Celebration of the Lizard

NOTE: for all you whining arseholes who jump in shouting “spoilers” every time a critic tries to do their damn job, this critique will contain a variety of spoilers for several films in the Godzilla saga, and if you don’t want to know in advance about the totally out of place scene with the comedy bellydancing Irishman, you ought to stop reading now.

Godzilla is supposed to mean something, like Giger’s Alien, his original incarnation from 1954 he was a fanciful manifestation of a very real terror: the horrific blasts at Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the serpentine nuclear fallout that wound its way through those deserted streets and into the lungs and blood of rescuers and residents, the pall of nuclear dust that fell over the crew of Lucky Dragon Number Five. And Godzilla represented what those represented, the disaster wrought by Commadore Matthew Perry and his Black Ships in Edo bay, and the ultimate defeat in the second world war, leaving millions dead and industry and infrastructure obliterated and ultimately, the invasion of Japan, by occupying American forces, and by particles of evil radioactive fallout; finally a humbled Japan, unsure of its place in the world. The modern era had arrived in Japan even more suddenly and violently than it had the rest of the world. The nuclear age presented very real fears, and Godzilla was manifest of those fears, alternately awakened or created by the use of nuclear weapons, his characteristic roar was the bell tolling for modernity, that had dabbled in things it shouldn’t; in the domain of gods, or beings so powerful that they resembled gods.

Gareth Evans’ newest 2014 incarnation of the big lizard is a brilliant brute. Serpentine, at home in water and on land, looking somehow classic and plausible simultaneously and looking impressively emotive despite being made of pixels. Though curiously slightly sidelined in his eponymous film; the monster Evans has brought to the screen is a laudable creation. The film is less easily quantified. Ultimately it provides spades of hat any self-aware person is looking for in a film called Godzilla, big monsters smashing up big cities, and for the record it isn’t as po-faced as the trailers made it seem. It features two superbly conceived and executed scenes, one involving a power station and another involving jumping out of a plane (both featured in trailers). But I’m not convinced Godzilla means anything anymore. Certainly he means more than Emmerich’s 1998 ‘Zilla; the film passingly references the very real nuclear problems faced by Japan in the wake of the earthquake and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster but it doesn’t ever really turn Godzilla into a symbol of any sort, he and the other monsters in the film are just wild animals the size of the Empire State.

That’s the largest problem with the film, the human characters are really empty ciphers, either existing until their moment of plot explanation and then vanishing, or being in danger of being ‘neath Godzilla’s mighty tread; but the reason the film doesn’t function as beautifully as it should is because there’s no greater meaning behind it. Evans’ previous film, Monsters, was loaded with symbolism, and it was always clear that the events on screen were an analogy for something much bigger; Godzilla is a film content to smash some buildings, have some family disputes revised amidst the carnage, and then end. The character drama is perfectly fine, and doesn’t intrude or distract from the action (unlike the Emmerich ‘Zilla) but I guess I left feeling like an essential element of Godzilla, of all sci-fi and fantastic filmmaking, was noticeably absent.

Written under duress by Steven.

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