This has been a terrible year for film (for me). The last film I got a chance ot see was (ironically) Pacific Rim, and that was at the beginning of the school year. There has been no time this year to sneak out to the theater … but I figured that the night before Memorial Day after grading for 3 hours was as good a time as any.
Spoilers … naturally.
Before reviewing … I have generally started seeing films outside of opening weekend because I have taken a dim view of movie theater patrons of late. Maybe this is my old person persona getting to me, but I can’t stand the distraction of little kids (at 9 pm showings) and cell phones going off. Tonight, there was a small group of teens who wouldn’t shut up and I had to move my seat, which is something I have only done once at a theater. Meh!
Over the opening credits are footage from the 1950s from the atom bomb tests and reports of missing ships. While this might seem like classic Godzilla opening faire, it is different in that the Big Green Guy is already present. In fact, you quickly learn that the atom bomb tests of the 1950s didn’t create Godzilla … rather they were attempts to lure him out and kill him … unsuccessfully.
In the modern times, a mining company in the Philippines discovers a huge cave of fossils, plus some eggs one of which has hatched and released something that has made a bee-line for the nearby ocean …
… sometime later, in Japan, an American engineer (Bryan Cranston) is concerned about strange seismic activity at the nuclear plant he is working at. He sends his wife down into the lower levels near the reactor to investigate when all hell breaks loose. The reactor melts down, and despite his efforts to save his wife, she and her entire team are killed . The engineer escapes as the entire power plant collapses.
…fast forward 15 years. The engineers son is now grown up and married with a son of his own. Dad has just been arrested in Japan for entering the rather large city-sized quarantine zone (QZ) around the collapsed power plant. Son flies to Japan and learns that dad, obsessed with finding out what happened, is convinced that the Japanese government is covering something up. He convinces his son to join him in a journey back to their former family home (in the QZ) to recover data he had been collecting about the reactor (they do discover that despite government assurances, there is no radioactive contamination around the power plant). They get the data, but are captured by Japanese Defense Forces, and for some reason are brought to the reactor ruins. There we discover a chrysalis of some kind which is sucking energy directly from the reactor. The scientists monitoring this are getting signals that are similar to what occurred just before the meltdown, and in fact, the thing in the chrysalis emerges: a giant winged quasi-insect thing from Guillermo Del Toro’s nightmares. It gets away and flies off to the east). Th engineer is killed in the mayhem, but his son survives. His sone is brought into he scientists confidence, hoping they can get some more information that he might remember from this father.
…the scientists trace the trouble back to the launch of the USS Nautilius … the world’s first nuclear powered submarine, which “awoke” a distantly prehistoric alpha predator from Earth’s past. They tried killing it unsuccessfully, but this thing (which they call … wait for it … Gozzira) has been around for 60 years and has really done nothing … it prefers to be left alone, and the navies of the world have pretty much done that after learning nuclear weapons just feed this thing … that is Gozzira doesn’t eat conventionally as much as it derives nourishment from radioactivity … kind of like this thing which just flew away. It turns out hte engineer has detected an acoustic signal that the monster (called a MUTO) has been both sending out and receiving. At this point, the Muto arrives in Hawaii and begins tearing up Waikiki Beach and Honolulu, and he is joined soon by Godzilla. They go a round or so before the Muto takes off east.
The scientists then realize that this Muto has been in communication with its egg-mate from the Philippines, which had been moved by the US military to Yucca Mountain in Nevada where all of the nation’s nuclear waste is stored. Uh Oh! Sure enough, they send an army team in to visit, and the now hatched muto has already broken out and is well on its way to Vegas. However, this one doesn’t have wings and has to walk. The scientists correctly figure that these tow have been communicating to mate, and they soon figure out that the two Mutos and Godzilla are both headed to San Francisco (Godzilla more to establish the whole alpha supremacy thing rather than to mate). The military decides to lure them about 20 miles out of the Bay, and hit the three of them with a thermonuclear device. The scientists give them the “haven’t you been listening to us … they eat radiation
lecture, but the military doesn’t care.
… en route to SF, one of the Mutos steals the nuke, and uses it to establish a nest in the city. The core of the device will do nicely to feed the eggs. Godzilla shows up, and the battle royale commences while a team of explosives experts go into SF to recover the nuke before it goes off. They eventually do, Godzilla wins, and the cost of housing in the Bay area is severely hurt.
Standard Godzilla films over the last two decades typically follow a family or small group of colleagues as they try and navigate through the challenge of surviving aliens/other monsters/Godzilla, so in that sense, this is not new. However, since the 1954 original film, there has been a general reluctance to show death on screen, an this film definitely deviates from that. The loss of a parent is a resonating theme throughout the film (even the chief scientist, played by Ken Watanabe, carries a watch which has father carried at Hiroshima, stopped at the moment of the bomb’s blast). But even some of these themes have crept into some of the Godzilla films of the 1990s.
One major change that was made is the character of Godzilla and his brother kaiju (giant beasts). Except for the 1954 film, Godzilla is portrayed as either evil, manipulated (usually by aliens) or good (saving Japan from some worse monster). In this film, all of the kaiju are shown to be animals. They do not care about people. If they are in the way, they are in the way. However, they typically don’t go out of the way to kill humans. Ironically, while Godzilla is simultaneously the most animal-like in this film, his face is more expressive, looking like the cross between a bear and Samuel L. Jackson on a bad day. Godzilla looks far more bad-ass than ever before! Yet, despite the more expressive face, he does not exhibit any human motivation (either good or evil). Godzilla simply is.
The cinematography is beautiful, and greatly compliment the effects shots. This is clearly not a guy in a foam suit, but nor is it the clumsy looking iguana from the 1998 disaster of-a-film. The battle scenes are easily the best of any Godzilla film. The plot was pretty sharp, though the character development, despite a few top notch actors, was a bit under par.
Except for the 1954 original, I put this #2 all-time on the Godzilla film list.