Japanese commentators recently mocked the reincarnation of Godzilla as a bit too hefty, supposedly a reflection of America’s obesity "epidemic." Godzilla got off lucky, however. He could have been imbued with Japan’s numerous social pathologies. Better a husky lizard than an Internet-addicted, childless shut-in that can’t maintain an intimate relationship with a human and yearns for guilt-free robot sex.
Indeed, there’s a shot in the new Godzilla that shows just how completely America has coopted Japan’s best-known cinematic export. We’re somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, and the camera has taken a God’s-eye view. American warships are in pursuit of a giant, flying, radioactive insect, one that has laid waste to Honolulu. Also in hot pursuit is Godzilla, who Japanese scientist Ichiro Serizawa believes has awakened in order to "restore balance" to the planet. The camera, staring directly down, reveals a stunning image: Godzilla, flanked on either side by American ships headed off to save the day.
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Godzilla—originally a walking, roaring cautionary tale about the dangers of nuclear weapons and a not-so-secret denunciation of American power—has joined the U.S. fleet. And he’s the best chance we’ve got at surviving an assault by a pair of Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTOs).
The mystery of the MUTOs occupies much of the film’s opening act, as Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) tries to discover what caused the disaster at a Japanese nuclear power plant that killed his wife. The Japanese government and a secretive multinational corporation have covered up the events for years, but are forced to reveal the truth when massive monsters begin marauding across the globe, destroying cities and threatening millions more.
Joe and his son Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnson) provide the audience with a human connection, and their efforts aren’t entirely wasted. Indeed, the death of Ma Brody (Juliette Binoche) is one of the few times director Gareth Edwards lets us see the human toll of the MUTO rampage. All too often, the camera briefly engages with random members of the crowd before showing them miraculously finding safety (at least briefly). For a film in which hundreds of thousands of people must die, Godzilla is, generally, a pretty bloodless affair.
Structures bear the brunt of the monsters’ wrath: skyscrapers collapse as giant beasts tumble into them, crumbling like sand castles at high tide. The CGI work is impressively done, lending verisimilitude to the proceedings. And Edwards does a nice job through the film’s first three-quarters of limiting the point of view so that we only see the monsters as the humans in the film could have plausibly seen them. We catch snippets from victims on the ground, pilots in fighter jets and helicopters, shaky footage broadcast on TV. It isn’t until the film’s final fight that we fully switch to a third-person omniscient perspective, viewing the battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs from every angle in all of its glory.
I saw the film in IMAX 3D. You should see the film in IMAX since, when it comes to Godzilla, size matters. You should not see it in 3D, as 3D is a pustulent sore on the face of cinema, one that we will not be rid of until consumers stop paying an exorbitant surcharge for the pleasure of shoving uncomfortable plastic frames onto their faces to view a film that goes out of focus if you slightly turn your head.
Update: If the D.C. area is any indication, one cannot see the film in 3D-less IMAX. If you're forced to choose between seeing it in IMAX 3D and seeing it on a regular-sized, non-3D screen, I suggest you choose in the regular-sized, non-3D option. Lining Hollywood's pockets will only encourage them to foist this hideous format on us in greater numbers.