Masokaiju Tendencies: Those American Godzilla Movies

Godzilla is a metaphor for the atomic bomb in a film from Japan, a country struck with the atomic bomb by America, so when Godzilla shows up in America, how do you want me to take that? Hollywood has a concise answer: “I don’t give a shit.” A seemingly inevitable statement made as consequence of international intertextuality is forfeited upon the altar of I don’t know what. Three American Godzilla movies have been released so far, and I understand this to be a controversial statement, so I apologize in advance, but none of them have been good. Granted, Godzilla movies are usually not good, but this is different. At least, I think it is.

Godzilla (1998)

We’ll start from the beginning. My beginning, anyway, as Godzilla (1998) was one of those movies from my childhood — a very particular “one of those,” and you likely know the type. I was five at the time, and so I’ve long been afraid to revisit and discover it’s as terrible as they say. This would be an echo of my experience with Deep Blue Sea; everybody has these movies. Finally took the time, and you know what? Maybe it’s not the second coming of monster Jesus, but hey, it’s a big visual effects spectacle. The CGI doesn’t hold up, but that’s true of everything.

Of course, these are stills from the movie Reptilian, and judging by these movie posters, I think we have a “mockbuster.”

Reptilian (1999)

So let’s start from the context of the beginning. Godzilla ’98 was a big-ticket item, and much like with Jurassic Park before it, studio executives significantly less endowed wanted a piece. I see only profit for us too in this mercenary practice, because in the end, we have at least twice as many movies. Reptilian is not quite “half” by this metric, an English-language South Korean film from 1999, and actually a remake of a 1967 movie, Yongary, Monster from the Deep. This is precious, as if the fact that Godzilla is a remake also needed to be mirrored — take no chances. And indeed, the final product is a near-perfect Xerox: an ugly CGI mess with Americans and helicopters. Now, if you ask around, you might hear that Reptilian is the worst giant monster movie ever made, and that’s a big claim, taking into account Showa Gamera, The X from Outer Space, Zarkorr! The Invader. It’s a wide pool — deep, better to drown — but I’m not in disagreement.

Everything about Reptilian is bad, but the acting hits you first. These are maybe not the most experienced actors anyway being directed by a Korean guy with a ludicrous script, so there’s enough pausing between the dialogue you can practically hear the MST3K commentary in between. Even the alien puppets are overdoing it, gyrating and shaking around. I suppose they have something to be excited about, intent as they are on resurrecting a giant dinosaur recently excavated by a crazy scientist whose press coverage by a lone reporter doesn’t discourage his criminal negligence and megalomania. That’s the story. The mad scientist’s workers keep getting zapped by alien lightning, but he’s adamant: nothing stops the dig. Now bury your coworkers. The reporter guy asks him if that’s ethical, and the scientist tells him, “Yes.” It seems like a small detail, but I reproduce it here because it’s repeated in the film maybe three times before any other action or event is allowed to commence. Although not quantifiable as a “Z-grade movie,” we’re treated to all the hallmarks: incessant, repetitive exposition, that thing where there’s no discernible protagonist — the scientist and reporter don’t make it beyond the first act — and we’re set in one city poorly standing in for another. In this case, an unknown South Korean city is playing Los Angeles when it isn’t admittedly impressive miniature buildings.

Reptilian is hysterical and manic, and impressively, right away. We open on those doomed excavators exploring a cave, and you might not think such a limited scenario would grant so much latitude for overacting. What’s there to react to? It’s a cave. Well, when you touch an artifact on the wall you burst into flames. Despite all this, the movie is a torturous slog, shifting not point to point but between just two, moving forwards and backwards until the swirl of its temporal vortex ensnares you, and we begin to wonder if we’ve ever actually stopped watching Reptilian. If you find yourself trapped in this film, look at the stars and remember that the plot points will play out as you expect: the dinosaur is only rampaging because he’s under the alien’s mind control, and once he’s free, he’ll defeat the other monster whose worstness automatically makes the dinosaur the best monster ever, no matter how many jetpack soldiers he earlier dissolved or children-filled buses he tried to fry, very aggressively. In the end, characters X and Y are sure to say, “Thank you, Yongary,” and we roll credits.

This movie used to run on the Sci-Fi Channel a lot, and its CG abominations looked better in standard definition, on TVs compatible with the Sega Genesis. To my child mind, even, they weren’t necessarily convincing, but were at least compelling. Monsters are monsters, and Yongary and Dry Bones are elaborate, especially within the greater Sci-Fi Channel milieu, which was a place I called home. As a result, I’ll be honest, I used to think about this movie a lot. After finally seeing it in full, I followed up with maybe two minutes of a behind-the-scenes on YouTube, and my desire to criticize it deflated. Real people worked hard on this bbang-gu-ddong-gu, sketching dinosaurs, constructing miniatures, and anyway, why bother? If I don’t like this movie, truly no one does.

Godzilla (1998) and Godzilla (2014)

I always enjoyed Godzilla 1998 but didn’t appreciate it until 2014. These are two quintessentially American films but they’re very different kinds of blockbusters. Godzilla 1998 is decidedly a Roland Emmerich kind of blockbuster: lots of explosions, not very good. In fact, it was directed by Roland Emmerich, and that’s actually the beginning. If we flip from early 2000s Sci-Fi Channel to TNT, we might catch his back catalogue: Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and because of that, I’m intimately familiar with his work. I convinced myself I liked Roland Emmerich, but upon revisiting The Patriot recently — no. That is a terrible movie, but possibly the key to his approach. Despite his diverse subject matter, from aliens to the American Revolution to prehistory and disasters, he makes the same movie every time. You know what happens at the 30-minute mark in Stargate? They walk through the Stargate. 30 minutes exactly — I checked because I just knew. Along with his creative collaborator Dean Devlin, he’s anticipating the audience, thinking in terms of formula. The Patriot is about this one guy who’s so angry he goes off and wins the American Revolution single-handedly, and while that sounds fun, it’s actually boring and plain and goes on and on and on. I just want to see this crazy guy kill a whole army, but we have to go through the motions of character development and scene-setting when they’re not necessarily appropriate. This is Emmerich trying to fit an unusual story into a “Hollywood picture.”

Where The Patriot was offensive for being inefficient, for some reason this Emmerich formula fits Godzilla, with all the same motions. This is a movie that takes its time to situate us in a world and introduce its characters. Each new location is introduced with musical fanfare, we’re bustling with extras, and soon we discover that every character in these locations is surrounded by their own supporting casts. Tiny worlds. Without a doubt, this is needless and again, inefficient, if we’re only here for monsters, especially since so many of these characters are American stereotypes. What is the purpose of Hank Azaria and his wife other than to have accent battles? Perhaps it’s about that sense of place, which I think is important in a Godzilla movie. Characters like these, even stereotypes, are at least easily identified. We know what they’re about even if we shouldn’t think this is how anybody is in reality. And importantly, this is something. The movie is communicating something to us, it’s opening a dialogue. “This is this guy, this is what he does, this is how he feels.” They call him the Worm Guy. Fast-forward to 2014 and we find ourselves in Lone Pine, California. Admittedly, I like seeing military hardware roll into a small town — very ‘50s B-movie — but it’s yet another chyron, another meaningless location, aside from its real-world history with earthquakes. Who lives here? What wacky accent do they have? If a monster rumbles through, I’d like to know.

The first scene in Godzilla 2014 roughly matches the opening of Godzilla 1998, with scientists converging on a mysterious site with a clue about the giant monster. This time, there’s nothing being communicated. Ken Watanabe’s character Serizawa doesn’t have the opportunity to be a stereotype because he doesn’t say anything. What’s he feeling about what he’s seeing? Who is he? What does he do? What little he does manage only interacts with the headcanon part of our brains, which is how he became a meme. The movie is not a mystery box, but it feels like one because it narrows our attention toward the “what.” Where the 1998 version of the opening was character and dramatic irony, now it’s intrigue, and it’s scattered. As we continue on, wondering “what,” I find it’s confusing to witness an earthquake from within a nuclear reactor, because I assume the “what” will be something about radiation, which turns out to be true — later. But what’s then very confusing is when the plant is rebuilt and they’re monitoring the MUTO, an acronym for “giant monster.” Putting aside the extraordinary timing that father and son team Joe and Ford Brody arrive minutes before the MUTO wakes up, it doesn’t seem like anyone knew what it was. Like they just found it yesterday. Things just happen, people run around shouting. Joe Brody is killed, and nobody likes that, including the actor Bryan Cranston, because he was the only one with any character development. Moments earlier, he had to close a sealed door that effectively kills his wife, and that was gripping and sad. Now we just have Ford Brody, and he may not be a better character, but I’ll tell you, as if his name wasn’t indicator enough, he’s this movie’s perfect mascot.

I used to think that Ford’s problem was his being a bland nothing, but in his first two scenes, a different picture emerges: he is made of something, and it’s butter. Every attempt the script makes at characterizing him slips right off. An Army guy tells him to take homecoming slowly because adjusting is the “only thing they don’t train you for,” but then we see him return to his wife and kid with no problems. They get a phone call that Joe was arrested, and Ford says his father always tries to drag him back. He heads off and we find him shouting his father down when Joe starts spouting conspiracy theories, so clearly he hasn’t dealt with the loss of his mother, but because that doesn’t figure into the plot at all, it’s more like he’s trying to stop the scene from concluding properly. It reminds of Riddick in The Chronicles of Riddick, where after an inmate of the underground prison has a rather theatrical introduction, he simply walks away saying, “I’m just passing through.” Like, “Oh, sorry, were you trying to have a movie?” Yes, Matthew Broderick was a strange choice for Godzilla, so maybe going the exact opposite direction makes sense. The best laid plans of mice and Manda.

After Ford apologizes unconvincingly to his dying father for not believing him about monsters, Joe tells him to keep his family safe, whatever it takes, and that’s interesting. What does it mean to protect one’s family in a world of giant monsters? You can’t fist-fight Godzilla, so this is an actual dilemma. You don’t have to be a fist-fighter kind of guy, and you can see where I’m going with this. Why must Ford be the military Guy Who Can Do Things, and why does this instinct exist in American filmmaking, that we have to identify with — first of all, anyone — but especially the guy who’s the most capable in the room. There is no room, okay? There is no room. The giant monster took the ceiling off. Ford will spend the movie running around and defusing bombs and rescuing kids, and this answers the dilemma. Given the amount of facetime the military gets, again, there’s something here — the sacrifice inherent to duty. For the whole movie, he isn’t around his family. That should mean something, right? That should be acknowledged, or reflect on the character. Maybe it tries, but slipped off. He’s so passive, he just moves from scene to scene and sits down to listen to new exposition. And in fact, it’s strange how he starts out in the military and comes home and then has to argue his way back on later. Like, sure that’s fine, but then he doesn’t do anything when he returns home! So let’s imagine if he didn’t. What if we felt that separation from his family because we’ve never seen them together? You can do a lot with dialogue over the phone to establish a relationship. And this way it could be framed that he’s specifically fighting to get back home, rather than have him fight to get away from his home when he could choose to leave at any time.

Or what if he’s so eager to return because he’s running away from his family? He’s an addict like in The Hurt Locker? Oh, is that too for-serious a reference? That movie won the Best Picture. Well, this is the serious Godzilla, so no reference is too high-brow. “Fighting for his family” becomes abstract when his family and his relationship to his family are not defined, of course. Or they have been, and they’re not complicated. And even disregarding that “their safety” is already an unknown target, more that’s abstract, “will he keep them safe or not” is the only question. It stands alone. He’s not trying to win them back or prove himself or anything. This is the difference between failing and not trying, because Godzilla 1998 fails at this. I don’t know what Matthew Broderick’s character Patrick Tatopoulos is fighting for, but I do know what he’s doing, and he’s active. He’s a scientist, which makes more sense than a soldier in this de-ceilinged world, and he’s in direct conflict with Godzilla. That’s a protagonist/antagonist dynamic, perhaps the basis of conflict. More importantly, I know who he is. Like, personally.

Godzilla 1998 is notorious, I think because it’s so idiosyncratic, and we can then see how important and potentially fatal the little things are. There are no broad or structural problems other than the news reporter subplot, but for example, why is the mayor and his aide named for Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel? Why are the Italian characters so absurd? Why is it raining all the time? And why, for God’s sake, does Patrick say things like “That’s a lot of fish”? I don’t know, but honestly, I appreciate he’s always saying things people don’t respond to. “I’ve always wanted to join the French Foreign Legion.” These lines hang in the air, unheard and unremarked upon, and as a quiet and private person, I relate to that. He’s very small in this world where suddenly there’s something very big. His actions, while nontraditional in the context of military men, are heroic. Meanwhile, Ford saves a little kid who gets separated from his parents, and as a military man already, this is quite traditional. However, because that’s when the character is at his most active, that’s his verb, and we should be working backward from there, determining who he is based on that. How does “comforting a small child” relate to a complicated relationship with his father or struggling to return home from military service? It can. Or being the guy who defuses bombs, not drops them? He says that, and it’s like a sign-post, and later he defuses a bomb. That’s the extent of it.

I’m so much more interested in characters being functional and compelling than knowing their backstories or internal lives, because that often reflects on how active a movie is; take the example cited last year between The Man from Nowhere and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. One of those movies has hilarious flashbacks that pause the action. The other isn’t even an action movie. The soldiers on the HALO jump pray before the drop, and I don’t like how that’s supposed to register in lieu of character. Jean Reno’s Philippe Roaché registers almost immediately, though I never learned his name until looking it up now. Philippe Roaché? Anyway, Roaché has a mission, he attends to the mission with the detached humor of an outsider in an absurd foreign land, and this dryness reveals itself as earnestness in a crisis. That he’s played by one of cinema’s best may be biasing me here, but he’s so much more interesting, or at least extant, than any of the endless military faces in Godzilla 2014. Even the goofy Sergeant O’Neal had more personality, and why do we need characters like that?

Patrick is inherently comedic, and in tandem with the bad jokes and the low-stakes subplot, there’s a light tone here. As scary as a giant monster would be, it would also be really exciting. I love how the city becomes a playground to run around in, especially Madison Square Garden. This is the movie we used to make when we were kids, or when I’d travel with my family, imagining familiar spaces as alive with the electricity of a monster attack or an enemy invasion. An individual Godzilla movie doesn’t have to be anything because in total Godzilla movies are already everything, so it only has to do well what it sets out to do. The 1998 version is a fun and lighthearted blockbuster and I think it’s successful. But is it Godzilla?

Flashback: 2009. Christian Bale is caught on tape yelling at cinematographer Shane Hurlbut during the production of Terminator Salvation, becoming an instant viral classic and favorite performance piece of mine for years. What I didn’t know at the time was that this Shane Hurlburt is a respected cinematographer in the cinematographer community. Of course he would be, that’s a huge project — one of the biggest, somehow. But to most moviegoers, myself included, he will always be that guy who got yelled at by Christian Bale. On tape, anyway. Patrick Tatopoulos is the name of the character in Godzilla 1998, a name nobody can pronounce, but it’s also the name of the guy who designed this Godzilla, which is likely where the hilarious gag comes from. You had to be there. Now, when it comes to American science-fiction design in movies, I think about James Cameron and that’s it. Except he’s Canadian. Neil Blomkamp is an import from South Africa, Alex Garland is British, and all the interesting scifi visuals happen in video games. So it might not be much, but I think Tatopoulos is my favorite American scifi visual artist. Except that he’s French, so never mind. This is the guy who worked on Man of Steel, with the crazy Krypton stuff, I, Robot, and between The Cave, Outlander, and Underworld: Evolution, you can always tell a Tatopoulos monster. For my part, he gave us the aliens from Pitch Black and Riddick, and those dudes are cool. Second time Riddick is cited. Very accomplished artist, but he’s also that guy who designed “Godzilla In Name Only.”

As he was deemed “GINO” by the Godzilla fan community, the 1998 design is infamous, an object of Jar-Jar-like rage. This is where we see the one inarguable improvement between 1998 and 2014, right? You’d think? I’m sorry, but there is no silver lining here. What we have are two different standards at play. Godzilla 1998 may have an odd box head, but I have a very low bar when it comes to dinosaurs. If it’s sort of a dinosaur, I’ll probably like it. Godzilla 2014 adapts the look more directly but I think he looks ridiculous. He’s so round and mammalian in the face. It’s a weak silhouette. This isn’t a point I can argue, so I’ll tell you that my favorite Godzillas are Godzilla Raids Again with the crazy teeth, ‘90s Godzilla, and the spiky Millennium Godzilla. That’s my basis of comparison.

One thing I noticed revisiting the 1998 film is how Godzilla is portrayed. He may be smaller than usual, but this allows us a sense of scale when we’re framing him from the perspective of individual one-off characters, like the fisherman or a police officer. We witness people staring in awe, and honestly, there’s a little too much staring in awe when they should be running away — I can see how this movie pushes a lot of moviegoer buttons. They repeat this perspective trick in the 2014 edition, but they also like to obscure Godzilla, so the awestruck are only reacting to “something big,” or wide-scale destruction, like with the hotel scene, where firefighters burst into a ritzy room and opposite the door is an opening in the wall overlooking the city. I like that part, but can’t help but thinking it was at least one day of shooting coupled with expensive VFX. Why is it here? It’s the awe of spectacle which also defined Edwards’s subsequent movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — the best Star Wars. Godzilla is spectacle and the film even introduces him with a tsunami, but I have to take another detour here because “hiding Godzilla” is the one pet peeve I could never let go of, if we were doing some sort of “complain about less things” inventory. It’s not just about Godzilla. In fact, if it’s about anything, it’s about Alien.

I remember reading a feature in Sci-Fi Channel magazine about then-upcoming crossover epic AVP: Alien vs. Predator — to this day, I don’t know why we needed the acronym — and there was particular mention of how long it took for each respective monster to appear: roughly an hour in both cases. That was fine in 1979 and 1987 because it was the first time and the movies were interesting pre-monster. It is not okay in 2004 when we already know what the monsters look like and I just want to see them versus each other. For as often as that criticism was leveled against AVP: Alien vs. Predator, it was amazing to see the opposite view taken against Annihilation, for example, 14 years later. Are you crazy? Our first Godzilla ’14 money shot is 59 minutes in, 59 years later! And maybe that’s not fair because this is also an introduction, but by making us wait an hour to see Godzilla, you’re making a movie where half of it is not what we came to see. And unless your brass balls are gonna roll through the frame, you’d better show something at least as interesting as a Godzilla in the non-Godzilla parts. We have Ford. By the way, in Shin Godzilla, we get our first good look at the creature at 15 minutes in, and I understand that’s a different kind of movie, but maybe that’s the problem. When we think we have to withhold in order to be suspenseful, it’s doctrinal, and we’re making the same kind of movie over and over again — a derivative of Alien, which means AVP: Alien vs. Predator. So by this point, withholding the monster isn’t the problem, it’s the symptom; it indicates the starting point.

That “GINO” thing was probably my first experience with Internet culture, when I suddenly became aware that people were talking about things like this, things which in no way I could talk about among people I knew. This is what people online chose to talk about, so pick your poison, but I get it. GINO can’t even defeat a taxi cab, and later, Toho Studios itself would officially rename the creature Zilla. Ouch. I can see what Roland and Dean were going for, the Jurassic Park majesty of nature, and true enough, GINO/Zilla is less monstrous and more curious, almost endearing. However, this means that the classic Godzilla action is substituted for classic Emmerich action: explosions and mayhem, in which Godzilla is barely a factor. Edwards describes his Godzilla as a force of nature, saying “He’s the punishment we deserve,” and that would indeed describe how the film is directed around Godzilla. He’s a natural disaster. But punishment? That’s theme and world-building, and there was none of that in the script. What was the original sin that makes humanity worth punishing? Maybe our propensity to lie as facilitated by bureaucratic distance, for example to Bryan Cranston. He was pretty upset. And then the military and anti-monster organization Monarch bungle their way through the crisis, nearly detonating a nuclear bomb in California. Way to go.

Ford defusing that nuclear weapon brings Godzilla 2014 thematically closer to Godzilla 1954 than Godzilla 1998 ever got — can we please get some subtitles here? I’ll take “King of the Monsters,” as that was only used once before, not three times, though it’s probably why you can’t call a guy “King Kong.” Two kings? No. What I remember of that original Godzilla is cycles, that the bomb created Godzilla, and the only thing to destroy him is another weapon of mass destruction, the “oxygen destroyer.” In Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, we’re asking “What if our weapons don’t want to fight?” and if you think that’s a silly question, watch the movie and prepare to be proven correct. Now in Godzilla 2014, we’re closing a loop. No more weapons to deal with weapons, though the act of defusing this bomb certainly doesn’t stop the oxygen destroyer itself from being deployed hours later in King of the Monsters, a mind-blowing non-sequitur tailor-made for the social media age. “Did you catch that Easter Egg and 104 Other Details You Missed” while you were asleep.

In the end, it’s the old out that maybe institutions cause problems, but outstanding individuals can always fix them, and yeah, this military needs a proactive thinker like Ford “the bro” Brody because even though they talk about civilians on the bridge, once Godzilla shows up they start shooting the bridge instead of evacuating it. What could be meaningful chaos is just chaos. In retrospect, the much-maligned destruction of New York by the military in Godzilla ‘98 rings true, that the military isn’t the answer to every problem. There are contexts in which they are inappropriate, perhaps urban areas. Call it a critique by an outsider, like German-born Roland Emmerich, if we take the social commentary along with the stereotypes. Even generous meaning is missing on the bridge in 2014. The tension comes from this inability to evacuate, but then the bus driver with the kids simply drives away. In Reptilian, at least the bus jumped over a gap. First of all, was I supposed to care about Ford Brody Jr.? This family is getting less interesting with each generation. But more importantly, the tension actually comes from a lack of visual data. It’s a set piece, and that requires a goal, a fail state, and a complication. If you beep your horn and drive forward, that doesn’t feel like a victory.

In the end, the Brody family is reunited, and nobody is saying anything. There may be some breathy muttering muffled by kisses, but seriously? Nothing to say? This blows me away. How can this be explained, other than the obvious, that one cannot even begin to imagine what they’d talk about. “Nice weather we’re having?” “Yes, aside from the ash and radiation.” Maybe they don’t show up in the sequel because they’ve all died of cancer. That would be consistent, although director Gareth Edwards steps aside here and the tone bends when people start cheering Godzilla’s triumphant rise and return to the sea. Serizawa, in all his sexual perspiration for the king of the monsters, is finally proven correct. To be honest, I actually like this part, because the tone is so broken — this is what it should’ve been all along, though the whiplash shorted out the movie itself. The last shot awkwardly lingers over the ocean, like it didn’t know when to stop. Maybe there hadn’t been enough movie yet? But son of a bitch, you know what? Isn’t this very similar to a certain ending of a certain Reptilian? As a matter of fact, Reptilian has more in common with this Godzilla than the one it was trying to rip off. Oh, you thought 15 years was long enough for people to forget about Reptilian? Fat chance. I mean, they have the cave in the beginning and everything. There’s two lessons here, and they’re contradictory so buckle up: one, stories that look similar on paper can be night and day on film, and two, what’s the difference here? I’m serious.

Godzilla 2014 is a sometimes gorgeous film with some good acting and very good visual effects. The only reason I’ll tell you it’s a better movie than fucking Reptilian is because Reptilian was actively harmful to me. That reason and whatever else does not include the X factor, that there’s just something fucking wrong in even comparing these two movies, something perverse, because that’s what really pisses me off. Godzilla 2014 is a movie that tells us it’s good. And how does it do that? By loudly rejecting everything we hated about the 1998 version. Our experience with Godzilla 2014 begins not in the opening credits but in the dialogue it creates between itself and the earlier film: “This isn’t gonna be that, which was bad, this is gonna be different,” which by the power of math means it’s gonna be good. We’re primed to like this movie before we watch it, and the moment it comes on and affirms it’s dark and serious, mission accomplished. That’s bullshit, because the 2014 Godzilla doesn’t then follow through with any design philosophy beyond “rejection.” It’s defined by what it isn’t, and coincidentally, there isn’t a lot here. The flaws in the 1998 movie needed correction, not removal. Instead of simply adjusting the silliness, they eliminated character entirely, and not the characters, the movie’s character. It is grey, though beautifully so — you can make emptiness appealing, but never satisfying.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

For the purpose of this post, I had to watch three movies in a row I don’t like very much: Godzilla, Godzilla, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. By the time I got to King of the Monsters, I was but a husk of my former self. I got five minutes in and turned it off. After all the pain, I couldn’t do it anymore, and my safe word was “Fuck this movie.” I remember leaving the theater in 2019 thinking it was maybe the second dumbest thing I’d seen after Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom not long before, and I’m not alone. Unlike the first movie, people don’t like this one, so no righteous crusade on my part — but that doesn’t necessarily mean everything’s cool. I see to that, always. If there’s one thing I hate more than a disagreeable opinion, it’s an agreeable one that’s incorrect. Again, very cool guy.

If you take a look at Wikipedia, you might find a blurb from Mike Ryan of Uproxx. In a negative review, he writes: “When a movie is just nonstop monster action, guess what happens? It all becomes the new ‘normal’ and it becomes boring.” I do wonder what Mr. Mike thought of AVP: Alien vs. Predator. Was he so overwhelmed by the nonstop alien action? Yes, I understand this is a theory in film criticism, one largely hypothetical in my experience, that too much action has a numbing effect. I have only seen one movie I would describe as having nonstop action, and that was, surprisingly, the Total Recall remake, and I have never felt fatigued by action alone. Usually it’s because the action is buttressed by other problems, like uninteresting characters or boring choreography — it’s a team effort. Mike. Please don’t find yourself arguing against monster action in a monster movie.

The Metaphor

So, aside from “King Kong won,” what’s the moral of the story here? Can I walk away feeling like any of this meant anything? We bring different expectations to movies, especially franchise movies. And yes, one of those expectations might illuminate a potentially racist bias, that I expect more from an American blockbuster than a Japanese one. But Godzilla movies were not necessarily treated like prestige pictures in Japan back in the day. They were movies for children, and they still are, but now they star people like Rebecca Hall. What are you doing, man? I’m sure I’ve said this before and I’ll say it the next time: I don’t want to be negative on With Eyes East, but this is a 90,000-ton weight I simply had to get off my chest. Until I saw it most recently, I didn’t hate Godzilla 2014, but it so perfectly exemplified a problem I have with broader movie culture. Now I hate it.

We might point to The Dark Knight for the general trend toward dark and gritty, but I think a Hollywood production will always acquit itself with seriousness, or more accurately, it has to conform to some nebulous seriousness lodged in the popular consciousness, like a crayon up a kid’s nose. God forbid we feel insecure about our nerd stuff. Do you remember the Godzilla 2014 discourse, that it was better than Pacific Rim? Now there’s a movie that adopts its own tone, but is also driven by a coherent vision. And it’s just fucking awesome. There were “Oh, shit!” moments. When Godzilla breathes his fire it’s this wispy smoke thing. That was so sad.

During that lead-up, we spent a lot of time wondering what Godzilla 2014 would mean. Was he gonna be Katrina? Was he gonna be 9/11? The Godzilla metaphor gets messy once transplanted to the United States, and even if we hazard to address what it means for an American soldier to reject nuclear weapons at the end, we don’t have the language for it. So what does Godzilla mean? Nothing, and when we’re so preoccupied by this conformity thing, it’s possible such infractions can slip by. Ultimately, that’s not even my concern. I don’t need Godzilla to always mean something, but I do require he be something. In all these American Godzilla movies, there isn’t a whole lot of “being.” And when you’re not trying to make a big statement, is it not then sufficiently simple enough to focus on the winning formula of “giant monster smashes things”? The next time I see a Godzilla movie, which will be, I guess, Shin Ultraman, I only hope it’s more movie than not.


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