Everyone knows Godzilla pretty well. The question is what can you do with him. In the past few years, audiences have seen Pacific Rim (2013), Cloverfield (2008), Super 8 (2011), a remake of King Kong (2005) the Jurassic Park trilogy (1993-2001) and pretty much the Transformers movies (2005-present) if you think about it. They’re giant robots, but they accomplish pretty much the same destruction and panic. City-wide apocalyptic destruction seems to be the norm for big-budget blockbusters these days. Can you even think of one huge release that didn’t feature some building falling to pieces? With destruction being Hollywood’s mojo, the rightful question to ask is what can a new Godzilla movie add that has not been done to death recently? He is after the all the original building-smashing, fire-breathing, colossal destructive force of nature that threatens to destroy mankind. So what can he add? The answer, sadly, is not much.
Much of the focus on the Gareth Edwards film is not even on Godzilla. The film is really more other monsters taking the lead with Godzilla as a side character. When we do get to see our beastie hero, he is magnificent, terrifying and finally realized correctly in the digital age, not a corny man in a suit, but actually the Godzilla you’ve always wanted to see. It just would have been nice to have seen more of him.
For the human element of the film, stock characters out of a horror film are utilized mostly. The only one remotely interesting is Bryan Cranston, whose paranoia and shouting really drive the film. His son is the good guy army lieutenant just trying to do the right thing, his wife is the worrying pretty thing and their son is just kind of there. Ken Watanabe sparks a bit of interest as a researcher-type character, but I’m still not exactly sure what kind of emotion his character should invoke in us: is he guilty, terrified or angry? All in all, not a lot to get emotionally invested in.
Overall it is nerve-wracking nearly from the first frame to the last frame. There is almost an excessive amount of buildup to the chaos and destruction. Several of the action scenes are handled particularly well and the film looks great, probably the best looking out of the recent monster flicks. If you just want to see giant monsters clobber each other in the middle of San Francisco, I suggest you show up halfway through the film, and you’ll get your money’s worth.
The ultimate problem with this attempt at Godzilla may be that for all the tension and special effects, you are ultimately left with a joyless horror movie. At its core, a special part of the appeal of Godzilla is his inherent silliness. He is after all a giant dinosaur/lizard that levels towns and fights other monsters and it is obvious in the original films that it is just a guy in a suit smashing a set. It’s fun to watch and to judge. Yes, he deserves to be scary and a symbol of our foolish atomic ambitions and attempt to control nature, but he also appeals to the child in us. Audiences can forgive shallow characters and mindless action as long as they have some fun along the way. When you remove the intrinsic fun of giant monsters clobbering things, what you have left is exhilarating but unmemorable. So, how could this have gone?
First of all, what everyone wanted with this film was Walter White versus Godzilla. No buts about it, but that’s what we expected. I was even behind his character throughout the film as a paranoid-stricken father out to prove the monster’s existence. He was our protagonist, not his rather boring one-dimensional son. When he was killed at the midpoint of the film, any emotional attachment to the story went with him. If we had stuck with him as the man who had been hunting Godzilla, learning about him, the government not believing him only to see him rise out of the depths and then have to assist the government in bringing him down, that would have been a natural arc. The son could still assist his father, and they could build off each other. Perhaps the death of the wife/mother put a real strain on their relationship that needed to be mended across the film.
Here’s how I see it going down. The father makes a critical mistake that lead to his wife’s death and the son has never forgiven him. This is hinted at in the film, but perhaps she dies due to a mistake that someone advised him against and he brushed off as unnecessary safety, opening up the theme of protecting family above all else. The father blames himself, but also knows something else was at fault, some force of nature that no one understands, but no one believes him. He searches for it by himself, as he does in the film, while his son grows distant. When Godzilla is proved to be the culprit, the son has to help the father help the army beat him back. With all his research into the creature, the government has no one to turn to except to him as they try to beat back a force they can not contain. Through this process father and son reconcile and learn to forgive each other. Perhaps they also learn they need to work together to save the son’s family now trapped in a monster’s wrestling ring and learn the true value of family. This would provide two distinct plots, one being the father and son trying to destroy the monsters with the government, the other being the son’s wife and son trapped with the monsters and seeing the chaos on the ground. We the audience would be terrified for the wife and daughter and root for the father and son to save them before it is too late, creating a ticking clock scenario. At the conclusion, the father devises a master plan to kill the monsters that the son has to be a part of to succeed before the monsters completely destroy the city and his family. At the film’s conclusion, it would be the son needing to listen to his father about making the ultimate sacrifice for family and learning from his father’s mistake to stop the monsters and save his wife and daughter. This builds some dynamic arc between all the characters and gives them some depth. The Ken Watanabe character can act as a beacon of the past, remembering when his ancestors were killed by the atomic blast and how they were trying to kill Godzilla years ago. His arc could serve as the caution tale of man trying to control nature (i.e. Godzilla, atomic energy) and how it is doomed to fail, dying at the end regretful of his meddling into forces beyond his control (a la Jurassic Park moral lessons). Bryan Cranston’s character may also die at the end after serving his mentor role to his son and serving as extra motivation for the final mission.
The other big change as you can probably guess from the description above is that this movie should be first and foremost about Godzilla. Instead of these mating weird creatures causing the havoc, it should be the title character front and center. Just like the human characters, this Godzilla can have an actual arc. He starts out as a fire-breathing monster that destroys everything in his path. He takes center focus of the film and serves as chief antagonist, building up to his reveal 45 minutes into the film and then leveling Tokyo on his way to Hawaii to San Francisco. Bryan Cranston’s character attempts to find weaknesses in him, but his repeated attempts are met with failure and only infuriate the monster. Then we learn about these other creatures that are based in Nevada and have awoken and discover that Godzilla is after them. Perhaps Bryan Cranston discovers some strange way of communicating with Godzilla (think about the music in Close Encounters) and are able to work together with him to defeat these creatures. Godzilla goes from destroying mankind to saving it and gives even this giant reptile an emotional arc as he learns about us, the army learns about him and they come to a mutual understanding at the end of the film, replete with plenty of alternatives for sequels that focus on the relationship between giant reptile as protector of man and us trying to control nature.
Agree or disagree? How should Godzilla be represented on screen?