Godzilla Lives On – Return of the Ever-Popular Gorilla Whale
It’s not hard to understand the enduring appeal of the Gojira franchise: an enormous lizard-like life-form lays waste to an urban landscape (occasionally with the help of other, equally rubber-suited, reptilian pals) and has radioactive fire-breath to boot. Add elements of our increasingly strained relationship with the planet, and the story’s principles seem as fresh today as they did in 1954, when Godzilla was just a scaly stand-in for the H-bomb. Godzilla considers the possibilities lurking just out of sight, taking viewers to a place where fantasy and fear commingle with what we know as reality.
This past weekend, Gareth Edwards riffed on the original 1954 Japanese version of Godzilla, serving up his own version of the 60-years-and-running kaiju monster classic. While the early 50’s work by Toshiro Honda primarily played upon Japan’s neuroses relating to atomic warfare, today’s Godzilla has been updated to embody a fear of similar gravity; nature, as a result of our mistreatment, has begun to forcefully evict us as tenants. Be it through tsunamis, earthquakes, or M.U.T.O.s (an acronym used in the film for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), we are made aware that this planet is much less hospitable than it was before we began leaving carbon footprints.
The opening sequence harkens back to the dawn of the nuclear age, hinting at the impact of America’s Castle Bravo tests and clandestine attempts by the government to quiet a previous monster scandal. Godzilla is introduced as a long-standing aquatic mystery, and it isn’t until halfway through the film that we finally get a good look at him. Edwards teases out the arrival of his star, using small, Spielbergian close-ups to signal impending doom. When he finally rises from the watery depths, the audience gets an eye-full of monster goodness that connoisseurs of the kaiju cult will no doubt be satisfied with. For those looking to reconnect with old favorites, most films are available to viewers via Netflix, Hulu, and occasionally as DTV specials or on demand.
The human protagonists however, despite being of world-renowned and Oscar-winning quality, struggle against a one-dimensional script to appear as “real” as their towering mythical counterpart. Inevitably, the film becomes a spectacle in which its actors, regardless of international acclaim, hardly matter. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (of Kickass fame) and his wife, Elizabeth Olsen (sister to the famous twins), lead the CGI epic to its climax in the city of San Francisco, where Godzilla converges with a cockroach king for an epic monster showdown.
As someone personally terrified of cockroaches of any and all proportions, these mantis-like terrors had me rooting for Godzilla in the same way I cheer for the Orkin man. Ken Watanabe, as nuclear scientist Ishiro Serizawa, asserts that the green giant might be our only hope. “Let them fight,” he says, advising nature to take its course.
As with our own attempt to upend the natural order of things, ultimately we’ll know that we got what we deserved.
Elizabeth Eckhart is an entertainment writer and blogger born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She has a penchant for high fantasy, and loves anything that involves an epic battle of some sort. She can be followed on Twitter at @elizeckhart.