When I saw the teaser trailer for this one, I knew I needed it. I was thrown back to the 1970s, when WTCG (now known as TBS, the “Superstation”, or Sitcom Gehenna) ran the magnificent monster marathons known as the “Friday Night Frights”. These would include everything from the Universal classics, the drive-in fare of the 1950s — and later in the evening, the Hammer features from the 1960s (Ingrid Pitt, rawr). Also included were the Toho canon classics, most of which featured the King of the Monsters himself.
Yeah, I knew it was a guy in a suit (I mean durr, I grew up on Ultraman and The Space Giants, kids — again, thanks WTCG), but that wasn’t important. What was important was the genuine sense of dread that came in his wake. As a child, I understood it emotionally, but didn’t intellectually — Gojirra (not “Godzilla”, since I believe the impetus for his existence is lost in the Anglicized context) represented the collective conscience of a nation, one ravaged by honest-to-God nuclear holocaust. I surely don’t have to point this out, but outside of the travesty of the Nazis, Hiroshima and Nagasaki rank supreme on the “Man’s Inhumanity to Man” top ten list. He wasn’t a bad guy, but the wish fulfillment of a people who had to make some sort of justification for what had befallen them. Gojirra was outrage, he was justice, he was emotional inevitability. He was why we have movies in the first place.
The 1998 film made me sick. It was basically an drawn-out episode of The Love Boat with a giant lizard in the background. The film was made by people who apparently had no clue what Gojirra represented or stood for. Either that or they simply ignored it out of some opportunistic bid for replicating the success of Independence Day (which, taken for what it is, is a awesome popcorn flick) — I am inclined to think the latter. In any case, that sad outtake on an otherwise spirited series of films (dancing or “talking” Gojirra politely accepted).
In 2010 Monsters was released, and it was a marvel. I relate it most to Half-Life 2, Valve’s amazing storyline of one man (the ever capable Gordon Freeman)’s trek through a world ravaged by extra-dimensional invaders. In the case of Monsters, they are extraterrestrial, and titularly restricted to Mexico in an “Infected Zone” (a more succinct version of District 9, in my opinion), which makes for a fascinating travail in a world uprooted into the fantastic and brutally believable. Gareth Edwards was its writer and director, and when I found out he would be behind the latest iteration of Gojirra I gave a great sigh of relief — and waited patiently.
Then came the aforementioned teaser. Ligeti’s Requiem (best known for its use in Kubrick’s 2001) wails in sonic lament as a brave few plunge from on high by blood-red flare light. Beneath them, beyond a maelstrom of blackened clouds, lies a ravaged cityscape and the source of its undoing — a massive silhouette amid the floating detritus — an old friend. I’ll be honest, I teared up. Gojirra was back.
Godzilla is the tale of one family (headed by the beloved Heisenberg himself, Bryan Cranston) that bares witness to a global catastrophe, and its ultimate champion. The film is wonderfully paced, cautiously informing the viewer of Gojirra’s dark heritage — if anything upping the ante towards the Western world considerably (and understandably) — and playfully teasing the audience towards what would surely come: a showdown among giants. The supporting cast, which includes Ken (Letters from Iwo Jima) Watanabe, Elizabeth (Martha Marcy May Marlene) Olsen and Aaron (Kick-Ass) Taylor-Johnson, is magnificent — but we all know who the stars are here. The enormous MUTOs (or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) are highly reminiscent of the beast from Cloverfield (another big stompy monster movie — along with del Toro’s brilliant Pacific Rim being the best of the genre in recent memory), and are a capable pair of foes for our scaled hero.
But the hero is indeed the setpiece of the film. The biggest Gojirra on film (scaling at 355 feet), the keloid scarred behemoth is a astounding sight. Yeah, he’s a little heavy, but when you’re so much a badass, you gotta back it up. And this Gojirra is one beautiful badass. Replete with killer finishing moves and nuclear (not fire, as represented elsewhere) breath, this King of the Monsters is one complete package. He shows up, takes care of business, then makes his leave (no spoilers here, just what is expected of the King of Kaiju).
This film represents an anomaly to its detractors in the way it is true to its singular sub-genre. Those expecting something like the aforementioned films may actually be left wanting. But this is a Gojirra movie through and through. The looming dread, the vast expanses of debris — and the nightmarish heritage behind all of it. Edwards has scored a major victory in my book, and I look very much forward to the two sequels he is set to create.