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Truth In the Trailer: Did Godzilla Deliver?

A definite giant in this summer lineup, Godzilla looked to be one of the year’s best, at least in the official movie trailer. But is it as good as trailer promised? From the gradual reveal of the wide ranging rampant destruction, the hopelessness of mankind’s position as shown by the lack of fighting footage between the soldiers and Godzilla, and the oh so delicious teasing of a full view Godzilla, I expected Godzilla to be an intelligent, epic standoff between Godzilla and all of mankind. Is this what Godzilla is? Hm…

The Opening

Not counting the opening narration (because honestly 99% of movies can do without whatever they say in opening narration), Godzilla is hugely indecisive about what it wants to set up for. Does it want to set up for a character-focused struggle against an impossible enemy? Well, no, as it turns out the characters are really not that important. Is Godzilla that impossible enemy? Well, no, as it turns out the opening explains the origins of the giant bat monsters, which I will designate as “GBMs” for the sake of saving this from death by wall-o’-text. Coming back to the matter at hand, Godzilla unfortunately feels more like an insert that the writers got to after they were done with all the GBM stuff.

The Plot

Here is where the movie really deviates from what the trailer promised. Godzilla and mankind do not face off in a dire, seemingly hopeless fight that ultimately results in a narrow but costly victory for mankind. In fact, mankind has no point in the movie, at all, not even a little. What Godzilla actually fights are the GBMs that feed on nuclear energy, the same GBMs that you see one leg of for a split of a second in the trailer. Ken Watanabe’s (from Inception) character summarizes the whole movie in one line: “let them fight.” Because hell if we can do anything about it. What’s truly disappointing is that humanity keeps on trying to be relevant in the fight, but the most it ever accomplishes is get shoved into a spectator role or trip over itself and make things worse.

The Characters

Careful people. Bryan Cranston (from Breaking Bad) is not the protagonist. It’s his son, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (from Kickass). Something bad happens to Bryan Cranston’s wife and unsurprisingly he becomes a crazed scientist bent on discovering the truth. Similarly to Oedipus, Bryan Cranston pays hard for the truth, or I wish the full movie were like this. In reality, Bryan Cranston and his wife (that we see all of 5 minutes of) have no purpose other than to move Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character along in the flimsy plot. And that is all Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character does: move from point A to point B to C to D to F without doing anything. Clichéd as Bryan Cranston’s character is, at least he is interesting. In comparison, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s reluctant soldier character is both clichéd and boring.

The Actual ‘Godzilla’ Factor

For a movie titled “Godzilla,” Godzilla does not appear nearly enough. Ok, maybe this is not fully justified, since it barely appears in the trailer, but the GBMs that Godzilla faces get more focus than Godzilla. Last time I checked, the movie is not called “Giant Bat Monsters: The Movie, Featuring Surprise Cameos by Godzilla,” probably because that’s not too catchy. But Godzilla absolutely needs to dominate the audience’s attention, not the GBMs. In addition, the movie really wants viewers to sympathize with Godzilla. Why should we care about Godzilla? Because Ken Watanabe’s character explains that Godzilla “wants to bring order?” Oh, so just because? As I walked out the theater and thought about it, Godzilla and the GBMs do the same exact thing- inadvertently wreck our cities and kill loads of off screen people. Neither force purposely destroys humanity, they just do.

Where It Delivered

There are lots and lots of epic scenes. You can expect more eye-dropping awesomeness like the skydive scene from the trailer. In one scene in particular, a beaten down Godzilla breathes blue fire down a GBMs throat and it crumbles to a crisp. Director Gareth Edwards clearly has an eye for gorgeous shots that almost cause enough spontaneous nerd squeals to redeem all the flaws.

Final Thoughts

There was a little known giant monsters (and robots) movie last summer called Pacific Rim. Unlike Godzilla, Pacific Rim did not promise anything more than stupid action packed fun with giant monsters fighting giant robots. And it fully delivered. It was a really enjoyable film in that respect. If Godzilla wants to be an intelligent epic monster movie, it should have invested more time in its characters (make us care about them) and craft a more coherent plot that gives humanity a real role in the fight. As it stands, Godzilla is not a bad movie. I would even call it a good movie, a should-see for fans of the genre and those who want to break into the genre. It is just too bad that it ends there, because it could have been a great movie, potentially one of the best monster movies of all time and one of the best films of the year.