Godzilla is the only movie I’ve ever seen where the audience clapped twice during the movie. The trailer above is also extremely misleading. In fact, every trailer you’ve seen for this is quite misleading. That being said, it’s almost everything you ever wanted out of a giant monster movie.
Giant monster movies are their own beautiful arena of absurdity, chaos, and madness. The most similar genre of film, I think, is martial art film. It’s all about the fighting, the beautiful danger of human bodies in motion. The plot is secondary, just a couple of minutes to get us from Fight A to Fight B. The Raid is the perfect example of this. I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the plot, but I know it had some of the best fight choreography of any movie ever. And this is how giant monster movies work too. They’re high intensity, they’re over the top, they’re thinly plotted, and they’re full of destruction. When I think of Pacific Rim, it’s not the inconsistencies I think of or the poor characterisation, it’s the giant monsters fighting giant robots.
That’s why you go to a giant monster movie. That’s what you want. The rest is just filler.
Pacific Rim gets a lot of negative attention for the underdeveloped nature of its characters. This, for me, was never a problem. Not even for a second. Part of that is because I didn’t care who the humans were. Part of that is because you don’t need to know much about them. They’re soldiers made to fight giant monsters from another dimension in giant robots. How much backstory do you really need or want?
Godzilla delivers the things we want [hence the clapping] but also manages to give us a decent human element, which is never expected but always appreciated. If there’s any real complaint about the structure of the movie, it’s that there are way too many human scenes. I mean, I could’ve watched 100 minutes of monsters fighting with just a handful of human discussions in between. But Godzilla‘s trying to be more than just a giant monster movie. It’s aiming for something larger, something more meaningful, something, well, human.
There’s the story of families torn apart by extreme chaos. We see this several times, and the movie reminds us over and over that families are fractured by disaster, whether physically or psychologically. The movie handles this pretty well and does what it can to make us care about the people here. Unfortunately, this is also where some of the problems really rise.
This movie isn’t really about family, as much as it wants to be. We don’t really feel the pain and terror of the separation, probably because we’re too distracted by the giant monsters. Because, like I said, that’s the whole point.
It’s a valiant effort though, and I don’t hold it against the movie that it never really succeeds in making us care about the family meant to be at the heart of this. It’s just not what I came for.
There are clearer and larger problems here. One of them is the overt americanism and pro-military take on the events. Without getting too political, the military sort of takes the place of the family story, and, I guess, is what we’re meant to care more about. Duty is huge here, and Ford, our protagonist, is running all over the world to fulfil his duties as a son, father, husband, but mostly as a soldier. And much of what happens in the movie is controlled by the military, which actually leads to an interesting element.
The military completely fails at every aggressive turn. This isn’t a movie about how military might saves the world, or even about how guns and bombs will fix the problems sieging the country/world. Rather, the military’s only useful purpose is in trying to dismantle their own mistakes. It’s perhaps the most interesting take on the military industrial complex I’ve seen in a movie. We don’t often view our military as being devoted to keeping peace and saving lives, and there are very real imperialistic reasons for this, but I imagine their role would be much different if the threat was knocking on our door, rather than the other way.
Anyrate, the more troubling aspect of the movie is Ken Watanabe and how he’s utterly wasted here. He’s immensely talented and so great to watch, but he spends the entire movie staring off meaningfully into the distance, sporadically talking about nature and humanity. Though, seeing him here makes me realise how brilliant he’d be as Gendo Ikari if Evangelion ever gets a live action treatment. He’s the only person of color in the movie and I imagine he’s mostly in the movie to justify Godzilla being an american movie now.
The real heart of the movie is the tension between humanity and the earth, though it’s mostly an implicit aspect to the story. We see over and over again the failures of humanity. The military can’t stop the monsters. They can’t even protect their citizens. Their plan to defeat the monsters leads to a huge potential disaster that the humans need to go solve, which they’re also not very good at.
Godzilla represents nature here. And nature rolls over humanity. We are not the masters of earth. We are creatures crawling over its rind, gesticulating wildly at the skies, at the gods we built. We demand dominion, and we rip the world apart in doing so.
But nature rises against us. It kills millions to protect itself.
Godzilla has always represented our cultural fears. It rose out of Nagasaki and Hiroshima to be the anxiety and fear of another nuclear holocaust. Now, here, today, we’re at the cusp of ecological disaster. In fact, we’re sprinting as fast as we can towards it with our eyes closed. Godzilla is the ecosystem fighting back. And that’s what it’s meant to be: the balance of the earth. Godzilla restores balance, and if balance means destroying a couple million people, then so be it.
And there are two narrative modes Godzilla tends to be in: destroyer or protector.
Here, Godzilla’s both. Godzilla rolls over and destroys us in order to protect the earth’s balance. In protecting the earth, it protects us as well, at least on a global scale.
And along the way there we get some absolutely brilliant imagery. Apocalyptic and awesome and dangerous. The destruction caused is a sight to behold.
There are so many spoilers I want to give here, especially the two moments that made us all clap. I mean, I was really losing it there, barely even contained in my seat. It’s such a magnificently monstrous moment, and it’s why everyone in the theatre paid to sit in front of that screen. We came to see giant monsters fighting, and we got that. We got some of the best giant monster fights I’ve ever seen, or at least some of the coolest moments.
And, see, even discussing the flaws here, those don’t matter to me. I mean, sure, yeah, the Watanabe stuff is problematic and it bothered me that he was essentially wasted in the movie, but the thin characterisation and plot: who cares?
This is Godzilla. Giant monsters fighting and destroying humanity.
If you’re going into the movie expecting anything besides giant monsters, why did you bother buying your ticket?