After the disappointment that was Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla (2008), 2014’s Godzilla finally puts the venerable “King of Monsters” back on his high throne. Director Gareth Edwards, along with the writing team that developed the story (screenplay goes to Max Borenstein, with assists from David S. Goyer, David Callaham, Drew Pearce, and former Walking Dead shot-caller Frank Darabont), have definitely seen more than their share of Godzilla movies, as this 2014 edition captures the essence of the “Big G” without resorting to its more campy components. Hardcore kaiju fans should be impressed by what they see on the screen—I know I was happily relieved with the story, from beginning to end.
The movie’s story is relatively straightforward, with several clever twists and turns that actually bolster Godzilla’s reason for existence. Godzilla’s adversary this time out is called MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), an insect-like creature that feeds off radiation. As the story progresses, we learn that there are in fact two MUTO, a male (smaller with wings) and a female (much larger but wingless). The pair intends to build a nest so that they can spawn hundreds, perhaps ever thousands, of their young.
According to Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), the MUTO are parasites and enemies of the Godzilla species. Serizawa, along with his assistant Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), discover a colossal skeleton of a Godzilla creature, and next to it they find a dormant MUTO, as well as one that has successfully hatched and made its way into the ocean. These creatures have existed long before humanity came along, their feud having existed for perhaps billions of years.
The MUTO winds up in Tokyo, Japan, where it sets up camp inside the Janjira nuclear plant. Plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) sends his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) into the plant’s core to check for possible damage, as he believes that there may be seismic activity deep in the Earth that could damage the plant. Sadly, the MUTO destroys the plant’s core to access the radiation for nourishment. Sandra and her team are trapped within the core, left to die as Brody watches on in horror.
The story shifts focus to Brody trying to get back to the plant, for he believes that the incident was not an accident. Brody’s son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a USN EOD technician, tries to stop him, but he eventually starts to believe his father. It turns out the elder Brody was right—the MUTO male has been feeding off the radiation within the core and is now ready to reach out and call his mate.
The remainder of the story has the MUTO pair coming together, with Godzilla also rising from the ocean to do battle with the pair. The military forces of the world—with Ford playing a pivotal role—do all they can to destroy all the monsters, but their actions prove futile. In the end, as Serizawa somberly notes, humanity’s arrogance wakened the creatures but can do nothing to stop them. In his view, only Godzilla can stop the MUTO. “Let them fight,” Serizawa says during one of the film’s signature moments.
Building upon ideas explored during the Showa series of Godzilla films (and more pronounced in the Mothra series of films), Godzilla 2014 also nods at fellow kaiju series Gamera, where the giant turtle serves as a guardian of the Earth. So here is Godzilla presented, as a “force of nature” that protects the Earth and its inhabitants. It is interesting that Gamera also went through a reboot (the Millennium series), starting with 1995’s Gamera, Guardian of the Universe.
Godzilla 2014 was a joy to watch. The creature design, the film’s direction, and its story all work well. The cast does a great job in their roles, even when delivering some pretty difficult-to-swallow dialogue. Godzilla comes through unscathed with respect to his origin and his abilities. Indeed, the movie takes great advantage of the monster’s “atomic breath,” actually showcasing it during one of the stellar battles.
But my joy for Godzilla 2014 is not a complete one. The principal flaw with this film is that the story is told from a limited point of view—the lead cast members. Thus, the story remains focused on the humans rather than the monsters. As a result, there are few instances where we get to experience a satisfying giant-monster battle. Instead, we are left with either a juicy tease that suddenly pulls away or the aftermath of a battle. Only at the end do we get a bit of a monster battle—and, yes, it rocks—but it does come a little too late.
For my money, Pacific Rim really built on the kaiju genre by focusing on the monsters and robots rather than the humans. I wish Godzilla 2014 had walked a similar path, but I can also understand why the film focused on the humans. Anyone who has watched any Godzilla movie realizes that the action always stays mostly with the humans. One very tedious example is Godzilla: Final Wars.
Despite its flaws, Godzilla 2014 puts the Godzilla series on firm footing. It has all the right elements to satisfy the popcorn crowd and the Godzilla geeks. I can’t wait for the inevitable sequel.