Look, I know there are bigger problems in the world, but I just can’t help but feel there is something deeply wrong with a Godzilla movie in which no one gets eaten or stepped on.
That’s right, not a single person is shown getting swallowed or squished under a ginormous monster foot. I mean, killed in various other ways, yes. But chomped or stomped? Not even one.
How can they even call it “Godzilla”?
This resurrection of the classic Japanese city-destroying monster tale begins long ago, in 1999, where scientists, like Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) are investigating a cavern in the Philippines that killed several miners when it opened up suddenly. Inside, they find massive fossilized bones — and more recent spore pods of some other creature.
Days later, in Japan, Dr. Joe Brady (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Juliette Binoche) are trying to investigate tremors under the nuclear plant where they work. Before they can identify the problem, the reactors go into meltdown. Brady survives, but watches his wife die. Fifteen years later, he is on the brink of madness from the loss, much to the chagrin of his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who just wants to live in peace with his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and son.
Joe’s arrest for trespassing in their old apartment, now in a quarantine zone from the meltdown, prompts Ford to bail him out and bring him back home to San Francisco. Before they leave, though, Joe convinces Ford to go back with him just one more time. Naturally, they get arrested, and are taken to the defunct nuclear plant for questioning.
Before long, though, the secret work Serizawa and other scientists have been doing at the plant comes to fruition — a spore pod that grew up from the depths of the plant hatches and produces a ginormous insect monster called a Muto. Joe and Ford are taken with Serizawa and the military in the aftermath of the Muto’s rampage because Joe’s crazy research turns out to have predicted the actions of the Muto and could give insight to its future designs.
The Muto makes its way east, forgoing Tokyo for more tropical fare in Honolulu. And right behind it, from the depths of the ocean, rises the mighty Godzilla. Which, Serizawa hypothesizes, is more like Nature’s cat for these big insect-beast-mice than a monster bent on destroying humanity. Serizawa also hypothesizes, from Joe’s notes, that the Muto is heading east to meet another of his kind.
Where, you ask?
“Where you put all your nuclear waste,” Serizawa says.
I was really worried about the fate of Tooele County until the movie revealed that it was actually Yucca Mountain, Nevada. And sure enough, a second, larger Muto bursts out of a storage room there, and proceeds to destroy Las Vegas. The two Mutos meet up in San Francisco, and the military has to decide whether to nuke the three of them or go with Serizawa’s plan, which is to let Godzilla take them both out and then peacefully return to the depths of the ocean.
It’s probably pretty obvious, but Godzilla looks way more awesome than his campy stop-motion ancestor or even the early-CGI grandfather from 1998’s version of the story. And while, again, I object to the idea of a Godzilla not bent on eating major city after major city, it is kind of nice to see him as a sort of deep-sea savior, rather than the lesser of two evils in one of those multi-monster movies.
While Tokyo is left alone, San Francisco’s Chinatown provides a backdrop of swooping roofs, dragon sculptures and red paper lanterns, because Chinese and Japanese things are essentially all the same, obviously. And though we have perfectly-synched dialogue, Elle fills in as a member of various groups of people looking up in horror, screaming and running. It’s nice to see that faithfulness to the original.
I do have a few tiffs with “Godzilla,” aside from the lack of stomped-on people. Firstly, this movie is long. I mean, its total running time is just over two hours from the first frame to the ending credits, so it’s not technically that long, but it feels very, very long. The exposition just seems to go on forever. We don’t get a glimpse of so much as a Muto until maybe 40 minutes in, and Godzilla doesn’t show up until after the hour mark. And this isn’t all suspense, either — the Muto shows up minutes after we’re told something’s inside the spore pod. The show doesn’t really get on the road (by which, of course, I mean epic monster battles) until we’re three-quarters of the way through.
Also, the end. Probably most people won’t have a problem with the end, and it’s not a terrible ending, monster-wise, but there was one thing that really frustrated me. I don’t want to give spoilers, but imagine a story where you’re told the entire time that a character is really, really good at one specific thing, and that skill is virtually the only reason why that character gets to tag along at every pivotal point in the adventure, but then at the end, when it is time for the character to do that one thing, the character does not do that one thing.
I realize that this is a movie and this character’s lack of doing that one thing will have no repercussions on my actual life, but still. Come on.
A third thing would be that the acting is all pretty much blah across the board, but, honestly, no one goes to Godzilla for the people.
Those quibbles and aside, “Godzilla” is probably exactly the kind of Godzilla movie that the creators of Godzilla wanted to make 60 years ago. And like the original 60-year-old films, this is not one to take too seriously.