The sticky-hot, bright days of summer have just started to unfold and nothing screams summer more loudly than a movie featuring giant monsters destroying a metropolis. When I was little, Godzilla movies were mostly seen late at night on a tiny TV screen when a local network affiliate didn’t have anything else to show.
The movies were usually chopped to pieces, with horrible dubbing, and a grainy, scratchy quality to them that made me think there was some guy in a back room somewhere running a film strip projector like the ones they used when I was in grade school and another person was filming it to be aired. It seemed like a copy of a copy at best.
Godzilla movies were the first real monster movies that I remember watching. They weren’t scary, which was a huge plus for me. When I was a tiny, stary-eyed little sprocket, I was something of a chicken. Even vaguely scary visuals were enough to give me nightmares. Anybody else remember that terrifying owl in “Secret of NIMH” or the goblins from the animated version of “The Hobbit”? Yup, those scared the bajeebies out of me when I was tiny.
Dinosaur mania had set in very early for me. My family will tell you that I was naming dinosaurs for them when I was three. Part of me reasoned that Godzilla was some weird kind of dinosaur and was therefore likely extinct, a point further driven home by how old the movies looked. I didn’t have any reason to fear anything in a Godzilla movie because none of it could possibly come and get me. Even better, I lived very far away from any cities, and everyone knows that monsters love nothing better than battling their way through cities. Yes, I was safe and secure at home in the almost middle of nowhere, far removed from any threat of monster invasions.
I could not have told you what Mothra was really supposed to be, aside from the greatest joke in science fiction cinematography (bear with me, I hadn’t watched Zardoz yet). Godzilla was silly to me, a caricature of what the scary movies were supposed to be. They weren’t nonsensical, but a Godzilla movie has its very own special set of logic that it uses. The special effects were poor to say the least, but knowing that Godzilla was a guy in a rubber suit made the movies that much less threatening to my young, impressionable mind. I loved them. I felt a little bit grown up knowing that I could watch a real “monster” movie and not get scared. It was enough to break the frenzy of reading that usually engulfed my summers.
“Godzilla” is one of those movies that has to be remade every so often. The hope is that it will bring a whole new generation to the fold, they’ll be as enthralled with the giant, scaly not-really-dinosaur as we are and become part of us. The remakes are uneven at best. Let’s just not talk about the feeble attempt that involved Matthew Broderick and a huge marketing blitz from Taco Bell. If Godzilla doesn’t really look like Godzilla then we can just disavow that one as not being a Godzilla movie at all.
This year, “Godzilla” got a shiny, new reboot. The trailers stormed theater screens with flickering images of a monster glimpsed through rain and smoke. It appeared that for all intents and purposes, Godzilla was going to become the terror of a modern cinematic universe. He stomped and roared and smashed a few buildings here and there. And, despite my disappointment with that movie that we’re not going to talk about anymore, I found myself getting excited. The glimpses in the trailer indicated that Godzilla was returning to his more traditional look, a move that I saw as a good bet.
To my surprise, it wasn’t all that hard to round up friends interested in going to see it. I’d speculated that it would be a much harder sell, since very few of them had ever expressed any interest in Godzilla prior. I’ve seen the movie twice now with different sets of friends and it was well worth both viewings.
This “Godzilla” has Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody, Elizabeth Olsen as Elle Brody, and Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa. They make for a good cast. Cranston does grieving to the point of coming unhinged well. Aaron Taylor-Johnson gives his character a sense of grim determination, while Elizabeth Olsen plays a smart woman with things to do. Ken Watanabe’s doctor, though, is the real stand out. He seems both grave and wise, even though he is finding the answers right along with the movie audience. Dr. Serizawa feels like the most trustworthy character in the film.
I do wish they had done more with Elle Brody as a character. She showed some real promise in a few hospital scenes, demanding answers that none of the authorities in her midst seemed willing to give. Then, things kind of deteriorated into Elle is Ford’s wife and Sam’s mom and that’s sort of all she does. I wanted to see her organizing or mobilizing some of the civilians she ended up trapped with, instead of just waiting for the battle to end. Sally Hawkins (Vivienne Graham) mostly nods sagely and agrees with everything Dr. Serizawa says. At least Juliette Binoche’s Sandra Brody got to make an attempt to go inspect a level in a nuclear power plant to see if there were structural issues. Like so may other monster movies, “Godzilla” doesn’t have much in it for women to do, except be afraid and yell.
That said, I still liked “Godzilla”, mostly because it felt exactly the way a “Godzilla” movie should. The arrogance of man in the face of nature and his desire to control nature feature heavily in the movie, just as it did in the original. “Godzilla” is not the villain, which I certainly don’t feel is a spoiler, since trailers indicating that have since started appearing in primetime. He’s fighting to save the world from creatures that are much more destructive.
It’s rated PG-13. “Godzilla” has violence in it, mostly of the humans against monster variety. There are plenty of military machines on display in all their armored glory. To be fair, it’s clear from the start that the monsters aren’t the kind that will respond to reason. It’s pretty much a “kill it with fire” situation, except, obviously, our puny human fire is no match for these fearsome parasites. “Godzilla” surfaces and takes them on because there’s no good way for us to save ourselves.
The rest of the movie is fairly tame, as far as blockbusters go. There’s only a tiny sprinkling of very minor swearing. You’ll honestly hear far, far worse on an average prime-time show. There’s some kissing that gets a little involved but it doesn’t go into objectionable territory. Mostly, it’s just intense scenes of monsters destroying buildings and vehicles and terrorizing humanity at large. It might scare more sensitive kids, but the idea isn’t really to jump out and scare anyone with a slew of “gotcha” style tactics. “Godzilla” is straightforward. Giant monster meets giant monsters and they battle.
There are some odd monster movie physics going on, but then, I may be the only one in the audience making an attempt to puzzle out how it is that Godzilla displaces more water coming out of the ocean than he does going back in. Most kids with an interest in dinosaurs will be able to tell you why Godzilla isn’t a dinosaur and why he couldn’t exist because of his size and bipedal orientation.
Still, “Godzilla” is a monster-movie popcorn flick. It’s a near perfect escape to avoid those sweltering days, especially with a giant soda. It’s fun and escapist, and pure, kaiju joy to watch.