed up and they’re details that shine through a bit too much. One of the first things was the damn hole in the Nevadan desert where they stash the nuclear waste. They have goddamn helicopters in the air and they still need to send a team to check the waste holding cells. Same thing when the military finds the Russian submarine in the jungle.

I could make a list if all these details and nitpick them to death, but I’ll just point out few; EMP waves do not work like that and they are inconsistent in-world as well, how did the MUTOs know the nuclear weapon structures so well, the lack of tsunami when Godzilla gets out from the water the second time in the movie, collapsed buildings are up later on, the inconsistency in water levels when Godzilla is swimming at the coast, Square-cube law (thou this can be completely ignored), the nuclear bomb at the end went off and the helicopter picking Ford up could not have cleared the blast zone during the time the bomb had left in it, the differences in the life cycle of the MUTO between the two main ones and the eggs we see later on, misuse of the term echolocation, the one Mothra reference, or at what point the female MUTO’s eggs were fertilized. These plus about fifteen other points on my notes give it a shaky ground, but some of them can be ignored completely just for the enjoyment. I just had wished that they’d actually keep the whole EMP thing consistent. Then again, I have to wonder how legitimate these complaints are after seeing how the rest of the franchise treats the exact same things. Or slew of other movies. They can always aim for better.

There’s also no need to have the Japanese main supporting character named Serizawa. This was either fan service or name recognition, both of which fall short. Serizawa’s presence in the movie was just to give exposition and comment on matters, thou his role could have been distributed between different characters that are well versed with the whole MUTO research. After all, there has been half a decade of research, and as MONARCH seems to be a military driven operation I would believe they’d have more people working on it. Well, they did but they died early in the movie, but then only raises the question why they had every single person in the same place? Well, logic says that they were there to do some research, but another logic says that it was just plot convenience.

The opening credit sequence evoked the 1988 Godzilla to some extent, and it was cleaver. The final whiteout with the title on the screen could’ve used something more than radioactive particles and black text against a white background. I do not personally like the colourless design approach of the 00’s, and I do wish that we’re going to move away to more coloured within this decade. The same goes for the whole movie, when you stop to think about it. The only scenes that do not look greyscale are at the beginning in the movie, and then later on whenever the military posts and bases are shown. Otherwise this is very dark, black, bleak and colourless movie. It could be argued that the bleakness was to evoke the black and white scenery of the original movie, but this is most  likely me reading into things too much. I did like how the credits were like a secret document with blacked lines going over more or less humorous bits and pieces.

Speaking of the music, it was, much like the story, very American. Godzilla’s Japanese music very heavy on brass instruments that depict the power and strength, the threat behind all of it that is Godzilla. The 2014 soundtrack is a far cry from Ifukube’s iconic concertos. It’s not bad as such, but unmemorable. Even the main theme, the one track that should stuck to you head after the movie. There’s none of it here, but Godzilla’s not the only in recent years. I don’t remember the last time I continue to hum a piece from a movie, not matter the origin. No wait, the LEGO Movie’s Everything is Awesome did end up becoming an ear worm. What does it say when the LEGO movie ends up being one of the better movies of the year?

The booming bass in this movie should make your seats clatter. At home this movie will most likely lose most of the oomph it needs to impress, and not all people huge ass screens and perfectly fitted sound systems to make the sound boom like in the theatres. I do own a nice 5.1 system myself, but somehow I doubt my neighbours would enjoy me turning it up to best possible effect again. I’ve managed to get the apartment building I live in resonate slightly with my system, which I’m not too eager to repeat, but that’s something the sound engineering in Godzilla 2014 really did go for.

Despite all of this, I can’t deny that I was impressed by the movie, that I was swept with the movie and began to cackle when the camera panned up to Godzilla’s face for him to make the money shot and the first proper roar we hear from him. How the movie was filmed was no less than well done and there are impressive moments that made the fan inside me smile quite a damn lot. It’s also commendable that there was very little shakycam the movie used in the end, and most notable scene is when Ford is at home with his wife and son in the beginning of the movie. After that, most shakes the camera goes through are more or less justified. Even during the monster fights the camera shaking is something that you don’t notice. Well, at least yours truly didn’t in the theatre.

Between two extremes of Bad Movie and Good Movie, and that’s just speaking as a movie, this one drops somewhere in the middle for the favour for the Good Movie. As a Godzilla movie, the 2014 entry goes closer to the Good Movie point. It’s certainly something you want to see at least once in the theatres, because the strength of this movie really lies in the size of the monsters despite the effect it has on the details. The bass goes with this too.

I don’t usually expect anything from movies I go to see and allow them to impress me by their own rights. This was one of the rarer cases where I just simply expected this to be a superbly stellar film, a movie that would go all the possible lengths and make them work. I was told I should not have expected a monster movie to be good, and yet I remind people that these movies can be good as long as they are made with the respect and craftsmanship expected. I do not want to invoke the 1954 Godzilla in this review any further, but if we are to give the main example how to make a monster movie work, that’s the one, and that’s also the one movie that needs to be done better. Sixty years it has been said to be the best in the series, and it’s about time we make it obsolete and a historical curiosity.

This movie will most likely make the franchise revive itself again. Much like Godzilla 1984, this one was good enough to convince people to continue making Godzilla movies.  For the Millennium series it was the 1998’s disappointment that allowed its creation. We will see monsters fighting other monsters in the sequels. I hope that they won’t continue with the same path of cockteasing the audience with the fights. It is very unfortunate that this movie only pretended to be something else than a monster mash. Monster mash movies are fine as long as they are well made, but betraying the movies nature is something that the director and writer should never do. I hope that they will make a prequel movie at some point, because this movie feels like it’s a sequel to one that never was, thou making a prequel might not be the best way.

As always, I won’t give you a score or anything like that. All I can say that it’s a movie worth watching in the theatres for the spectacle, but the spectacle is botched up. The problems are many in a wholesome collective, or like holes in Swiss cheese. It’s tasty and many like it, but it’s also easy to slice into pieces and find yourself having a slice with too many holes and not enough cheese.

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