I have met my match.
Over the last few millennia I’ve managed to eke out a meager living by commenting wittily on the passing entertainment scene. Thanks to my ability to ingest the latest in artistic theses and spit out needlessly bitchy remarks, I’ve secured my place as one of the city’s cultural tastemakers. I don’t mean to brag but, really, I didn’t think there wasn’t anything I couldn’t critique.
Then I saw Godzilla.
And I literally didn’t know what to say.
My doctors tell me that with enough Chlorpromazine I might be able to forget the experience. But before it all evaporates, I figured I should try to warn you away. What follows may contain spoilers, although when it comes to spoiling Godzilla, director Gareth Edwards has me beat.
Turning Good Cheese into Bad Science
For people of a certain age, the old Godzilla movies were a hoot and a holler. Yeah, we knew it was some guy in a rubber suit fighting another guy in a rubber suit in a scaled-down version of Tokyo, but that was cool. It wasn’t just cheesy, it was a celebration of cheesiness.
The original 1954 Godzilla was also a sci-fi fable about the horrors of nuclear weapons, introducing a monster that’d been mutated or somehow roused into being by the H-bomb testing done in those days. The new Godzilla, according to the publicity, is all about how humanity is a danger to nature. I concur, for if we, as a species, are capable of extruding something as horrible as this Godzilla, then each of us needs to report to a medical facility, have ourselves sterilized, and give the planet back to the animals.
But here’s my question. If the filmmakers are so concerned about nature, don’t you think they might have bothered to learn about the natural world? There are simple laws of nature and physics that this movie simply refuses to acknowledge. At one point the entire U.S. military, which has been tracking Godzilla across the Pacific Ocean, suddenly can’t find him … because he’s gone underwater. All that equipment for scanning and exploring the deep, yet all the creature has to do is hold his breath for a dive … and everyone on board the aircraft carrier right above him goes into red alert: “We’ve lost Godzilla! We don’t know where he is!”
If you ask me, he’s taking a meeting with his agent.
For reasons you wouldn’t believe even if I could explain them, a second group of U.S. military personnel fly to Yucca Mountain. In real life this is the site of a partly built (but never used) underground repository to hold the country’s nuclear waste. The military folks suspect a non-Godzilla monster might be hiding there. “But,” says the Yucca staff, “we haven’t had any problems.” Until the camera pulls back and we see that half of the mountain is missing because a titanic beast, which nobody knew was inside, has escaped through the backside. Luckily for the monster the security guard on that end of the compound had called in sick that day.
So the military experts set off to track this new monster. Called a MUTO, for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism, it’s making its way to San Francisco. Things are going okay for the trackers until the creature decides to stump them by hiding behind a tree. Everyone’s like: “Where’d he go? Send out a search party!” And all of them end up dead because no one possesses the sheer animal cunning to spot a massive menace right above them. If nothing else, you’d think they’d be able to smell it.
And That’s Not the Only Thing That Stinks
In this movie, Godzilla is here to save the humans from the MUTOs. But, really, when the humans are so idiotic, why bother?
Bryan Cranston plays a nuclear engineer wearing what is possibly the worst wig you’ve ever seen. The movie opens in Japan in 1999, and here comes Cranston with his Bay City Rollers hairdo. You excuse it for being 20 years out of date because you figure that when we end up in 2014, Bryan’s bald head will let us know that we’ve jumped ahead 15 years.
Except he’s still got the same horrible wig, though someone has sprinkled baby powder on it to signify how much older we are. Amen to that; I know I aged about 15 years during this movie.
Meanwhile David Stratham shows up as a four-star general who decides that even though all these monsters were created by radiation from atomic bombs in the 1950s, wouldn’t it be funsy to try to kill them in 2014 with—a show of hands please—atomic bombs?
But wouldn’t those same bombs, like, oh I don’t know, blow the West Coast sky high and render it uninhabitable for 1,000 years or so? I’m not sure the general has thought it through. And considering some other ridiculous choices he makes, I’m not sure he didn’t get his stars out of a Cracker Jack box.
You’ll be as shocked as I was to learn that the bombs don’t work and Godzilla ends up duking it out with the two MUTOs (yep, there are two of them) in the streets of San Francisco. Not that anybody cares, since nobody even tried to leave the Bay Area until they saw the lizards popping out from behind a McDonald’s sign.
And even then, not everyone is spooked. We get a shot of a MUTO flying through downtown San Francisco while some business people continue their staff meeting on the 23rd floor. “I don’t care if there is a giant reptile flying past the window, Johnson. You’ll get those third quarter projections to me by lunch or you’re toast!”
Somewhere in the middle of it all, Cranston’s son appears as the only officer in the military who knows how to set a bomb timer. This kid, who looks like a Channing Tatum tribute act, doesn’t have much else to do except stand around being sad because—and what are the chances of this?—his wife is in San Francisco.
Can he save her?
Can Godzilla rescue San Francisco?
Can I stick my head in liquid nitrogen and erase the memory of this movie?
Like director Edwards, I’m willing to try anything … especially if it’s utterly free of logic.
Ted Hoover is a writer and critic based in Pittsburgh.