Short summary of long article, to answer your big question now. "Is Godzilla good?" No, not really. "Is it better than the 1998 remake?" Yes, but not really. Not by very much at all. Actually, maybe not at all. The 1998 version is kind of zany and fun in its own way. "How could you possibly say the 1998 film is better. You must be some flame war starting troll. I'm not interested in anything you have to say."
That's fine. For everyone else, let me explain.PART I: NOSTALGIA IS A BITCH AND SO IS MUTOGodzilla
fans are a special breed within the lexicon of nerd culture, although it might be best to take a step back before I elaborate.
As Japanese as Gojira
may be, Godzilla
has become a remarkable phenomenon as one of the sole international franchises to completely break through all cultural barriers and become an icon within the American pantheon... even if it may be on a purely superficial level.
While even the most popular anime properties, Korean dramas, and most beloved Shaw Brothers' films are still only heralded within niche factions of popular culture, Godzilla
embodies almost every notion of American childhood nostalgia. It has become a part of our collective consciousness, almost Borg like. Godzilla
represents a rite of passage for most, if not all, young American males (predominately male, I hope there are female fans who legitimately love the stuff, I just haven't met many, if any).
Nearly every man I know can and will wistfully reminisce on their hazy half forgotten memories of catching a Godzilla film or two with their fathers either in the theater, on VHS, or on some cable network channel on some lazy Saturday afternoon in their pre-puberty adolescence.
As a "thing," Godzilla
is just as recognizable to the general public as Star Wars
But when was the last time you've ever seen cos players dress up as the Shobijin twins?
When was the last time you've heard a casual acquaintance talk about watching Terror of Mechagodzilla
on a Thursday night?
The fan base that has actively continued watching Godzilla beyond their childhood years, who still collect Godzilla memorabilia, who sought after and watched the Millennium series, who still subscribe to the new line of comics being published by IDW, who've ever attended or still attend those hotel basement Godzilla conventions represent such a minuscule niche sub culture so small that the majority of later Godzilla films were only available via Hong Kong bootlegs because they just weren't profitable enough to distribute in the U.S. through legitimate channels. (Yes, this is hyperbole, but roll with it; it's the fucking internet isn't it? Many of the DVDs found release in the U.S. many years later.)
Yes, just about everyone alive today may know who and what Godzilla is, but the devout Kaiju and sentai fan base represents something that's very far removed from the universal acceptance of the fever that now surrounds the likes of Star Trek
, Star Wars
, and super heroes.
We represent the deep dark recess of the geek boy community. We hang out in the dimly lit back corners of convention floors trading Japanese laser discs and fan subbed DVD rips of forgotten Kamen Rider series, obscured by the giant ads promoting the new 52s and ignored by all of narcissistic shallow minded half naked cosplayers vying for Facebook attention.
And it's those obsessive autism spectrum Big Bang Theory
inspiring ultra nerds who took to the internet in the early days and started sites, blogs, and forums to passionately discuss, praise, and hyperbolize all of these things that no else really gives a shit about. And somehow, it's seeped into mainstream culture and tainted it without actually influencing or changing it.
I would argue that legitimate widespread interest in Godzilla as a viable new property is actually pretty low. The internet doesn't actually represent the public. Scott Pilgrim
, Pacific Rim
, and countless others should have taught us that by now.
Still, even the most bro bigoted jock asshole who has never seen a foreign film or bothered to think about the cultural relevance to films about different nationalities might just get a tear in his eye at the mention of Godzilla
. "Dude, I was in third grade when my old man used to pick me up from school every Friday and take me to the local comic shop. My allowance was two comic books. After that, we'd hit the video store and rent either a different Godzilla or James Bond movie. Those were some of the only times I actually got along with my father as a kid. Sure, he'd still be drinking then, but since we were watching Godzilla fight Monster Zero, he'd be too occupied to get too punch drunk and we actually connected."
Well, maybe those are just my memories, but I've heard and read plenty of others reiterating similar things.
But again, if you were obsessive aspergers ultra nerd, you didn't just like Godzilla, you became obsessed. You had to learn everything you could. It became an inspiration to learn Japanese and get into all sorts of other Japanese things because Godzilla is definitely a gateway drug to becoming the type of Japan-o-phile who wears Project A-Ko
shirts in high school and dates Asian girls in college.
And then that one thing that brought you and your father together only created a larger divide.
I can't help but wonder who the new Godzilla
film was made for. It's being promoted to apparently appease the more hardcore fan, but the end result is an entirely different beast.
Gareth Edwards' Godzilla
has far more in common with Independence Day
and Jurassic Park
than it does with any actual Japanese kaiju film.
For many, that won't matter.
So before you get yourself all pumped up for this weekend, you should ask yourself...
PART II: WHAT KIND OF GODZILLA FAN ARE YOU?
To gauge your potential enjoyment of the new Godzilla reboot, here's something of a litmus test.
This is NOT the Godzilla film that's been promoted to you, but that doesn't necessarily mean that this is a Godzilla film that's going to fail to meet YOUR expectations.
The Godzilla franchise has gone through a long and wide ranging evolution over the years, and different fans have taken to different aspects of the many different periods of the property.
For many of us, the release of the original Japanese cut of Gojira in American cinemas in 2004 was a major revelation where we finally learned that the famed monster's origin was not a kitschy camp fest.
For some of us, we found this out earlier through those aforementioned expensive bootlegs with awful fan made subtitles.
I would hope that a history lesson on Gojira is unnecessary here at ScreenAnarchy, but if you didn't know, the 1954 original was an absolutely tragic, heartbreaking, heady, intelligent, science fiction, horror film.
It was a tragic, heartbreaking, heady, science fiction, horror film that brought this jaded drunk film critic to tears, and completely re-shaped his previous fandom and molded it into something entirely different.
If you don't cry during the scene when the children's choir is signing their Prayer for Peace over a montage of footage showing medical camps that look eerily like the ones set up after the bomb droppings, then you're dead inside.
So you probably already know that the original Gojira was a direct response to the use of the atomic bomb on Japan. It was a form of grieving for a nation still rebuilding itself from the war, a nation that saw many of its cities burned to the ground.
Gojira was a shocking film at the time of its release in Japan.
But it was a film that carried even more scandal beyond its images of mass destruction. It was a film that dealt with class structure. It's one of the first and only Japanese films to portray the Burakamin, a group of extremely impoverished farmers that have been violently outcast and oppressed as lepers by mainland society.
Gojira not only portrayed them in a sympathetic light, but it actually casted actual Burakmin as extras. It's the Burakamin that discover Gojira, it's the Burakamin that name Gojira.This was revelatory, taboo shattering material in its time.
There's even a love triangle that's actually interesting with a sacrificial hero's death that's well earned.
This is all just to say, Gojira was not a safe and family friendly monster movie.
And coming to this realization made me wish for more, a whole line of Godzilla films closer in tone to Neon Genesis Evangelion than to Gamera.
There's a reason why Criterion spent an obscene amount of money to acquire the original negatives of Gojira from the notoriously difficult to deal with Toho studios to remaster. It's not just due to the overall influence of Gojira on the cinematic landscape, but because it actually is a masterpiece of science fiction horror cinema in and of itself.
And yet, Gojira quickly became a Saturday morning cartoon with its many sequels during the Showa era from Destroy All Monsters to Son of Godzilla. By the early 70's, the franchise felt more like an after school special public service announcement than anything resembling an actual horror film.
In 1984, Toho rebooted Godzilla again and took the franchise to darker waters, and by the early 90's, the property became an increasingly misanthropic and apocalyptic response to the collapse of the Japanese bubble economy.
With the release of the Millennium series in the early 2000's, the franchise returned to its more explicitly political roots and mirrored many of the more tumultuous issues that defined Prime Minister Koizumi's administration.
Specifically, in S.O.S., Godzilla once again became a villain; he no longer represented the U.S., but the impending threat of a North Korean missile attack/invasion; Mothra had now become the metaphor for America as the protector of Japan with a shaky truce and an unwanted mandate that sounded a lot like Macarthur era peace treaties. MechaGodzilla represented the growing influence of Japan's right wing political factions, anxious to re-arm and re-militarize.
There are the fans that compulsively re-watch the sequels, holding Destroy all Monsters on a pedestal, just happy to see monster on monster action.
And then there are people who just kind of remember watching Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan duke it out on Saturday afternoons, and it's kind of neat for them to remember those times.
There are the fans that are obsessed with the deep seeded historical context of the original Gojira, hoping for the franchise to return to its roots, hoping for another horror film.
And then there are the Japan-o-philes who obsessively deconstruct and over analyze all of the films' hidden subtexts.
If you place yourself in the first two groups, there's plenty to enjoy and praise in the new Godzilla film.
If you're anywhere in the latter groups, you'd bound to walk out of the theater with a sour taste in your mouth.
But the truth is also that the new Godzilla film is a droll, charmless, and bland sausage fest that really should have been titled....
PART III: TEAM AMERICA, FUCK YEAH! COMING TO SAVE THE MOTHERFUCKING PLANET! or, AN ATOMIC MONSTER MOVIE THAT'S REALLY ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE AMERICAN NUCLEAR FAMILY
I am not an armchair activist. I'd hate to align myself with the type of online pariahs who constantly spout self-righteous rhetoric in order to appease their own self inflated egos.
I am sick of online tirades demanding that all white males check their privilege, and admit guilt by association.
I'm not the type of overly sensitive person who feels the need to point out every potentially culturally insensitive thing as some great act of oppressive racism, and no, I'm not about to claim that the new Godzilla film is racist.
It is a pandering and insulting if also harmless and innocuous piece of generic shit that reminded me a lot of The Impossible, you know, the movie about Asian tidal waves where the only victims that matter are wealthy white people.
Because that's what kept creeping to my mind in Godzilla.
Here comes the boring, ho hum upper middle class white people to save the day!
Godzilla may have been directed by a phenomenally talented filmmaker, and there's plenty to praise on a technical level with Gareth Edwards, but he's also wrestling with Max Borenstein's asinine script.
The screenplay reeks of something that was developed by way of assembly line and then redrafted by a committee of cynical American Hollywood producers who unwittingly and unknowingly created the type of jingoistic dreck that many bloggers will relish in attacking.
And I can't blame them.
Godzilla is a secondary character in his own film. That's probably true for most of his own Japanese films. But even the two cockroach-like Muto monsters are pretty much irrelevant to the central concept of their own picture.
This is very much a Spielberg summer movie about the importance of the nuclear American family, a super fucking white American family.
And it's pretty damn inept even at that.
Bryan Cranston plays an American engineer working for a Japanese nuclear facility that's attacked by Muto in the first act. Bryan's wife, played by the wonderful Juliette Binoche, is killed off immediately in the only scene with any emotional impact. But you've already seen that part in the trailers.
The film skips 15 years ahead and Bryan's son, Kick-Ass, is a hunky G.I. back from a tour in the Middle East on his way to make love to his generic cute nurse wife when he learns that his father has been arrested in Japan.
Bryan Cranston knows that "the Japanese" are hiding something, so he wrangles his son into sneaking into an abandoned city that was supposed to be quarantined after the nuclear meltdown.
And it takes the white dude 15 seconds to make the the type of major discoveries and break throughs that Japanese scientists have failed to do in the previous 15 years.
And that's when we're introduced to Muto, the film's actual villain monster.
And that's also when the film kills off a main character without actually telling its audience. It wasn't until a half hour after the fact that I had to turn to my friend in the theater and ask if this character was dead or not, and he responded with, "I think so. I think they killed off him with a single throwaway line that everyone missed."
So, Kick-Ass re-enlists in the army after hearing that Muto #1 in Japan is on his way to San Fransisco to go mate with Muto #2. And it's their underground mating calls that awaken Godzilla because he's all jealous that these other monsters are going to get it on and he's not invited. So he swims across the world to go fuck them up because people and animals who don't get laid are always angry and violent about it.
And yes, that really is what this movie is about, Godzilla trying to stop two other monsters from fucking...
Meanwhile, Kick-Ass is just kind of hanging around shooting really small guns at them.
And then there's Ken Watanabe, and although he plays a central character, his role is of no importance to the actual plot. He has a pointless assistant played by the fantastic Sally Hawkins because director, Gareth Edwards spent his time filming this movie while play pretending in his mind that he was making something that's actually good.
But really, Ken Watanabe is just there as ethnic decoration to remind fans that Godzilla was a Japanese series. His character has no depth and goes through no arc.
He does gets to say, "Let them fight."
And at the end, I was hoping he'd yell, "FINISH HIM!"
But this is a film about white men coming in to save the day.
Team America, FUCK YEAH!!!!
This is a film about the heroic G.I. and his hot nurse wife preserving the American Way.
This is a film that pays homage to its Japanese predecessor by having the white dude save silent Japanese children and return them to their silent Japanese families.
This is a film that swings its dick around without the balls to follow through on any of its promise and is too busy aping most of your favorite moments from the first Jurassic Park.
And the biggest problem is that it's two and a half fucking hours long where all of this shitty plastic human drama stuff occupies two entire hours of it. (yeah, I know that you could say the same for 80% of the originals)
Gareth Edwards plays a trick that could have been interesting in a better film. He keeps teasing the big kaiju brawls during for the first two acts.
All of the major set pieces before the final scene are surprisingly brief and fleeting.
Just as Godzilla appears to beat the hell out of the two Mutos, Edwards cuts away.
He's challenging his audience, trying to build up their anticipation for the climax. Unlike Michael Bay, Edwards isn't in a rush to blow his load too early on.
And maybe it'll work for other viewers because that last scene really made me think of Andy Warhol because...
PART IV: IN THE FUTURE, EVERYONE WILL BE FAMOUS FOR 15 MINUTES
For 15 glorious minutes, Godzilla absolutely receives his day in the sun.
For 15 amazing minutes, we get the slick, polished, mega budgeted Godzilla film we've all wanted. And for about one minute out of those 15 minutes, we even get a Godzilla film that makes us tremble in his presence, that makes the monster a thing to be feared once again.
For about 30 seconds, Edwards reminds us that he has some great ideas, that his debut feature was pretty remarkable in its portrayal of monsters as part of natural law and order.
And those fantastic, awe inspiring 15 minutes will lead a lot of online critics to write their hyperbolic reviews full of otherwise unwarranted praise.
Make no mistake, the final confrontation between Godzilla and the two Mutos is something to behold. It is something that absolutely begs to be seen at least once, exclusively in IMAX 3D.
(There's my positive plug for the film so I can keep getting my press screening tickets, feel free to put that on the blu ray cover. It's okay, I'm actually a whore really.)
The final confrontation is choreographed as a loving art house inspired homage to the classic man in suit monster favorites.
I almost wish it wasn't there, I had settled into the realization that I was going to write a scathing review. But it'd be unfair of me not to discuss it.
And yes, there are a big few moments in those 15 minutes that will leave many a fan boy creaming their pants.
And just like bad sex, maybe getting off in the end is really all most people need in order to walk away satisfied.
But I should reiterate that while Gareth Edwards' film may be aesthetically closer to the TOHO films, its overall execution is something resembling Jurassic Park dry humping Independence Day's leg which kind of makes it the deformed cousin to the 1998 Godzilla.
Yeah, the mother fucking 1998 Godzilla.
And that's why I've got something to say,
"I want to kill your dog and baby today because..."
PART V: YES, WE ACTUALLY DO NEED TO THROW THE BABY OUT WITH THE TUB WATER
Godzilla isn't a horrible film.
It performs to meet minimum expectations in terms of plot and structure and its themes.
"It's about about giant monsters. Shut up ,troll. You' just won't allow yourself to be happy with anything. You're just a miserable person. Must suck to be you, brah."
I want to cry out. I'm back to being that awkward kid with aspergers throwing embarrassing temper tantrums over arguments about comic books in the high school cafeteria.
And if that offends you, you've come to the wrong place, and you should stick your head back into the sand.
This is a film that tries its best to beat analytical criticism. All of my peers who viewed the film with me were vocal about disliking it, but they followed that sentiment with, "but you can't really say that it sucks. It's too slick to actually complain about. It's just nothing special."
But should we expect that? Should we praise that? Should we be complacent with that? Should a 160 million dollar blockbuster created and sold under the guise of nostalgia not be fucking special? Should we not desire to be challenged? Was this not a great opportunity missed?
Godzilla may look all dark and gritty, but looking dark and gritty is different from actually being poignant, personal, or powerful.
Godzilla talks the talk, but it doesn't walk the walk.
It can't even kill a single fucking dog.
It's the kind of film that employs cheap and manipulative cinematic devices to build suspense,
It's the type of film that repeatedly puts children in danger only to save them in the nick of time.
Oh no, there's a school bus filled with children on the bridge and here comes Godzilla!!!!!
Godzilla destroys the bridge, everyone dies. But the school bus narrowly escapes the collapse. Whew!
Oh no, there's a giant tidal wave coming and there's a beautiful chocolate lab tied to a tree.
We can't possibly watch a dog die can we?
Oh yay! The dog breaks loose and outruns the tidal wave while everyone else drowns.
I remember something similar in Independence Day, and wasn't that directed by the guy who did the Godzilla movie that everyone hates?
Wasn't this film intended to be a palette cleanser and chaser to wash away the burn of the gut rot that was Roland Emmerich's interpretation of the big green guy?
There sure are a lot of similarities.
I wanted those kids to die. I wanted that dog to die. I wanted Godzilla to be scary. I wanted the nuclear plant at the beginning to be a direct reference to Fukushima.
And that's because I wanted the 1954 Gojira.
I wanted an American summer tent pole film to actually have the balls to be a tragic, heart breaking, intelligent, heady, science fiction horror film.
"You want too much you whiny nerd."
You're right. That's why there's a shitty sit com that's made people like me the bunt of a joke on a weekly basis ,and I'm more than willing to accept it and laugh along.
But I'm still going to bitch.
Maybe the Japanese want to make fun of Godzilla and say that he's fat like us Americans. And maybe Americans want to make some type of joke about how our Godzilla has a bigger dick to match. But the Japanese and their Godzilla certainly have the bigger balls.
We didn't get the horror film advertised, we got Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. We fucking got Godzooki. We got a film that actually teases our savior, Godzilla, dying a tragic death while trying to save us. If there's one thing Americans love, it's fucking Jesus analogies.
I wanted the Godzilla film where a mother whose survived Nagasaki and the Tokyo fire bombings is clutching her young child just as Godzilla is about to stomp on them and says, "We're on our way to be with your father again."
I wanted the Godzilla film that showed the monster's aftermath as a tragedy, where the destruction carried actual weight.
Instead, Gareth Edwards makes plenty of direct visual references to 911, but transforms them into an empty spectacle where everyone comes out OK in the end, betraying everything that the original Gojira represented.
The Japanese acknowledge and grieve for their tragedies in their art and popular entertainment. We erase it, rewrite it, and then fix it
Oh, but the script does allow Ken Watanabe to spew out a single throwaway line about Hiroshima. I think it's supposed to be an impactful moment but just comes across as rather insensitive.
And all of this is exactly why....
PART VI: GODZILLA REALLY SHOULD HAVE BEEN AN INDEPENDENT FILM
This bitter, drunk, and jaded critic truly believes that Godzilla should have been an independent film.
For years, I've hoped for a smaller scale Godzilla reboot.
I was both excited and dismayed when the director of the shoestring budgeted Monsters was cherry picked for Warner Brothers and Legendary studios' potential new franchise.
Monsters was closer in spirit to the original Gojira than this new Godzilla even if Monsters was also about pretty white people trying to save those poor native foreigners. Yes, that statement was intended to be contradictory.
You want to know the other reason why Godzilla should have been a smaller budgeted film?
Because ultimately, no one gives a fuck about Godzilla.
While everyone may be talking about Godzilla, and there's a megaton of internet press being heaped on this thing, those who flock out to see it this weekend will probably equal the number of those who flocked out to see Pacific Rim and Speed Racer, which means, not many, certainly not enough to justify the film's bloated budget and marketing campaign.
And eventually, just like Man of Steel, people will come around to recognizing this for the half baked turd that it is, and all of that pre-buzz will be forgotten, and then the numbers are really going to drop off.
It's as if the studios still don't understand their audiences or how to build new ones.
Yes, Americans will herd themselves like sheep into the theaters for The Avengers, Batman, and Superman.
But that can not be expected for Speed Racer, John Carter, and Godzilla.
The technology exists where spectacle can be done on the cheap. Didn't Gareth Edwards' previous film prove that already?
It would have been better for Legendary to have taken a risk and either make a hard hitting, R rated monster horror film tragedy or a full on Pacific Rim style schlock fest for under $30 million. Then it would have had something that's guaranteed to bring in a big return from its pre- existing fan base while also CULTivating new fans.
Instead we got a Christopher Nolan, Steven Speilberg, Ronald Emmerich Gamera, another dark and gritty film with a silly script that takes itself far too seriously. Just like The Dark Knight Rises, Godzilla is a frustratingly realistic take on comic book material that lacks any humor or wit, a film that tries so hard to convince its audience that it exists in the real world, that it only creates a hundred distracting plot holes in the process.If you're going to be silly, then you should also be fun. This tries far too hard to be important and it loses any sense of fun.
And I'm sorry, but I physically slapped myself the moment that the film played a Japanese pan flute when Godzilla re-awakens in the final moment as if he's Jesus being resurrected at the end of Passion of the Christ.
Where the fuck is the horror film that I was promised by the exceptional marketing department?
Where is my Gojira?!!!
Where is my fucking magical flask?
About the author: If you like Greg's crazy drunken rants, there's a good chance you'll like his crazy stories and comics. If you've already his crazy stories, you'll be able to buy them on Amazon soon. Greg is also working on a new punk rock noir horror e-novel about super heroes for people who fucking hate super heroes. It's about a racist Super Man born out of the rubble of the Move bombing and fire on Osage and his battles with a skitzaphrentic African American riot grrl in the slums of Philadelphia in the early 90's. It's called Dead Heroes, and it's crazy, and you'll be able to find out more about it at www.Pissinginthepunchbowl.com. Greg also makes black light monster porn and dinosaur pin ups that you can find sometimes find on Etsy when he remembers to pay his bill;