Don’t believe everything you read about the new “Godzilla” movie.
Commentators on both sides of the political spectrum have tried to make director Gareth Edwards’ comments about the film into some sort of global-warming manifesto, hinting “Godzilla” would be a environmentalist message-movie all about punishing evil humanity.
But I’ve read the director’s comments, and now I’ve seen the film, and there’s a lot of hyperbole in those reports.
“Godzilla” is first and foremost a giant monster movie paying homage to the dozens of “Godzilla” monster movies made before it. It’s about a dazzlingly impressive display of destruction, of giant beasts and feeling the tremor of the theater floor under your feet every time Godzilla lets loose his terrible roar.
And in these things, “Godzilla” succeeds wildly.
Beginning in Japan, just like the movie franchise itself, this version of “Godzilla” introduces audiences to a cast of human characters who, unfortunately, have very little charisma and walk out a dull, formulaic march until the moment in the movie when the monsters finally arrive.
But when they arrive – oh, man, do they arrive.
Wait. Did I say, “they,” as in plural monsters? I did. But I’m not offering any more spoilers than that.
Edwards’ vision of Godzilla is a brilliantly executed mix of villain and hero, of fear and pride, of eye-popping special effects and fun moments where puny humans come into contact with mythical beasts of awesome proportions.
You have to stretch plausibility quite a bit and allow some major holes in the logic and science of it all, but if you can just enjoy the experience, the latter half of the film, after the monsters finally arrive and the big battles begin, is highly entertaining, memorable and will leave audiences with a smile and a cheer as they leave the theaters.
For this reason alone, I think many audiences will love “Godzilla.”
What didn’t finally arrive in the movie, however, was the purported environmentalist message I was expecting, based on other commentaries. The whole, “shove global warming down your throat” message never materialized.
True, there is a line in the film, “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control and not the other way around,” but, of course, that could be interpreted any number of ways. And there is a general sense of dread about nuclear weaponry (which was a significant theme in the original series of films, begun in 1954).
But a careful examination of Director Edwards’ words reveals his ideas don’t fit quite so neatly into hyperpartisan boxes.
“‘What does Godzilla represent?’ The thing we kept coming up with is that he’s a force of nature, and if nature had a mascot, it would be Godzilla,” Edwards declared. “So what do the other creatures represent? They represent man’s abuse of nature, and the idea is that Godzilla is coming to restore balance to something mankind has disrupted.
“As we got into it, the message of ‘Godzilla’ turned into, ‘We should let nature take its course and shouldn’t try to control it,’” he continued. “It’s not specifically climate change or anything. We tap into nuclear themes within our film – that’s at the heart of the film. But it’s more about the power of nature, and how we sometimes abuse that power.
“Godzilla is a symbol of nature coming back to put us in our place, to restore the balance or however you want to define it,” he concluded. “Films like this are powerful when you feel like you deserve what’s coming. It’s not just a fantasy. Deep inside you feel like we’ve been asking for this – it’s been a long time coming. … My favorite horror films are ones where characters feel guilt, and have it coming to them. Humanity has abused its position in the world, and I think that Godzilla represents a force – not quite of retribution, but a force of putting things back to right.”
Are there environmentalist sentiments in that description? Sure. Does all the talk of “balance” sound Taoist? Sure.
But can you pick all that up by watching “Godzilla”? It’s just not as obvious or even as insidious as we’ve come to expect from Hollywood. I’m thinking “Avatar” or “Noah” or even “Jurassic Park” – “Godzilla” just doesn’t go there.
True, there are some images of environmental abuses, maybe a bit of anti-corporate feel with a big mining operation, but these brief moments in the film get swallowed up once the big monsters make their appearance.
As for the huge, environmentalist message? If Edwards was trying a preach a message about how evil humanity is and how we’re in danger of disaster from our carbon footprint … he failed.
On the other hand, if he was trying to make an entertaining monster movie that honors the legend of Godzilla … he succeeded wonderfully.
- “Godzilla,” rated PG-13, contains roughly 25 obscenities and profanities.
- The film has very little sexuality: just a few kisses, a bit of cleavage and a very brief scene where a husband and wife (in very short shorts) make out on a couch.
- There’s plenty of violence in the movie, but most is between giant monsters battling in a cityscape. The human carnage, though it would be heavy in theory, is not shown in the film, nor is gore a significant element. A few dead corpses are seen, but this is a movie about the monsters, not about grossing out the audience or dicing up bodies in shocking ways.
- The movie has a few religious and evolutionary references to Darwin and “millions of years.” Godzilla, as the planet’s apex predator, is called “a ‘god’ for all intents and purposes,” and a song contains the lyric, “You’re the devil in disguise.” The most significant religious reference is a faith-affirming moment where an Army chaplain offers a long prayer of thanks.