This past weekend I had the chance to go see Godzilla in IMAX 3D. The verdict? Great film. It was a great introduction of the King of the Monsters to new audiences and a redemption for hard core fans who wanted to see the Americans finally do Godzilla right. Now the real work begins. There is already talk of a sequel and there should be. The foundation has been built. Now we need more.
I and others on the Quantum Pop Blog Team are big Godzilla fans. That should be evident from our articles here, here and here. Because of this we all felt a certain amount of righteous outrage at the 1998 abomination. This was a film that could have shown what American filmmaking could do for the King of the Monsters, but instead demonstrated just how thoroughly Hollywood can screw up a sure thing. Naturally this meant that expectations were high for this new Godzilla film. We’re happy to say that the director did not disappoint. Normally I personally rate a film based on how often my mind wanders off while watching. Sure, there are things that we could nitpick over, but the truth is, the filmmakers did a great job. It was, however, a job that only hinted at what could happen if we got more than we were given.
Let’s get into it.
Gareth Edwards, the director of the film, is best known by his breakout film, Monsters. This was a film with a limited budget that maximized the horror of alien monsters through sounds, hinting, and the reaction of the humans dealing with them. By some accounts, Godzilla had a budget more than 200 times that of Monsters, but Gareth didn’t let the cash flow go to his head. Godzilla’s existence is hinted at throughout the opening credits, but he’s spoken of in almost hushed whispers throughout the first half of the film. Even the name “Godzilla” is not uttered for most of the first half. Instead, he’s just referred to as “him”.
Gareth knows what he’s doing. The hardcore fans can’t wait for Godzilla to show up, and would probably be happy if the movie was two hours of Godzilla attacking things. There are, however, vast numbers of people who don’t know why anyone would care about a fire-breathing giant. Gareth knows he has to build up the awe and mystery of the creature. In addition, we need some time to get to know the human protagonists and establish some other creatures as a viable threat to humanity (why there are other creatures at all will be explained a little further down).
What makes this work is that it builds expectation for the final appearance of Godzilla. Something that is teased right up until the full body shot. And what a moment it is, laying the groundwork for all the chaos that is going to follow. Could we have seen the big guy sooner? Yes, if you’re a hard core fan. Gareth could not count on that, so he strung everyone along a little so that the casual fans could get into it. It’s a smart move.
Given the extent of the special effects, it wouldn’t be surprising if Gareth was told to pare down the appearances of the various kaiju for budget reasons. Thematically, it makes sense regardless. The promotion for the Godzilla has repeatedly emphasized that he is a force of nature here to restore some kind of balance. This certainly ties in with how Godzilla affects human life around him. His arrival causes a tsunami that likely drowned large numbers of people. His battles against the other kaiju cause massive destruction to multiple cities, guaranteeing the deaths of thousands. Planes crash into him. Military cannons open fire on him and hit civilian targets instead. He’s just a rolling ball of destruction. The other kaiju are no different, and it’s clear to see just how thoroughly mankind would be devastated if more of them started showing up.
What is also interesting is that we see just how different the reactions are. Some humans are desperate to uncover the secret existence of the kaiju. Some humans are desperate to destroy the kaiju. Some actually seem to revere them. It happens very quickly, but one scientist actually refers to Godzilla as a “God” of his kind. He’s repeatedly described as an “alpha predator” and once scientist in particular makes a strange character arc where he begins as a strong scientific mind, but then towards the end, just looks as if he’s witnessing an ongoing Second Coming. At the very end of the film, as Godzilla moves off to parts unknown, he looks almost in reverence to the creature.
It’s also worth pointing out just how ineffectual the humans are at almost anything they try throughout the film. It’s repeatedly shown that they do not know what they are dealing with, are poorly equipped to handle the creatures or the chaos they cause, and have no good ideas on how to move forward. It’s only in one moment in the film that an actual victory against the kaiju is manufactured by humans and only because one human was opportunistic and creative enough to come up with an ad-hoc plan.
This all feeds into the idea of kaiju as a force of nature. Like tornados and tsunamis they go about their merry way and don’t pay mind to the damage they cause. For all our technological capabilities, humanity is powerless against them.
Although this could be taken as a spoiler, it doesn’t really ruin anything to say that Godzilla is explained as an alpha predator from a time predating even the dinosaurs. If a Tyrannosaurus Rex could be classified as “mega-fauna” or “really big animals”, then the creatures from Godzilla’s time must be classified as “ultra-fauna” or something similar. The description given is that these super-creatures developed to live in a time when the Earth was younger and more radioactive. As the Earth cooled, these creatures went underground to get closer to the Earth’s radioactive core. This is why Godzilla can exist both on land and in water. He’s not just an alpha predator; he may represent the final evolution of his kind. What’s more, in addition to changing climate, Godzilla could be what aided the extinction of other kaiju. He is described as predating on kaiju in the movie, but he doesnt eat them at any point. He just kills them and moves on.
Those (two or three) of you who read Quantum Pop know that we discussed an article on Godzilla biology a few days before the new film came out. The theories put forward were that Godzilla was a mutation of some kind of dinosaur and possibly generated his own energy thereby bypassing the need for food as a source of fuel. The theories were half-right. With this new continuity, we know that Godzilla existed long before any other familiar creature existed. He seems to generate his own power based on his consumption of radioactive energy and is powerful enough to regenerate to the point of being almost ageless. This also throws any biological understanding of Godzilla out the window. To be a creature who absorbs radioactive elements for food means having a biology so different from what we now know that we bypass common arguments like the unsustainable size of Godzilla and his ilk. We simply don’t know how creatures of this type would be constructed.
The film also firmly lays out that there was a kaiju ecosystem. Kaiju preyed on each other, fought each other, mated and produced each other. Moreover, kaiju also had the ability to go dormant for long periods of time. In one of the trailers, one of the humans states “In 1954 we awakened something”. This suggests that, given the lack of available food, Godzilla simply went into hibernation until roused out of his slumber. This, of course, means that future films will bring more of the kaiju out of hibernation, and Godzilla will stomp the Earth again.
Godzilla is a good film and everyone should go see it. The visuals are fantastic, the kaiju fighting is fun, and there is a huge amount of destruction and mayhem. Godzilla doesn’t make an appearance until the latter half of the film, but the build-up of the mystery surrounding this mythic monster gets the viewer excited. Although it’s the Godzilla show, the humans are who the viewers will track. Many have differing but parallel ambitions. Some want to kill Godzilla, some want to save their families, some seem to worship the kaiju, all adding human interest to the story. Finally the film lays down the idea that Godzilla evolved in an ecosystem with other kaiju. Therefore, there are other kaiju out there in dormant states waiting to be discovered. And when they are? Watch out.