For the record, gentle reader, I am a fan not a critic. I generally aim for spoiler free reviews but this one will have some minor spoilers. That being said, I saw Godzilla for the second time in two days today and I like it even more having seen it a second time. There are so many things that I missed on the first viewing that I caught on the second one.
There are at least two shout outs to classic Godzilla movies, and I’d be surprised if there weren’t more that I just haven’t noticed with everything else going on in the film, scattered throughout the new Godzilla. In one scene there is a chrysalis in a terrarium and the end of the name of the nuclear power plant is covered by the first part of the word mother and the pieces together read Mothra. In another scene there is a clear reference to King Ghidorah from Giant Monsters All Out Attack.
Gareth Edward’s Godzilla has an advantage of technology that classic Godzilla did not benefit from. For that reason I am pleased that the new Godzilla is subtly different from classic Godzilla. It does not demand that you choose between the two. They are clearly Godzilla (unlike 1998 Not-Godzilla) but different.
One thing that struck me about the new Godzilla is the sense of massiveness the movie is able to convey. In this movie there is a visceral sense of how huge and down-right massive Godzilla is as a creature that simply cannot be replicated by a man in a suit. The constraint of having to work with a man sized monster makes it impossible to truly convey the great size and earth-shaking impact something that size moving across the land would have. With modern CGI technology this was portrayed in a way that had an instinctive impact upon the viewer. The way the feet spread when they set down upon the ground, just like a real animal’s does was just one small example of how well done, and how well thought out this movie is.
I absolutely love the new origin story. While it holds true to the spirit of Godzilla’s original origin story, it is subtly different and new and I find that I like it even better than the original. The writers came up with some brilliant pseudo-scientific explanations for how Godzilla functions and a long-standing joke I make about Godzilla turned out to be true! (Warning, mild spoiler ahead). People who are not fans have asked me what Godzilla eats and I’ve been known to jokingly reply: Nuclear Subs. Ok maybe not specifically in this movie but by implication.Speaking of nice touches, and spoilers, working in the nuclear testing at the Bikini Atoll was pure genius. Godzilla has always been associated with nuclear weapons, Gareth Edwards just took it a couple of steps farther; to great effect. Another thing I really appreciated was the inverse format. By which I mean this was a Godzilla movie where Godzilla attacked San Francisco, an American city, and the main character was a man of Japanese descent who worked with a cast of Americans. In classic Godzilla movies released in the US, it’s usually edited so that there is an American lead working surrounded by a Japanese cast. I found this inverse relationship quite delicious and Ken Watanabi was excellent in the role.
Now before I make my next comment, I don’t like the casual use of the term “sexy.” People misuse that term if you ask me. If; however, Godzilla were in any way sexy, or would be considered to have a screen shot that could be called, “sexy,” it would be of his iconic and unique dorsal spines. This would be especially true if there were female Godzillii (Godzillas?) too. Gareth Edwards uses this shamelessly and effectively. For the first part of the movie the only glimpse of Godzilla we get is of his dorsal spines. I also like how Godzilla is referred to in hushed tones as, “Him,” before we ever learn his name. Pure suspense genius.
The monsters behave like higher-level animals we know would. They emote and react to their environment and to threats throughout the movie in ways that I’ve seen dogs and cats do. It makes the monsters more real, more relatable in a small way to see them greet one another, to see them become angry or weary as they battle one another. This adds to the suspense and horror. Let me tell you, monsters are bad enough when they are mindless and driven purely by instinct. When you have intelligent monsters, even if they’re only as intelligent as, say, a dog (and frankly dogs are pretty smart for non-humans) that is truly terrifying.
Old school monster movies had a great deal of suspense about them. They were not about gore or shock value and Gareth Edwards held true to that. The movie was suspenseful and it followed through with an appropriate pay-off. The movie is well paced. It builds and builds until a cathartic payoff at the end that is worth every minute of the wait. K.