Last night I went to see Godzilla at the drive-in during a thunderstorm. Whereas my limited understanding of the radar view on my phone’s weather app led me to believe the storm would pass in “ten minutes, tops,” it stuck around for half of the movie. Here’s what it looked like:
Nonetheless, I loved it. Some of you may remember I loved Pacific Rim, too, but comparing the two films is kind of pointless. That won’t stop me from doing it anyway: Pacific Rim was a good movie about giant monsters. The new Godzilla is a good movie about people. Hell, for a summer blockbuster it’s fucking Shakespeare. Now, Pacific Rim gets extra credit for including a multicultural cast and not destroying New York for the umpteenth time (I think The Avengers set the bar far too high in that regard), but Godzilla 2014 takes everything the 1998 film did and does the exact opposite.
One of the reasons I often love big movies is they can design drama around something we’ve never seen before. The reason I hate big movies is they often squander the opportunity to take us somewhere new. In Godzilla there’s a very intense, very emotional scene in the opening act. Bryan Cranston’s character oversees a nuclear power plant in Japan that’s been experiencing tremors too patterned to be attributed to earthquakes. He sends his wife (Juliette Binoche, further setting this film apart from traditional summer blockbusters) and a team of scientists into the core of the plant to investigate. I was wondering why people who work in such a large facility don’t have golf carts or, at the very least, bicycles, but hey, when a movie hits this hard so soon and so well you find yourself suspending your disbelief almost immediately.
Without giving too much away, the plant eventually collapses on the horizon as their son watches from his classroom. Fifteen years later, the entire city is quarantined much like Chernobyl. The boy is now an explosives expert for the Navy played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He’s married to Elizabeth Olsen who, like so many love interests in films like this, is a nurse. Well, not everything can be completely original. I would say that cliche is more sigh-worthy than a full-on groan, so we’ll let it slide. The fact is, cliche or not, this is some solid acting here. When Cranston’s son finds out his father was arrested—yet again—for trespassing into the restricted zone, the son travels back to Japan.
At this point I’ve probably said too much. The trailers don’t necessarily give the best parts away, but they do rob you of the magic of seeing Godzilla for the first time. We barely see the monster at all for an hour or so and I don’t mean the director is purposely holding back in the Jaws sense—Godzilla is barely even in the movie’s first half. (That’s not to say there aren’t direct nods to Jaws and it makes me wonder how much of old Godzilla’s influence was in Jaws in the first place.) Casual moviegoers may feel cheated by that fact, but it goes a long ways towards sustaining suspense and I can’t say I was ever bored. If anything, the trailers make you think you’re in for a disaster movie starring Bryan Cranston. You’re not. If you go into it expecting that you’re likely to be disappointed.
The fact of the matter is this isn’t Godzilla terrorizing cities. This is completely different monsters terrorizing cities. Hell, it’s more like monsters being unable to coexist with humans than “Watch out for that scary monster!” There’s a scene where fighter jets begin falling out of the cloudy sky for reasons that aren’t entirely apparent at first. That absolutely excited/terrified the hell out of me. And that’s why I go to see movies like this: to see things as utterly insane as that. It’s the kind of bone-chilling stuff that made our species gather around fires in the first place.
Great movie? You betcha. Go see it. Take the kids. I’m so glad that kids are getting imaginative monster movies again. The stuff certainly worked wonders on my imagination as a child.