Earlier this year, Godzilla and I didn’t quite see eye-to-eye. That, uh… wasn’t meant to be a joke, no matter how much it sounds like one. Basically, I wasn’t buying what it was selling and I wound up more or less dismissing the whole thing. Godzilla is a little bit square. Its characters are mostly stock, its pacing is uneven, and in a certain sense there’s just not a whole lot to it.
Still… I have a tendency to spout off praise for expectation-dodging flicks like, say, the less-loved half the Star Wars series. Given that, I try to remember that my not liking what a movie is up to might be entirely due to not going in with the right mindset to enjoy it. Which is certainly possible in this case.
Especially when a second go-round might reveal it to be much, much better than I initially gave it credit for.
Expectations can be everything. Having the wrong set when you walk into a movie can be pretty detrimental to the experience. Sort of like taking a swig of Coke when you thought you were about to swallow plain water — the taste you usually enjoy becomes jarring and strange when you aren’t expecting it.
I thought Godzilla was going to be a substantially different movie. The trailers leaned on the dark and epic, showing glimpses of a truly apocalyptic story. first movie was born in the radioactive wastes of Nagasaki and Hiroshima; I loved the idea of an update to that idea. Something that would speak to our modern fears in the same way the original spoke to the trauma of the atom bomb.
You guys have almost certainly seen the thing, so I don’t need to go into details, but what we got is a caveat-free MONSTER movie. No more, no less.
It certainly has the pedigree, for good and for bad. The characters are pretty flat; Ken Watanabe seems to be perpetually staring at something fifty feet offscreen and Elizabeth Olsen wears her “concerned wife/mother” face like it’s the only one she has. Nobody is exactly bad so much as nobody gets the chance to be particularly interesting.
Like a lot of similar movies I’ve come across, Godzilla is also a bit of a drag when it’s setting up pieces to knock down. In particular, the first thirty minutes or so of the movie have an undeniable “waiting for the good stuff” vibe. The movie comes to life when the monsters start showing up, but even then it goes in fits and starts. Honestly, in my opinion this is a trait it draws from as far back as the original Godzilla movie.
I mentioned the misleading nature of the ad campaign, and I’ll stand by it. The other culprit here, though, is simply my own preferences. Had this been, by some executive’s poor decision, my movie to make, this isn’t what we would have gotten. I wanted more from the characters — Aaron Taylor Johnson’s resolute goodness and Cranston’s tragic fanaticism didn’t have the depth I feel they deserved.
So now, several months and one Black Friday sale later, I found myself watching the movie again. The second time around, I realized something: All that stuff I just complained about is really not that big a deal. At least, not if you go to the movie looking for the stuff it gets right. Gareth Edwards was on a mission with this thing, and by the end of the movie his mission is most certainly accomplished.
At the end of the day, the point of Godzilla — and, probably, of any honest monster flick — is the fights. Man versus monster, or (even better) monster versus monster. Edwards makes us wait for it. The movie burns slooooowly for an hour or more; a narrative fuse leading to an explosive brawl between two nasty monsters and that big guy on the poster.
And holy moly does that brawl deliver.
Truthfully, it wasn’t just the fight that registered more the second time around. Gareth has a real eye; he throws gorgeous visual after gorgeous visual up onscreen from pretty much the first scene. The sound design is downright eerie in places. A handful of moments exist in this movie for which the best word might arguably be “iconic.”
Between this and Pacific Rim, I think I might have even found a gateway into the classic monster genre as a whole. Never been my thing before, but I find myself wanting to check out a few movies that I missed along the way.
But the fact that the end fight delivers on the meat-and-potatoes of two monsters knocking the crap out of each other, matters. Because the point I’m trying to make here is that the entire movie is built around getting to that scene, and it does. And when my expectations matched the movie, that seemed like a very worthwhile goal.
So no, I’m never going to be able to watch Godzilla and get the character-driven epic I would have wanted. But what I have in place of those things is an uncommonly graceful summer blockbuster and a loving tribute to the monster genre wrapped up in some really excellent moviemaking. Even a bit of the ol’ “message movie” to boot — Godzilla may not evoke the atomic bomb, but it does a nice job of reminding us humans that we might not have the tool for every job.
And yes, I got a bit of an ego check and a reminder that sometimes it’s important to get out of the way and let them fight.
What about you? Any other movies from 2014 that needed a second watch to fully sink in?