WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS INCLUDED
Yesterday, I wrote a review on the newest Godzilla film and tried to remain as unbiased as possible. To not let my inner Godzilla nerd out, and simply review the film as any other piece of cinema.
Now that we have that out of the way, we can get down to nitty-gritty.
For those who are completely unaware, the Japanese Godzilla film franchise is my favorite movie series. It has consistently entertained me for as long as I can remember, from the first time I watched "King Kong vs. Godzilla" when I was three years old to my adult years as I enjoy the story and characters of "Mothra vs. Godzilla" and "Terror Of MechaGodzilla." While there are certainly some stinkers in the twenty-eight film series, there are also more than enough good ones to go around.
So for me, the newest film had some pretty big shoes to fill. I had been waiting ten years to see a new Godzilla film, and holding my breath that it would be a good film, since both the 1998 "Godzilla" and "Godzilla: Final Wars," the last film in the series, were both huge disappointments and even came off as insults to the franchise.
Luckily, the newest film did not fall into that category of disrespect and anger, but at the same time was not necessarily a tribute to Godzilla's past.
Starting with what I enjoyed about this new Godzilla would be his reworked origin. As I mentioned in my review, the newest film does a great job at making a creature like Godzilla seem plausible. Instead of a dinosaur that survived millions of years underwater and was mutated by atomic bombs, he is now an ancient creature who has always fed off of radiation. This doesn't just mean nuclear radiation, but any kind of radiation, which is also emitted from the Earth's core.
Interestingly enough, the film tries to keep in with some continuity with the previous films, but only the original 1954 movie. Though it is never mentioned if Godzilla ever attacked Tokyo or if the Oxygen Destroyer was created, Godzilla does appear in 1954 in the South Pacific. It seems to be implied that atomic bombs woke him up and he proceeded to roam around the oceans, causing the governments of the world to create the ultimate hydrogen bomb to kill Godzilla. This was then covered up by saying we were merely testing the strength of the bombs.
Whether this actually killed Godzilla is unknown, since he does not appear again until 2014. It is possible that this might be a new Godzilla, as we see the bones of a Godzilla early on in the film, implying that Godzilla is not a one-of-a-kind creature, but just one in an entire species of giant fire-breathing dinosaurs.
Yes, I said fire-breathing. I am so happy to say that. One of the highlights of the film was the first time Godzilla used his trademark atomic breath. We see his spines light up slowly with a blue tint, as Godzilla stands up proudly and arches his back. There is a slight pause, only for Godzilla to open his maw and blue flames come spewing out.
Much like the first Godzilla film, Godzilla's atomic breath is kept a mystery until he actually feels the need to use it. In the 1954 film, Godzilla busts out the beam more than halfway through the film and an electical barricade is blocking his progress. He uses his breath and it easily melts through the steel and obliterates all opposition. While the power of his breath in this film is very qustionable, as the parasites he is fighting hardly seem effected by it, this was a nice touch to the film.
However, one thing I keep bringing myself back to is the biggest change to Godzilla's character in this film; the decision to make him an "Alpha Predator."
According to this film, Godzilla is the highest possible creature on the food chain and kills, not because of hatred or pain, but for sport and to prove that he is the strongest. He chases the parasites and kills them because he is a predator, and they are his prey.
It also explains why he has no interest in attacking humanity. There is no sport in killing us. The damage we do to him is superficial and our strongest weapons would only make him more powerful. In fact, Godzilla seems to take pity on us at times. After he knocks over a massive building that is about to crush hundreds of people, Godzilla blocks the building with his body, letting it fall on him so the humans could live.
Godzilla even gives a sympathetic look towards Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) as the debris from the building consumes him.
This film takes an interesting route, where Godzilla can be both a good guy and a bad guy. He wants to kill the parasites and has sympathy for humanity, but he is also destructive and unpredictable, which makes him a target of the military.
In theory, this is a good way to portray a monster. Wants to stop other monsters, but is unsure how to feel about people, even as they try to kill the monster. My problem with this though is that it does not fit Godzilla.
While Godzilla has been known to protect humanity, it often comes across like he does it mostly for himself. When MechaGodzila attacks Japan, he isn't going to stop MechaGodzilla for us, but so that MechaGodzilla won't kill him first.
Once Godzilla stopped being portrayed as the villain, he entered a period where it was unclear where his alliance stood. He fought other monsters, like King Ghidorah in "Invasion Of Astro-Monster," but only because if he didn't team up with Rodan, Ghidorah would surely kill Godzilla.
It wasn't until "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" came out that Godzilla was clearly being portrayed as a hero. But again, humanity was just an after thought to Godzilla. It's not like he said, "The people of Japan are in danger! They need my help." He was more so a reluctant hero.
But here, it is clear that he cares about people, yet is still an "Alpha Predator."
You know what this behavior reminds me of? Gamera from his 1990s trilogy. Gamera's title in those series of films was "The Guardian Of The Universe" even though he never left Earth. He cared about the lives of every living thing, and would fight any monster that threatened to create chaos. But there was collateral damage, so the military saw him as a threat.
The thing about monsters is that you can never be too sure about their mental stability. One second they could be fighting another monster, and the next they could turn on us and destory a major city. So the military always takes procaution, even with the guardian monsters.
Gamera once got stabbed in both of his legs, had part of his shell blown off and set ablaze by a dozen tankers, just so that he could save one helicopter full of civilians. That is how dedicated he is to protecting others.
I get the same vibe from this new Godzilla as he looks at Ford and seems to know that this collapsing building could kill him. And something just doesn't feel right about that.
If the role of Godzilla were replaced by Gamera in this film, his actions would fit perfectly. But when it is an alpha predator with giant spines and breathes radioactive fire, it feels off that he would care this much about civilians.
Is he the ultimate killer or a watchful protector? I'm not sure.
Lastly, I'd like to talk about Godzilla's design. Many people have pointed this out and director Gareth Edwards has tried to defend this, but we all know its true: This Godzilla is fat.
Okay, maybe not fat, but just a big body with a small head. His head is about a tenth of his being, so the camera has to really zoom in to make his face look menacing. If his head were a big bigger, I'd have no problem with his design. The spines are classic to Godzilla's design and are not over done like in recent Godzilla films. The tail seems a big longer but is used to great effect. His scales are more reptilian than in previous movies, which gives this one a more unique appearance.
Overall, solid design that keeps the traditional look of the character while still updating it. Kudos.
What I don't like about Godzilla in this film though is his roar. To give you a good idea of what I mean, here is my idea of the classic Godzilla roar.
Simple, effective, threatening yet inviting. It also does not get old, even though many of the roars sound similar.
Now here is his new roar.
To me, that sounds more like a cat than it does a monster. The way that it starts out by going to that high pitch whine just doesn't sit right with me. I like how it ends with the low growl, as if it is the aftermath of the roar, but I think it starts out terribly. Also, it does not hold up after hearing it multiple times and gets annoying after a while.
So in the end, how do I feel about Godzilla's portrayal in this film? I enjoyed it.
While it did not nail down all the aspects that I love about Godzilla, this creature did bring some new things to table and made Godzilla cool to watch again. He is still just as powerful as ever, he looks like the King of the Monsters, and his origin updates the radioactive feel without overdoing it. It was odd going with the alpha predator angle while still making him a good guy to humanity, but the film does a nice job of balancing both sides and making Godzilla his own creature.
I got exactly what I wanted. I did not want this Godzilla film to retread the same ground that other movies had, and it gave us something new with Godzilla. This gives "Godzilla" its own unique flavor and sets it apart from any thing else in the franchise.
And I could not have asked for more than that.