‘Godzilla:’ Monster Mash

The new Godzilla is super old school, replete with dramatic close-up shots of the characters’ sheer awe and terror as they whisper the title of the movie, a larger-than-life sea monster that looks like a bloated dinosaur and doesn’t show his face until an hour in when he’s had the chance to be hyped up, and suitable opponents for the beast, giant creatures also mutated with the help of massive amounts of radiation, but somehow more ruthless and heartless than Godzilla.

What this version lacks, on purpose, is any political undercurrent, any sense that the existence of Godzilla and the destruction he causes is actually a flashing red warning light. Since the film takes place starting in 1999, the history is acknowledged with a somber, knowing head nod, but the movie as a whole veers away from taking a stance, other than the stance that monsters are cool, it’s fun to see them fight and destroy things, and Bryan Cranston is a great actor (too great, in fact, for the role he’s given). The acting as a whole in this Godzilla is actually a little bit beside the point. Ken Watanbe and Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn are all too good, and their roles give them zilch to do, but it’s okay because they’re not the stars. Godzilla is.

It must be a difficult task for a filmmaker to know that no matter what award-winning actors you get to agree to make faces at a green screen, ultimately what people are buying tickets to see is the made up monster your animators and artists put on that green screen after all the filming is done. I am aware this is a gross oversimplification of how these movies are made, which makes it possibly even more terrifying. In a movie like this, not even witty dialogue will save you (and here, they didn’t even make an attempt). The audience isn’t going to clap for banter but a mythical, prehistoric roar.

Godzilla displays another aspect of classic monster movies that is rarely, if ever, seen today: all human life and every man made creation that is destroyed is collateral damage. It’s entirely refreshing that these monsters don’t care at all about obliterating human life. IT’S NOT ABOUT US. Sure, yes, it’s true that if it wasn’t for our ignorance and sheer stupidity they probably wouldn’t even exist, but they don’t set out to kill people. They’re just so big that in the struggle to reproduce and populate the world with massive radioactive bugs (like any living creature with a biological impulse), they happen to raze a whole lot of skyscrapers. We follow and allow the natural fight between Godzilla and these monster mosquitoes to take place, but we are so in over our heads, scrambling to move people away from the situation, flailing around with our little ships and our toy guns while colossal examples of real power go at it.

It’s nice to root for the big guy. Yes, the movie follows a family that’s separated from each other and rightly frightened. But they’re mostly there to provide a point of entry into a world that’s got 99 monstrous problems and the human race is just the tiniest, most annoying one.

Grade: B

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