“Godzilla” Gets It Right… Almost TOO Right

Godzilla Image from ScreenRant

Everybody knows Godzilla. He is one of those iconic characters that we just don’t want to get rid of, passing him down from generation to generation in movie after movie. There are currently 32 Godzilla films and counting. The latest entry, simply titled Godzilla, was made as a joint project between Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. under an agreement with the Japanese film company Toho, who created the character and own all the rights.

Toho must have been very nervous about letting American filmmakers try their hands at making a new entry to the series. The last time they trusted Hollywood with Godzilla, the result was trounced at the box office and detested by critics.

Pictured: A complete and utter disaster. And also a giant lizard rampaging Manhattan.

Pictured: A complete and utter disaster. And also a giant lizard rampaging Manhattan.

The film was so bad, the next Toho-made Godzilla movie had the “real” Godzilla fight and kill the American “impostor” Godzilla. Yes, that happened.

There are many reasons why the 1998 Godzilla movie failed (not the least of which being the decision to put Roland Emmerich, of Independence Day fame, in charge), but it appears that the main lesson Toho and Hollywood learned was that the film failed because it strayed so far from the source material that it was completely unrecognizable. I say that because the new Godzilla takes the exact opposite tactic: it slavishly clings to the classic Godzilla formula.

This new American Godzilla looks and feels exactly like a classic Japanese kaiju (giant monster) movie made with the big budget, CGI, and special effects of a Hollywood blockbuster. The only major changes are that most of the main characters are Americans (except for the obligatory Ken Watanabe, Hollywood’s go-to “we need a Japanese actor” actor), the U.S. military stands in for the Japanese one in the army-vs.-monster scenes, and most of the big action scenes take place in America. Other than these minor tweaks, the film follows the source material very closely.

They even made the new Godzilla look like the classic monster. Mostly.

They even made the new Godzilla look like the classic monster. Mostly.

It feels like the filmmakers had a checklist of all the things classic Godzilla movies are known for and were making sure they ticked all the boxes. Godzilla? Check. Other giant monsters for Godzilla to fight? Check. Mass destruction? Check. Buildings getting knocked over? Check. The military trying to fight the monsters but ending up completely useless? Check.

Credit where credit is due, those action beats are really, really good. Up-and-coming director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) was a good choice for this movie; he really knows how to use pacing to ramp up tension. The slow, methodical, gradual reveal of Godzilla himself is absolutely amazing. The climactic fight at the end was a real treat to watch. The movie’s monster fight scenes certainly do not disappoint.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t just copy all the good parts of a classic Godzilla movie. It also copies some of the things that give the franchise its campy reputation. Goofy pseudoscience gobbledygook that makes no sense? Check. The scientist pleads for the military to not kill the monster? Check. A paper-thin plot that just serves to get us from one action scene to the next? Check.

The action may be great, but the characters and plot most certainly are not. The filmmakers got some real acting talent for this movie – Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, David Strathairn – and they are clearly giving it their all. Unfortunately, they just can’t cover up the fact that the script is a half-baked mess. The characters frequently say or do things that make no sense given their established motivations and histories. They repeatedly wind up wherever they have to be to advance the plot through sheer coincidence or no explanation at all.

In fact, over-reliance on coincidence is the real downfall of this film. The main characters keep narrowly escaping certain death through sheer luck, again and again and again. It’s like they have some magic “main character shield” protecting them. I’m sorry, but there is only so far you can stretch your suspension of disbelief before it snaps. After the main hero survived something he shouldn’t have three times, I just couldn’t stay invested in the story anymore. Continuing to put these characters in danger stopped creating any tension, because I knew the writers would find some poorly-thought-out way for them to escape. By the end, I was actually frustrated when they cut away from the Godzilla fight to show what the humans were doing. I actually thought to myself, “I don’t care! Just show me Godzilla smashing something!”

If you just want to spend a couple of hours mindlessly watching things blowing up and giant monsters being as awesome as they should be, Godzilla will satisfy that craving quite nicely. If you want a movie that has an actual plot that makes sense, characters you actually care about, and some deeper thought or meaning behind it, you will have to look elsewhere. I’m sorry, Godzilla, but I can’t in good conscience give your movie higher than a 3 out of 5.

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One Response to “Godzilla” Gets It Right… Almost TOO Right

  1. Pingback: The Fault (and Success) in Our Hollywood Adaptations | Cat Flag

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