The King of Monsters and the King of Glory

“The King of Monsters and the King of Glory”
A Review of Godzilla by Nick Olszyk
Godzilla tearing up nameless city
MPAA Rating, PG-13
Reel Rating, Four Reels

            Godzilla films can be placed in two camps. The first camp involves Godzilla as a destructive force of nature, retributive justice on humanity for the sin of nuclear proliferation. These Godzilla films, like the original Godzilla (1954) and Return of Godzilla (1984), are better loved by film critics, historians, and college-aged theologians who need to write a paper but want to do it on something entertaining. The second camp finds Godzilla as an almost messianic figure who marches in to trumpet fanfare, saving the day when the Earth is threatened by other monsters. These Godzilla films, which make up the majority, are better loved by eight year old boys consuming bags of sour patch watermelon candies in the theater. This 2014 American reboot begins in the first camp but lands squarely in the second by the middle of the film. Godzilla is a fantastic monster brawl with some important ideas to boot. At the very least, it’s incredibly better than the previous 1998 American version starring Ferris Buller, which I will never mention for the rest of this review and hopefully will be wiped from the collect consciousness of mankind. 
            The slow reveal of the monster is one of the film’s great strengths. A mining team in the Philippians accidently awakens some large animal which promptly makes its way to a nuclear plant in Japan. One of the nuclear engineers, Joe Brody (the always amazing Bryan Cranston) detects a biological signal shortly before a large seismic disruption destroys the plant, killing his wife in the process. Fifteen years later, Joe and his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) sneak into the remains of the plant only to discover an international organization hiding a deadly secret. This secret isn’t what a person would initially expect based on the American trailers, and it’s an impressive reveal. After the buildup, the middle section of the film is dull, mostly because it’s just people talking, planning, more talking, and being surprisingly clam in the face of the greatest natural discovery of all time. Godzilla is best when we see lots of Godzilla, and the end has LOTS of Godzilla.
            However, a film like this carries a sixty year history, and it would be impossible to appreciate Godzilla without looking at the big, BIG picture. The 1954 film was so arresting because it squarely faced the fears of the Cold War. Godzilla was a product of nuclear radiation and came back to haunt its creators. Subconsciously, it was also a cathartic way for Japan to deal with its responsibility for the War. If 2014’s Godzilla wanted to be topical, he would been a product of genetic engineering. Instead, he isn’t created by anyone but a remnant of the very distant past with mythological overtones like the Titans or the Nephilim. He is a reminder that the Universe is very, very big, and we are very, very small. Most of the traditional elements of Godzilla are preserved, and there are even a few small homages to the other films, although Akira Takarada’s cameo was frustratingly removed from the final cut, a sign that whatever may have come before, this film stands on its own two, clawed feet.
            Although humanity no longer has to fear imminent nuclear war, there are still monsters under our bed that Godzilla manages to weed out. Godzilla stands 300 feet high, nearly three times his size in the 1954 version. He overshadows all our technology, architecture, and artificial hubris. A Japanese scientist reminds someone: “the arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control and not the other way around.” In classic fashion, the military tries to solve the situation but succeeds only in endangering its own citizens. It is Godzilla who saves the day. While nature can bring destruction, it also provides life-giving resources. Godzilla even has a moment where he shares a brief yet compassionate gaze with a human, a vague insight into his own psychology. Forest fires may destroy, but they allow new life to grow. Action/fantasy/sci-fi films are not usually known for their profound moral content, but remember that every story has a message. Popcorn movies emphasize values rather than specific ideas; values like kindness, loyalty, endurance, faith, hope, and love. Ford acts selflessly at tremendous risk to himself to save someone else’s child. Mankind is taught humility in the face of nature. Above all, courage is needed to face the monsters inside and out.
            Godzilla towers over humans and this film like a vaguely divine force reflexive of his name. He may be only looking for his next meal, but there is a sense that he cares about the plight of humans and only kills them accidently due to his size and clumsiness. The film also reinforces the common feeling that although God seems absent, he will show up when needed. However, God is neither under man’s control nor dependant on him. God has his own plans and motivations. Like the voice to Job from the whirlwind, Godzilla is transcendent to artificial restrains but committed to man’s welfare
Godzilla isn’t the perfect reboot it could have been but feels like a great setup to an even better film, a Batman Begins to The Dark Knight. If there is one major flaw, it’s that there was no post credits scene setting up Mothra, Rodan, or even King Ghidorah. There will surely be more films on the way, and that is a good thing.

This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on May 19th, 2014.