Death, the Destroyer of Worlds: ‘Godzilla' (2014) Retrospective
Godzilla's in this film!...sometimes
Godzilla’s first American outing didn’t quite turn out too well. The 1998 film was panned by both critics and fans alike. It is often referred to by fans as ‘GINO’ (Godzilla in name only). It wouldn’t be until 2014 that America would try again to make their own Godzilla film. But would it be better than the first time, or worse? Godzilla was released in 2014 and was directed by Gareth Edwards.
The story of the film initially revolves around a government conspiracy to cover up the existence of giant prehistoric animals that may still be alive. Scientist discover a gigantic cocoon, which hatches into an enormous and destructive creature. It meets a second creature of the same species which it intends on mating with. The two creatures create a path of destruction however they are stalked by a colossal radioactive dinosaur called Godzilla, who is their natural predator.
Despite the trailers and promotional material suggesting that Godzilla would be the focus, it is actually the other two monsters who steal the spotlight. The two monsters are known as MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). The one found by the science team, called MONARCH hatches into the male MUTO, which resembles a robotic insect. Honestly, it’s a poor design as it’s the stereotypical CGI, black, sleek, insectoid design seen in most other American monster and science fiction films, such as Transformers and Cloverfield.
The film opens during the 1950s. A gigantic dinosaur appears at a tropical region and a military group launches a nuclear bomb at it. The film cuts to the late 90s, where a MONARCH scientist Ishiro Serizawa, played by Ken Watanabe, is inside a cavern containing a skeleton that looks like the dinosaur. They also find a giant spore. Meanwhile in Japan, power plant supervisor Joe Brody, played by Bryan Cranston, is forced to watch his wife die during a plant malfunction caused by a tremor.
In 2014, Joe is investigating the cause of the plant’s malfunction as he strongly believes it’s a coverup. Eventually Joe is critically injured during the male MUTO’s awakening and dies of his injuries. This is a major downside of the film. The trailers suggested that Joe was going to be the main lead, but he is abruptly killed off in the first third of the film. If one saw the trailers, one would know that there are several things about the trailer that either happen differently or are taken out. One such example being a large multi-legged monster in the San Diego Comicon trailer which isn’t in the film.
Speaking of the main lead, I almost forgot about the main character. Ford, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, is the film’s protagonist, which I say very loosely for reasons I’ll get into later. Ford is Joe’s son and a U.S. Navy bomb disposal technician. He finishes a tour of duty and is on his way to meet his wife Elle, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and their young child. The reason I said Ford is a lose protagonist is that he’s barely a character. Ford practically has no personality. He’s just sort of there. His only defining moment is helping a child during the male MUTO’s Hawaiian attack. His profession is bomb disposal, but he doesn’t dispose of a single bomb in the film. He is nothing more than just a bland character who the audience is forced to follow. Honestly, if he weren’t in the film very little would change. It is somewhat remarkable how the monsters just so happen to appear wherever he is.
Of course I couldn’t talk about a Godzilla film without talking about the titular character. This Godzilla, referred to as the Legendary Godzilla since the film was produced by Legendary Pictures, is more accurate to his Japanese counterparts in both appearance, size, abilities, and origin. He somewhat resembles a bear or a dog, but regardless is still a giant dinosaur. Unlike the Japanese ones, this Godzilla was never mutated by an atomic bomb. He apparently went deep underground after prehistoric times and feed on the Earth’s natural radiation. In 2014 he rises after sensing the MUTO near Hawaii. He is also taller than any of the Japanese Godzillas, at least until the film Shin Godzilla. He also has a pair of gills around his neck to help explain how he spends so much time underwater.
As the film goes on, we’re introduced to another MUTO, the female. The female MUTO is much larger than the male. While the male can fly and is more agile, the female is very bulky and strong. They march their way through the U.S. to find a place to mate. Like Godzilla, they too feed off radiation. They steal a nuclear bomb and plan to use it to nurse their offspring with.
Despite the name of the film, Godzilla only appears in the film for 11 minutes that’s gradually stretched out. Most of the film has him swimming through the ocean escorted by Navy battleships. Whenever he encounters a MUTO the scene cuts away anticlimactically. They may show him fighting the male for a second on a television screen or from far away, but the point is that the film takes away from what makes a Godzilla film. Godzilla is supposed to be shown to fight his opponent, it’s what the audience comes for.
Instead the film force-feeds the subplot with Ford attempting to get back to his family. As I mentioned, Ford has absolutely no character whatsoever, so you’re not emotionally attached to him. During interviews, many actors said that the human element is needed, but where is it? The only character who you bond with is Joe, but he’s killed off in the first third of the film. Watanabe’s character is somewhat more developed, but just slightly since doesn’t appear much in the film. His main purpose is basically to tell you Godzilla’s name and to show up every once in a while to have a shocked expression on his face.
None of the other characters are memorable. Olsen’s character I forgot was in the film as well. Being a situation film, there are mandatory army characters who are there to be killed off.
There’s also not a lot of music, or at least pieces that stand out. There is some music during dramatic scenes, but just typical high-pitched stock music.
Overall, I’m not sure if I can recommend Godzilla. On one hand it is a much more faithful adaptation of the world’s most famous Japanese dinosaur. Godzilla looks like Godzilla as compared to the first American version. However, for a film about Godzilla, there really isn’t much Godzilla in it. It’s the same as the film Beetlejuice, where the film focuses more on what’s going on around the titular character and only focuses on them at the end.
Personally, I did like how Godzilla was portrayed more as a hero than an antagonist. While he wasn’t quite as heroic as the first Godzilla film series, he didn’t actively go out of his way to destroy cities as he normally does. While I didn’t like the designs for the MUTOs, I did like their goal and the threat they brought. Ultimately, they’re just ordinary animals who are attempting to survive in modern times. The obvious problem being their large size in populated areas. Godzilla is the same way, who is attacked at one point just because the army thought he was a threat. Any damage he does is all accidental, such as creating a tsunami in Hawaii and destroying a bridge after being attacked.
In my opinion, to be fair, the 1998 film did feel more like a traditional Godzilla film since Godzilla was treated as the main situation and focus. The problem with that film was the radical redesign of Godzilla’s character. This film returns him to who he was but there’s rarely any focus on him. Check this film out if you’re a Godzilla fan, but understand that there may not be much Godzilla in it.
At the time of this article, there is a sequel planned next year which will feature more of Toho’s monsters, and in the following year a crossover with King Kong.
Original film trailer
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