I’ve been turning this article over and over in my head for a month and a half, trying to put my thoughts into words and explain my positions as clearly and cogently as possible, without resorting to babbling “OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG YESSSSSSSSSSSSS” over and over again. Because, while it seems that Internet culture has fostered increasing divisiveness in opinion on every topic, with echo chambers springing up to amplify arguments to the point where people arguing over anything become incapable of finding common ground or, God forbid, compromise or worse still, agree to disagree, Legendary’s GODZILLA is perhaps the most divisive film I’ve seen in years. I’ve never seen a film treated with the contempt and utter, spiteful loathing I saw voiced, again and again and again, across social media by so many people. It really seemed like some of the people I was seeing out there would rather castrate themselves with a fork then admit the slightest bit of enjoyment of this film.
I even saw people exaggerating the film’s supposed weaknesses to emphasize their points, something I’ve never seen done with any other film. People claiming things that were patently untrue about the film in order to show how much they disliked it. I was stunned, and I was angry, and I got very, very, very bitter. Because I watched the film. And I loved it. I really loved it. And so did the rest of the audience in the packed theater I saw this film in on opening night.
The people around me were clapping and cheering Godzilla on when I saw it. I did not experience audience reaction like that during THE AVENGERS, I didn’t see audiences react that way to the Nolan Batman trilogy, I have never seen audiences go as wild for a film as I saw them go wild for this film. Fucking Hell, my girlfriend went in not expecting anything and wound up every bit as emotionally invested in the film as I was.
And while I hate applying logical fallacies in my arguments, let’s appeal to authority for a minute here. Haruo Nakajima, who played Godzilla from 1954 to 1972, loved the film. So did Kenpachiro Satsuma, who played Godzilla from 1984 to 1995 (in addition to played Hedorah and Gigan in the 1970s). I don’t think it’s too outrageous to say that these men know what makes a Godzilla movie work better then just about anyone out there short of Ichiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya.
To put it plainly:
I. Fucking. Loved. Legendary’s. GODZILLA.
It was everything my 11-year old self wanted from the 1998 GODZILLA which that film failed to deliver. And quite honestly, it delivered everything a Godzilla movie should be and historically has been. Anyone who can’t see that has never sat down and watched three or four of these films. Hell, anyone who can’t see that has never watched a single one of these films.
Let’s take a look at some of the major complaints voiced about this film, shall we?
1.) Flat, uninteresting human characters: CHRIST, have you seen a Godzilla movie? They don’t have compelling human elements, by and large. Humans in kaiju movies are typically flat and uninteresting or else broadly draw caricatures; look at just about every stern-mouthed, paternal scientist (a classic stock character in these films), every spunky girl reporter/photographer, every goofy nerd who nevertheless invents the gizmo that solves the problem of the day. The human cast is filler in these films; it always has been. They’re a B-plot, a time-waster because it’s too expensive to put 90 minutes of giant rubbery monsters slugging it out on the big screen. Fucking hell, 1994′s GODZILLA VS. SPACEGODZILLA was essentially a Yakuza movie with a few scenes of giant monsters spliced in. For that matter, 1962′s KING KONG VS. GODZILLA was a salaryman comedy (a Japanese subgenre focusing on the absurdity of white-collar pencil pushers) with giant monsters thrown in. People threw shit fits because the human element in GODZILLA (2014) wasn’t fucking Hamlet. Lighten up, Francis.
As far as the human lead in GODZILLA (2014) in particular, I didn’t think he was particularly bad. People were pissed that he essentially shuffled from scene to scene, looking blank and existing just to see Godzilla and the M.U.T.O.’s fight. I understood the character as having PTSD; he was essentially left to his own devices after his father shut down emotionally following his wife’s death (and let’s not forget that during his time in the military, he was a bomb defusal specialist, a job that requires a certain emotionlessness and absolute, dead-steadiness of self), and then was dealing with the shock of A) colossal, unfathomable life forms intruding upon his existence and B) survivor’s guilt. He lived as everyone around him died horribly. Are you film nerds, scratching your neckbeards with one flippered hand while slapping the keyboard ineffectually with the other, telling me you could experience this, that you could witness death on that level, and not become a hollow, dead-inside shell of a human being?
2.) Not enough monster action: Again, CHRIST, have you seen a Godzilla movie? For the most part, you get a brief shot of Godzilla right in the beginning, then a lot of people talking for a long time, then a half-hour of giant monster action at the climax of the film. Some of the Millennium films mixed it up some, but for the most part kaiju flicks follow this formula. The climactic battle is the pay-off. It’s the reward for sitting through the people talking for what feels like forever. To translate it into the experience of many Bloodsprayer readers, the monster action is the gooey explosion of semen into a girl’s face that you sat through what felt like hours of close-up footage of a man’s thrusting ass for.
The biggest complaint in this regard seems to be about the first encounter between Godzilla and the male M.U.T.O., which the audience is not really privy to. We see snippets of it on a TV playing in the background as the film focuses emotionally on the female lead. A lot of people seemed very bitter about this, bitching vociferously about that scene, comparing it to being blue-balled. I didn’t feel that way about it. It was, to me, a teaser, a warm-up, something to start the blood pumping in anticipation of the main event. Do you complain that the trash-talking before a wrestling match is blue-balling?
Hell, how many people bitched about not enough monster action in GODZILLA after bitching that PACIFIC RIM was too much monster action? I’m sure there’s some out there. Some people simply aren’t happy unless they’re throwing a piss-fit about something or other.
And to be perfectly honest, speaking narratively, an hour and a half or two hours of nonstop monster action would be horrendously unsatisfying. You need a lead-up to the monster battles. It’s like fucking. Imagine having an orgasm that lasts for two hours. The first few minutes of it are great…then it starts to wear on…eventually you just want it to stop so you can get on with your day. And you don’t go from zero to cumshot, unless you’ve got some severe issues with prematurity, but instead you build to that climax.
Storytelling is like fucking.
This is just a basic fact of how the human act of storytelling works. Stories (such as films) are broken down into what are called beats, which can be divided further into Dramatic and Procedural beats, as per Robin Laws’ book Hamlet’s Hit Points. Dramatic Beats deal with the internal struggle of characters, while Procedural beats deal with the external struggles of characters. Fight scenes are, by definition, procedural elements of a story; things happen and the story moves along, but without any sort of emotional pull or power behind them. Yin and Yang, fire and water, peanut butter and chocolate, Drama and Procedure. Both must be present for a satisfying balance to be achieved. That’s not to say that fights can’t be dramatic, or don’t satisfy emotional drives – fight scenes are often peppered with small emotional upbeats designed to provide a moment of gratification to the viewer, and a great example of this would be Godzilla vomiting atomic fire into the M.U.T.O.’s mouth. It’s a totally gratuitous moment but it serves as such an emotional triumph to the viewer.
I saw a number of people complain that a caterpillar-like monster appearing in a bit of teaser footage shown at San Diego Comic-Con in 2012 wasn’t in the finished film, and screeching bitterly about how betrayed and misled they felt by this. CHRIST ALMIGHTY, seriously? Do you have so little to fucking occupy your time that you can whine about being “misled” by unfinished footage shown two years – TWO GODDAMN YEARS – before the finished product was ready? And if you screeching fucks took a minute to stop pumping out shit on a film and did an ounce of research (but oh, I know, that involves work as opposed to spewing uninformed opinionated bile) you’d know that that footage was NEVER intended to be shown to audiences at large. It was test footage Gareth Edwards made to show the suits at Legendary what he was AIMING for in terms of design aesthetics. This speaks to a larger issue I have with a lot of the complaints I’ve seen leveled at this film. I was absolutely flabbergasted to see people carrying on like the film stabbed them and shat in the wound that – HORROR OF HORRORS! – there were shots in the trailer that did not appear in the finished film. Y’know, just like EVERY OTHER MOVIE OUT THERE. Fucking Hell, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL used *good* takes of shots in the trailer while leaving *flubbed* takes of the same shot in the finished film!
I think part of the problem is that people don’t know how to critique films any more. Too frequently I see people conflating “I enjoyed this film” with “it was good” and “I did not enjoy this film” with “it was bad.” Criticism does not work this way. I think Goethe’s three questions of art criticism apply as readily to cinema today as they did to theater in his day.
These questions are:
- What was the artist attempting to do in creating the piece of art in question?
- Did they succeed?
- Was it worth the effort?
If we can understand the artist’s intent, judge him successful in achieving his intentions, and decide that the piece was worth doing, then it can be judged as “good.”
I think it’s reasonably clear that Edwards’ intention with GODZILLA (2014) was to create a film using modern technology emulating the tone and genre conventions of previous Godzilla films. To this end, I think it’s fair to say he succeeded in doing so.
Was it worth doing?
I think so. I think Edwards not only hewed true to the conventions of the genre, I think he also brought something new to Godzilla. Godzilla’s origins lie far earlier then the atomic bombing of Japan; he’s a 20th century take on the ancient concept of the “earned apocalypse” — he’s a physical embodiment of our sins, come to punish us for committing them. He is the Dragon of Revelations, he is the Fenris-Wolf, he is the Minotaur, he is countless other monsters scattered throughout the mythologies of the world, updated for the nuclear age.
Edwards put a twist on this; while previous incarnations of Godzilla had allowed the symbolism to fall away in favor of light-hearted romps, here the physical incarnation of “earned apocalypse” is back — but not as Godzilla. Here, the apocalypse comes in the form of the radiovorous M.U.T.O.s and their prodigious capacity to breed and overwhelm the world. These monsters were released from ancient stasis by human activity, and represent the greatest possible threat to human civilization short of an asteroid strike. Godzilla shows up to subvert that apocalypse. In destroying the M.U.T.O. threat, he symbolically destroys the manifestation of human hubris and sinfulness they represent, in essence saving us from what we deserved. In the process, Godzilla appears to die, only to rise once again and return from whence he came.
Gareth Edwards made Godzilla a Christ-figure.
And that, to me, is pretty awesome.
So while you may not have enjoyed Gareth Edward’s GODZILLA, it does what it sets out to do and does so well. Whether or not perceived faults are indeed such or are genre tropes being honored can be debated until we’re all blue in the face. It won’t matter, because no one will convince any one else to leave their opinions behind and adopt those of the arguer. But goddamnit, I tried.