I had very high hopes for the new American Godzilla from Legendary Pictures. I loved their last giant monster movie, Pacific Rim, so I was hoping they could put a fresh spin on the saga of one of the most famous giant monsters of them all, Godzilla.
Unfortunately, the spin they decided to put on their Godzilla was to turn him into an earthbound Gamera, specifically the Gamera of Gamera, Guardian of the Universe. In that picture, pollution awakens three Gyaos giant carnivorous flying monsters, determined to wipe out humanity, who then have to be fought and defeated by Gamera, Earth’s and mankind’s protector. In the new Godzilla, radiation from a Japanese nuclear plant and from buried American nuclear waste awakens two MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects), one of which flies (and which looks suspiciously like a Gyaos). One MUTO is male (the flying one) and the other is female, and they are determined to wipe out humanity by filling the Earth with their offspring. They must be fought and defeated by Godzilla, Earth’s and mankind’s protector.
Actually, Godzilla is amazingly benevolent towards mankind in this picture, considering that Dr. Serizowa (named after the Dr. Serizowa in the 1954 original version) reveals that all those American atom bomb and hydrogen bombs tests in the Pacific during the 1940s and 1950s were actually attempts to kill Godzilla. Yet we see scene after scene of modern U.S. Navy destroyers escorting Godzilla across the Pacific from Japan to San Francisco, close enough for the monster to swat with his tail or plink with one of his outsized claws, and he doesn’t lay a single reptilian scale on them. Once in San Francisco, he seems to take inordinate care to not knock over any buildings, or at least not any more than necessary while doing the rather ho-hum job of defeating the MUTOs (who look an awful lot like the giant praying mantises that Godzilla faced on Monster Island in Son of Godzilla). Dr. Serizowa (who does not invent an oxygen destroyer in this film, nor any other type of anti-Godzilla weapon) explains that Godzilla is Earth’s special resource to maintain the balance of nature. Cue the garlands of daisies…
The monster battles (what most of the audience showed up for) mostly lack pizzazz, and many of them are set at night, which tends to make the scenes murky and hard to follow (I had the same complaint about some of the jaeger-kaiju fights in Pacific Rim). However, I will give the screenwriters and the special effects technicians their props for figuring out two very satisfying ways for Godzilla to put the kibosh on his foes (not such a big spoiler, since you know there’ll be a sequel).
About two thirds of the film is taken up with a rather paint-by-the-numbers domestic plot involving a U.S. Army bomb demolitions expert, his nurse wife, and their young son. The actors are all appealing and earnest, but no new territory was paved here – just the standard family-in-peril scenario. Near the end of the film comes a moment so unbelievable that it stretches even the low level of verisimilitude to be found in a giant monster movie. The nuclear missile which the hero had been attempting to dismantle instead plods out of San Francisco Harbor on a fishing boat set on auto pilot. It couldn’t have made it more than a couple of miles outside the harbor when the one-megaton warhead explodes. No one dies. No massive wave engulfs what is left of San Francisco. Our hero, entirely exposed to the blast wave and radiation, suffers no ill effects.
Yes, I wanted very much to like it. Parts of it I did. And my sons thoroughly enjoyed it; my oldest said it was the best monster movie he had ever seen. I’ll have to show him the original King Kong again, or the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters. But I’m afraid the “old school” special effects pale in the eyes of the young generation in comparison with the latest computer-generated effects.