The Inherent Problem With 'Godzilla' Movies
"Gojira" from 1954 was a meditative tragedy about nuclear war leading to humanity's destruction in the wake of 1945's Hiroshima bomb. In 2019's "Godzilla: King of The Monsters" a nod to "Gojira" is not only made but insulted. The oxygen destroyer is a throwaway plot point that feels like a sickening wink to the camera. Later, a nuclear device brings the prolific monster back to life. Is "Gojira" a joke to writer/director Michael Dougherty? Was Hiroshima just a footnote in his history class from grade school alongside with cowriter Zach Shields? As a matter of fact, part of this critique extends to "Gojira" director Ishirō Honda who saw a whole ton of yen in "Gojira" as a commercial property down the road.
When I was a kid, I loved watching Godzilla movies. I would collect every single VHS tape from my local Blockbuster to see the next monster Godzilla would fight. I bought the toys, owned everything. Once I reached a certain age, I became interested in more complicated films. By the time I was in my teens, I had sought "Gojira." Not the phony American version Produced by Joseph E. Levine starring Canadian Actor Raymond Burr but preferably the uncompromised Japanese original. To my shock, the film was a thoughtful look on humankind's hatred for one another. Nothing is refreshing about Gojira's destruction because it was horrifying. It was a remembrance of what the west did to Japan and how others, including themselves, could follow. When the oxygen destroyer is unleashed, an engine of death is used to kill all underwater life with the hope of exterminating Gojira. It was the sublevel Hiroshima bomb. "Gojira" was not meant to be cool. Listen to Akira Ifukube's-"prayer for peace" from the film's ending. It's the sound of pain, loss, a tragic crescendo to mankind.
Greed gets the best of us. Despite what Honda had to say with "Gojira," he still followed up two years later with "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!" The yen came flowing in, and now nobody understands what "Gojira" was all about. Every Godzilla film became a spectacle of destruction with no subtext. When the subtext is in any of these films, it's handled as delicately as a Michael Bay flick. Despite its attempts for being topical America's newest version of "King of The Monsters" is a clumsy mess. There's a message of monsters restoring balance to a civilization who's already destroying the environment but oh is it reaching so very far beyond the grasp of its silly introspection. Like the Raymond Burr version of "Gojira," we are trapped with stock characters placed within a special effects setting, filling time in between fights.
If I want to see a pay per view match, then I'll happily watch WrestleMania or boxing. Trying to make a story out of nothing to please children is fine but an utter waste of money when done so often and with so much potential actually to say something is lost. Many people like to make the argument that monster movies are dumb, that the characters don't matter; we should only care about the spectacle. Well, what about the monster movies Spielberg made like "Jaws" or "Jurassic Park"? I would argue we remember Doctors Grant, Malcolm, and Hammond more than whoever was in the sequels. I remember Robert Shaw's Quint and Richard Dreyfuss' Matt Hooper in "Jaws." Even in "Gojira," I remember the emotionally troubled Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, and the young beautiful Emiko Yamane who's life filled with optimism is forever destroyed when having to exterminate all underwater life alongside Dr. Serizawa.
To tell me you can't write memorable characters or a meaningful monster movie is ridiculous. With lazy writing stems a careless film that's pretty to look at but hollow inside. Hollywood can do better than this. Not every monster movie needs the scientists; the protagonist who knows more than anyone else, the cute kid or the plot taking place entirely in a control room. I'm aware I haven't spoken specifically about this very film, but that's because it is the same movie as every other Godzilla film I've seen. What more is there to say other than repeat what everyone else has already said. I urge filmmakers to go back to Ishirô Honda's 1954 original film to find something more in your monster movies other than its special effects. In the meantime, I'll await the next inevitably disappointing American sequel.