Okay, so as promised, here’s my more indepth analysis of Godzilla (2014). Spoiler alert: I’m going to discuss in detail some of the scenes and events of the movie, so if you don’t want some of the twists and turns spoiled, watch the movie then read this. Why analyze Godzilla when there are plenty of other movies, presumably with better plots and characterization? Because I can, and because it contains a lot of excellent examples.
Because elements of the plot and characters are intertwined, I’ll jump around a bit. The movie begins with Monarch exploring an open pit mine in the Phillipines. They discover the bones of some ancient, long deceased primordial beast, along with two spores, one of which has opened and ripped its way out of the mountain, leaving a trail of destruction to the sea. The movie then jumps to Japan, where engineer Joe Brody is a distracted man worried about seismic anomalies. The movie does a good job here showing him as a workaholic who is both very concerned about the safety of the power plant and doing his job well, even if that may inadvertently cause issues with his family.
The scene establishes him as a somewhat-absent-minded type who is nevertheless well loved by his wife and son and also sets the ground for friction with his son later on in the movie. It is well done, particularly for the set-up later in the movie, as early on his son has made him a happy birthday banner, which his mother promises to show to Joe later on.
The action then comes quickly, as the seismic anomally cracks the nuclear containment and floods the lower levels of the facility with radioactive coolant in vapor form, forcing Joe to choose between waiting in the hopes that his wife can get clear or saving the entire population of the city to include his son. It’s a well-done scene where he gets a last moment with his wife, though I think it would have had more emotional impact if it hadn’t been given away in most of the trailers.
Up to this point, we still haven’t seen the titular Godzilla. One might expect the seismic anomally to reveal itself as the beast… but you’d be wrong. The power plant collapses, and the young son to Joe watches from school… but there’s still no monster(s) to be seen.
Revert to fifteen years later. Joe’s son, Ford, is now a US Navy EOD officer, just returned from a long (really long, 14 months, holy cow) tour. This is a moment, plot wise, which gave me a bit of a headache, but only from dealing with EOD types, who most often had six or nine month tours, even during the Iraq Surge. Anyway, I digress. He disembarks the plane, links up with wife and his own son, and has a bit of a party with them. Then, before there’s any solid characterization between wife, son, and Ford, there’s a phone call that his father (Joe) was arrested in Japan.
The characterization here was very bland. It basically makes Ford into generic military man, his wife into generic spouse (we find out later she’s a nurse), and his son into generic military son. They are entirely bland, with nothing of note beyond the fact that fourteen months made them both miss Ford. There was no development of the relationships, nothing beyond the fact that they are obviously very close, because it shows them being close and saying how close they are.
The movie then goes to Japan, where Ford is now reunited with his father, takes him back to his father’s apartment, and we see that Joe has developed an unhealthy fascination with the ‘accident’ that claimed his wife’s life. At this point, we get some great characterization on the part of Joe. He’s furious and frustrated, and we see that the absent-minded engineer has descended into obsession.
What we don’t get here is any more development with Ford, who feels like a secondary character. We see that he doesn’t agree/approve of what his father is doing, yet he is easily swayed to sneak into the restricted area after an impassioned plea. I felt like this scene had a lot of potential, perhaps to have Ford accuse his father of killing his mother (which he did) or lay out some angst about how he has made something of his life. Instead, he just sort of makes some filler dialogue and we move on to the restricted area.
In the restricted area, we get some more opportunities for anticipatory scene destruction (beautiful overgrown city falling slowly into ruin) followed by plot revelations that despite the collapse of the power plant, the evacuation, and the restricted area… there’s no radiation. The father and son duo rush to their old house, where Joe recovers his data and then sees the Happy Birthday banner his son made for him and his wife hung up in their office for his return, fifteen years ago. It’s a good scene which shows some emotional catharsis for Joe, and establishes that he is tormented by his past and must find some resolution.
Ford, on the other hand, goes back to his room and picks up a toy soldier. Not so much of an impact. The best part was the little terrarium with a cocoon and a label “Mothra” as a nice little implication of what is coming.
Not long later, they get arrested, and then dragged into a military style base built on the site of the power plant. Inside we finally get our first look at the monster… but it’s not Godzilla. It’s a chrysalis, inside of which something has absorbed the radiation of the reactors. (Yes, the science gives me headaches, but it’s a Big Stupid Monster movie, so leave your knowledge of science and physics at the door)
The plot thickens as Joe shows that his knowledge of the attack implies that another attack is immenant. No sooner is this revealed than the chrysalis begins to become much more active and the order is given to terminate it.
Me, personally, I’d probably try something more… final than electricity, particularly when the creature is shown to have an as yet unknown effect on electromagnetic fields. Nevertheless, they try. The creature then explodes out of it’s chrysalis… and it is definitely not Godzilla. The movie has done a great job to this point of amping up the anticipation. We know that we’re going to see him sooner or later, but for now, we get plenty of carnage as the monster smashes the entire facility, sprouts wings, and flies away. Oh, and it has a nifty EMP attack that disables vehicles and the electrical cage they held it in.
We’re back to the Monarch guys, scientist A and B who really don’t have much character at all. They’re essentially cardboard cutouts, with A being the one to announce events and explain things and B being the one who warns everyone that they can’t possibly do what they’re about to do. Scientist B is all the more annoying because she never says why we shouldn’t do things, just that we shouldn’t.
Unfortunately, Joe was wounded in the monster’s escape. Not long after this, on a helicopter ride to an aircraft carrier, he warns his son Ford to take care of his family. Shortly after that, he dies. Now, in my opinion, this was either an attempt to evoke sadness or a desire to save money and have Brian Cranston appear less in the movie. Having him die at this point basically transferred all the burdens of being an interesting character onto Ford… who we’ve already seen very little interesting about. I’m not saying they couldn’t have made him interesting, but they expended that effort on Joe, who is now dead.
Ford doesn’t take up a vow of revenge against the monster that has killed both his parents. He doesn’t seem to care, just wants to move on. So he catches a helicopter to Hawaii, tries to call his wife, and that’s pretty much all the emotional response we get.
Cut to Scientists A & B, who now reveal that Godzilla is back. There was some mention in the reveals earlier that they thought they killed him, but nothing about where he might have been. We see big scary fins as the monster swims along. Scientist A says that Godzilla is a Primordial Alpha, a predator which will hunt down the flying monster and put things back in balance. The US Navy seems unable to take action, unable to track the flying monster, and clueless as to where it is going. Right up until a Russian nuclear sub disappears and then reappears somewhere on Oahu.
Teams sent to investigate locate the monster. Godzilla then rages into the city to attack. We get our first look as Godzilla attacks. There’s a rather cool fight sequence wherein a whole lot of folks in Oahu get drowned by a tidal wave generated by Godzilla, trampled by said monster, or smashed by the flying monster. Right away, however, we see that Godzilla is at a disadvantage by the other monster’s speed and ability to fly. Unbelievably, they manage to make Godzilla both strong and powerful (witness his destruction) and incredibly weak.
My complaints in this sequence is first that the military is painted as both ineffective and unable to take even the most simple precautions. They already know that the flying monster has an EMP attack. What do they do? Send in helicopters to attack it up close and then attack with jets… also up close. Beyond that, Ford has a nice little series of scenes where he saves a kid… but then there’s no resolution, he reunites the boy with his parents, but there’s no feeling of accomplishment, the boy goes on his way and Ford continues trying to get back home.
At this point, Scientist A and B realize what Joe figured out on his own, that the monster was using echolocation to call to another of its kind. They can’t possibly think of who it might be talking to, certainly not Godzilla… until Scientist A says that it is absolutely not possible that it was talking to the other spore, because they dissected it and put it in… you guessed it, the radioactive waste storage facility. Because, since it feeds off radiation, that’s the safest place to put it. *sigh* This is where the plot begins to give me a headache.
Flip to a team which races down an open highway. Visually, a very cool scene, with helicopters and humvees and all kinds of military awesomeness. They pull up, begin to check the site, and then… wow, there happens to be a gigantic, three hundred foot hole in the mountain that absolutely no one noticed. That’s right, it ripped the side of the mountain away and was already halfway to Vegas. Which it quite impressively demolishes, the devastation being shown in a sequence of cool scenes.
The second monster and the first are now expounded to be male and female, and that they’re trying to breed. The military now announces their best plan to date: lure all three monsters (Godzilla too) twenty miles out in the ocean away from San Francisco, the apparent target with nukes, detonate them upon arrival. And, because they know that the monsters use EMP, they install mechanical triggers. But wait, there’s more… lets move the nuke(s) on a slow-moving train (subject to the EMP attack) with the final plan being to put it on a barge (also subject to the EMP attack) and oh, yeah, start the count-down before the nuke even manages to get out of the harbor. Oh, that fancy new trigger can’t be remotely stopped either… so no way is that going to end badly, right?
Possibly the worst, most fallible plan given the situation. Inevitably the land-bound monster number two eats all but one of the nukes. Not long after that, the flying monster snatches the remaining one (after the mechanical timer is engaged) and the two establish a nest in the middle of San Francisco, with eggs, armed nuke, and incoming Godzilla Alpha Predator.
This then comes to some of the best scenes in the movie. Someone apparently does the math and realizes that if you fly high enough you can avoid the EMP (would have been useful to move said nukes, maybe even in a B-2 or B-52 or something designed for that rather than a train). So there’s a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) jump into San Francisco just as Godzilla makes landfall and starts a fight. Not much sense in it, but it does look very cool. The fight sequence here is both visually impressive and evokes emotion. At this point, they’ve basically established that the military can’t stop these monsters, humanity’s only hope appears to be that Godzilla will destroy them and then go back to doing whatever a three hundred foot tall lizard does in his spare time.
But it’s quickly obvious that Godzilla is over-matched. The flying creature is faster and more nimble and works in concert with monster number two, which is almost as big and tough as the titular monster. The fight sequence here manages to establish Godzilla as an underdog, which automatically is a positive. The intrepid special forces (I think, they don’t make it clear, but why would they carry M4’s against giant monsters? You would think they’d swap out for some bigger weapons, maybe a few more AT4’s, some grenade launchers like M320’s or M203s, or hey even ) team manages to get to the nuke, but there’s a problem, the lid is stuck shut. Apparently they’re in an alternate universe where no one has invented crow-bars, hack-saws, or other useful tools, so the decision is, with thirty minutes left, to carry the warhead across town to the waterfont, put it on a boat, and drive it away to a safe distance. Again, I’m left scratching my head, because it really doesn’t make much sense. And our main character is an EOD guy, right? He should know all about cracking the thing open and getting it to work. But nope, he’s onboard with the plan. We do have a moment of brilliance, then, when, seeing the eggs, he uses a handy fuel truck to blow the nest sky-high.
This then triggers big monster number two to leave the apparently defeated Godzilla, come back, find the nest destroyed, and identify Ford as the culprit. Before it can take action, you see a brilliant light, and from my experience, the crowd goes wild as Godzilla unleashes his radioactive breath attack. It was a visually impressive scene and was brilliantly done to make Godzilla seem the protector. Unfortunately, the flying monster intervenes, and big monster number two runs after the folks with the nuke. It kills off most of them without apparent effort. Thankfully, Godzilla has a reprieve of only fighting one opponent smash the flying monster, but then he’s buried by rubble. Again, a good scene, you see the underdog (underlizard?) finally get in a solid blow, but it amps up the tension of the fight sequence.
Ford tries to do what the others did, starts the boat, which is handily hooked up to some kind of Iphone touch pad, and the collapses, only to have the boat putter out as big monster number two unleashes its EMP attack, and then prepares to kill him. Godzilla saves the day (again) ripping back the monster’s head, breathing radioactive fire down the creature’s throat, and then ripping the head off in a finishing move. The boat starts up again, Ford is rescued, and Godzilla collapses, later to rise again to the cheers of the humans he saved. (Despite being named a predator, he did not actually eat the two monsters he killed, which also bugged me)
I will note that I enjoyed the movie, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the character I most related to was a three hundred foot tall radioactive lizard. It definitely could have been a better movie, with stronger characterization of the people in it. The science and physics were so far beyond real that you basically needed to ignore reality. Those at least remained consistent throughout. The plot was unnecessarily convoluted, with apparently a great deal of effort spent to ensure that Ford’s wife was downtown giving him reason to try to stop the nuke (as if saving everyone else wasn’t good enough) and also in making sure that said nuke was there to be stopped. I feel like they could have accomplished this in a less… well, stupid fashion, rather than having generals and admirals craft a plan that a five year old could poke holes in. But it worked despite those flaws, because the overall building tension throughout the movie until Godzilla himself is finally revealed, followed by continuing to pay out for what the audience wanted to see: a giant radioactive lizard causing havoc and smashing monsters in the middle of a major city.