Long story short: Too many humans; not enough monster battle. Not nearly enough.
Long story long:
I haven’t been a Godzilla fan for very long. My husband, several years before he was my husband, is the one who pretty much forced me to watch my first film of the franchise. Luckily for him I was no stranger to campy Japanese action (go, go, Power Rangers!) and I enjoyed it. I can’t remember now which one it was, but I think Mothra sacrificed herself and turned into glitter. Yeah, that doesn’t narrow it down much.
Anyway, now that he’s my husband, I have of course watched every Godzilla movie multiple times, and I feel like I have a sense of what a good Godzilla movie is supposed to be. I also have a King Ghidorah plushie that roars and makes his silly tweedly flying noise. Let’s face it, Ghidorah is the only monster that always seems to swoop in having a total blast doing his thing. His cry sounds almost like a giggle. Godzilla’s great, but he’s more of a grumpy personality unless he’s winning a fight, and then a victory dance is sometimes in order.
Naturally, we were off to see the new movie as soon as we were able. Thanks to the catastrophe that was the ’98 adaption, we set our bars very low and expected to have a good time despite this not being a Toho-made entry. I was prepared for the human plot that anchored us to be silly and pointless, for the monster action to be crazy and fun, and for the whole thing to take itself a little too seriously. We both came away feeling really “meh” about it.
There were some good things, to be sure. Godzilla’s new look is spot-on. I was afraid he wasn’t going to be given any personality at all, but he did seem to express irritation with the MUTOs and satisfaction at smacking them down. Just enough without getting campy (not that there’s anything wrong with campy, but it would clash with this movie’s tone). Although, that moment where he and the protagonist are looking at each other really close and he almost nods at him like, “nice job destroying that nest, dude,” was kinda dumb.
The MUTOs themselves were alright if a little boring. I did like that they aaaaalmost look like they could have been played by guys in suits if it was the good ole days. We got both a flying monster and a ground monster, so that was nice. They seemed very insect-like, so it bothered me a little that they roared all the time. Every monster these days seems to have a gaping mouth and a samey roar no matter what sort of creature it is. Regular insects don’t exactly make teeny tiny roaring sounds. I’d just be happy with a little more variety from the sound people. Hissing, screeching, croaking, squawking, something other than the same old tiger roar mixed with elephant trumpet and jet engine that we always get. Even Godzilla had that going on, unfortunately covering up most of his trademark cello sound. It’s best if the monsters can get some unique, otherwise unthreatening cry to inflict dread simply because it accompanies their destructive power (see King Ghidorah’s trill).
I appreciated the sense of sheer terror that the movie showed us. I mean, how would it really be when faced with something that huge, dangerous, and out of your control? Sure there are screaming people running everywhere in the older movies, but we’ve never gotten to see it quite from this perspective before. I think that’s thanks to the very real presence Godzilla had in this movie. His entrance was pretty lackluster though. Someone was talking about how Godzilla was going to come, and then he just sorta swam up. My husband put it well: Godzilla was like an overblown movie star that got asked to make a small appearance in some new movie, and he didn’t really care so he just agreed to show up at the time they gave him with no enthusiasm at all. Godzilla is so great at making an awesome entrance. I’m not sure why they’d just have him wander up from the water without any style.
Now, as for the battling. . . I want to throw something at whoever decided to keep cutting away from the monster battles. We were there specifically for the monster battles. We wait and wait, and Godzilla finally arrives and comes face to face with the first MUTO. Oh, man, here we go. It’s gonna be great. Finally! Aaaaand we cut away to a kid watching the news before they even get started. What? Okay here comes the second fight. Godzilla’s going to face off with both MUTOs at once. This is the finale! It’s gonna be awesome. Aaaaand we cut back to what the soldiers are doing. Oh, we almost get to see the monsters over behind those build—nope back to the soldiers. I’m not sure why film makers don’t realize this, but fans don’t like to be teased like that. It’s not funny, man. If we had been allowed to see the first fight in Hawaii, I feel like maybe that would have been a more fulfilling amount of battling, but with only parts of the final rumble I was left very unsatisfied.
The battling, when we got to see it, was very unenergetic. Yes, I liked the weight of the monsters in the lumbering way they got around. I liked the realistic way they moved. But when they’re fighting they’ve gotta pick it up a little bit. Compare this to the fighting in Pacific Rim and you’ll see how much more face-paced and therefore exciting it could have been. I also feel like there was some fan teasing going on in how long it took Godzilla to remember he could do his well-known tail whip and atomic breath. That final kill, though. Very cool.
Why did we go to Hawaii for the first fight? There was a huge missed opportunity in not staging the first encounter of Godzilla and Male MUTO at the reactor where it hatched. Didn’t anyone notice that perfect setting in the surrounding abandoned city? Prime monster fighting ground—no evacuation needed—and it was left untouched. I’m just bewildered by this.
Moving on. . .ah, to the humans. Oh, the humans. Alright, so, you got Bryan Cranston for your movie. Good job. You start him off as the protagonist, give him a background and personality, and we start to latch onto him as our viewpoint for the movie and invest in him emotionally. Going good so far. Now, you make him smartly making the best decisions he can in a time of crisis, and you make him tragically lose his wife after sending her in to do her job. Great! He’s got motivation for spending the next several years working on how to discover and deal with the monsters that caused this, and he’s perfect for eventually coming up with the plan that will save the day at the end.
No? What? You’d rather kill him off after half an hour and jar us with a switch to his completely generic, uninteresting, boring, barely-capable-of-emoting son as the main character? WHY?
The generic protagonist, Ford, with his generic wife and son were the most boring thing about the movie, and boy did we stay focused on them for a long time. I was almost squirming in my seat whenever any of those three came back on screen because I really didn’t want to watch them. I wanted to at least go back to the admiral or the scientists or somebody slightly less boring. Heck, I want to go see what that awesome bus driver is up to. But no, we’ve got to stick with dull Ford the whole way. And he makes such stupid decisions sometimes, too. What is he thinking? Oh no! There are flaming tanks flying at me and nearby explosions and bits of vehicles and it’s dark and foggy. Ah, it’s probably fine to tell the train that it’s safe. No monsters nearby, right? Oh no! The Fem MUTO is walking right by me. Better stay still and be quiet, and while I’m at it, point my flashlight directly into her eyes.
The other humans weren’t much sharper though. The most facepalm-worthy moment was when the military team went to check for the second MUTO egg in the Nevada facility. They really went inside without noticing the massive gaping hole that had been torn in the building. Most of the building was gone. How did they not see this coming in? And then -gasp!- there’s the Fem MUTO, big as a skyscraper, sauntering toward the city not a few miles away. They were in helicopters. They flew in on helicopters and nobody saw that thing walking across the barren landscape? Hah. And how about all the human stupidity in the finale? It is well established that the monsters emit EMP which has a very specific range, and yet there are jets raining from the sky when it goes off because they were flying within that range. What did they expect, and why are they still acting surprised?
I think I can see the idea that this was to be the first Godzilla movie for a new audience. It’s been a long time since the last one, after all. So I understand the approach of the slow, suspenseful buildup to the battle at the climax, mimicking the original 1954 movie. However, it still dragged on too long. I started to lose focus about halfway through. My husband was yawning. A couple miffed fans walked out of the theater. People began chatting. Monster movies aren’t supposed to be boring at any point. It’s my hope, if they plan to make more of these now, that sequels will focus more on the exciting monsters and get to the action much quicker. That was the trend in the earlier movies.
On the whole, this movie wasn’t terrible by any means. It was boring for quite a stretch, entertained decently in the later third, and at least occasionally felt like a Godzilla movie. They showed plenty of reverence for the original films and for Godzilla himself. Unfortunately, it feels like they missed the point of these movies, both of the original allegory and the reason the whole series is so much fun to watch and watch again.