Godzilla (2014)

LET THEM FIGHT

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Put me in, Coach

1) Godzilla vs MUTOs

After Toho temporarily retired the character for a decade, Godzilla finally got a second shot at a major U.S. production in 2014, and it went a damn sight better than the first (as an aside, please stop calling the first attempt the “Matthew Broderick version,” as if it were his fault). Stacked with an overqualified cast, it teases out its big action for a surprising length of time, but ultimately proves worth it for the final showdown. Director Gareth Edwards has a talent for arranging truly iconic imagery and breathtaking setpieces, even if he’s not always quite as good at the connecting tissue between them (2016’s Rogue One would demonstrate both sides of this equation even more strongly).

The Fighters:

  • Godzilla, the legendary Japanese mega-monster. His main weapon is his incredible size & strength, but he has another trick or two up his sleeve. Reinvented here as a primordial alpha predator who has been slumbering in the ocean depths for many years. This makes for an interesting inversion of his traditional origin: rather than being a symbol of the danger of man’s science gone too far, his existence proves how insignificant and helpless we truly are. Also he’s been visually overhauled a bit, looking like what the Internet in 2019 would call a [checks notes] Big Chonky Boi. Played, in motion capture, by stunt performer T.J. Storm.
  • Two MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), a male and female. Ancient parasitic beings who feed on nuclear energy. The female is larger and quadripedal, the male is significantly smaller and can fly using his enormous wings. Both of them, particularly the female, look like a more angular version of the Cloverfield monster, with a facial design that just screams malevolence. Their presence also causes electromagnetic disturbances, rendering most advanced equipment useless. Unfortunately for them, Godzilla is not advanced equipment.

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The Setup: The plot’s oddly convoluted, with the MUTOs spawning in separate places, pinging each other with sonar comms, avoiding Godzilla, finding nuclear material to feed on, etc. In the middle of it there’s Aaron-Taylor Johnson playing Ford Brody, a Navy EOD tech who keeps crossing their paths by both bad luck and design, as he eventually links up with the classified government anti-kaiju project which is looking to neutralize the MUTOs.

It all comes to a head in San Francisco (Brody’s home town, of course), where the MUTOs have stashed their unhatched brood, having had presumably hideous sex at some point offscreen. Brody is there with a special forces detachment to retrieve a nuclear warhead (long story), and Godzilla arrives to kick the MUTOs’ asses, apparently just on general principle.

As night descends, the monsters’ destruction makes for essentially continuous dust everywhere. It’s foggier than the draw distances on a PS1 game, but thankfully in a way that works cinematically (it heightens the menace, surprise and emotions) rather than one designed meant to obscure poor special effects.

When the Big G finally finds his primary target through all the haze, he announces his intentions with a mighty roar.

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And now we all know how to say “I’m about to completely wreck your shit” in kaiju

The Fight: Godzilla and the female MUTO charge at each other, and the former immediately dominates. He seizes her by the throat and starts pushing her backwards. Pressing his advantage, he eventually wrestles his enemy to the ground and holds her down with his foot.

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“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a Godzilla foot stamping on a kaiju face – forever.”

Before he can lean in and finish the job, he is cruelly interrupted by the swooping arrival of the MUTO’s mate. The male stabs Godzilla with his elongated claws, pulling him away. As he works over the shocked hero a bit more, the female has time to get up and ram him.

As we’ll see repeatedly throughout the fight, Godzilla’s real (only?) weakness is his inability to handle multiple foes. He’ll be distracted by an attack from one enemy and divert his focus to it, only to get blindsided by the other one. They’re like heel wrestlers in a match without refs. Cheap! The two launch sustained attacks against Godzilla, each stabbing him with their claws multiple times. It’s brutal.

This is where Brody and the other human troops come in handy. Not far away, they find the villains’ unhatched spawn, and blow it up. Momma MUTO sees the explosion and immediately rushes off to tend to her babies (wow, gender-normative much?), leaving hubby alone with Godzilla for a few minutes before he flies off to join her as well. Big mistake.

The enraged female finds an injured Brody near the site, and figures he’s responsible. But before she can exact her vengeance, everything is suddenly lit by an unnatural blue glow.

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Wait, is that…?

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Don’t tell me he’s going to…

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YESYESYESYESYESYESYES

Yep. Godzilla has finally had enough of this garbage, and decided to charge up & unleash his trademark Atomic Breath. This is a new look for the attack, and strikes the perfect visual/kinetic balance between many of the previous iterations, where it would often be either a regular old gust of flame or something that looked like it came out of the Death Star.

It’s heavy enough to bring the lady MUTO to the ground and stun her significantly. But yet again, Godzilla can’t press his advantage thanks to the return of the male MUTO and his toxic, flying privilege.

Fortunately the female decides to go after the troops trying to dispose of the nuke rather than stick around to help her mate. After some more ripping & tearing, Godzilla is able to fling off the aggressor. As the MUTO circles back around for another pass, Godzilla gets a close-up and you can actually see the angry calculation in his reptilian face as he decides he’s done with this flying a-hole’s shenanigans for good.

So yep, with one thunderous tail strike, Daddy MUTO gets put down for the count. The camera even zooms in as the red light fades from his eyes, leaving no room for doubt.

Unfortunately, the skyscraper Godzilla smashed his opponent into doesn’t hold out long after that kind of structural damage, and crashes down onto the weary hero before he can get out of the way. He appears unable to get up, and collapses near Ford as the latter limps off to rejoin his team. The two exchange a pitiable glance just before Godzilla is engulfed in dust as sorrowful music plays. Could this be the end of Godzilla??

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Spoiler: no

Meanwhile, the enraged Mommy MUTO is off killing the soldiers who were trying to dispose of the warhead. Brody tries to sneak it away in a boat, but she finds him and shuts down the boat’s motor. Injured and exhausted, Brody gamely levels his service pistol at the monster’s ugly face. But he doesn’t get the chance to pull the trigger before she suddenly seizes up.

It is, of course, Godzilla, emerging from the fog to chomp down on her shoulder. He then yanks her upright, pries open her jaws, and breathes atomic fire down her throat until it cuts her head off.

It is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

He then lets out a triumphant roar and flings her severed head aside. I’d say he’s earned the flex.

The day is saved. Brody reactivates the boat so the nuke can detonate way out at sea, and Ford escapes by helicopter. Godzilla, truly exhausted now, limps farther to the shore and collapses.

As the dust clears and people begin to re-emerge, Godzilla’s body lies still for many hours, and the people of San Francisco probably assume they’re stuck with 5,000 tons of monster corpse in addition to the twenty 9/11s’ worth of cleanup they’re already looking at.

But, duh, Godzilla is never down for the count. Right before the eyes of the scientists who’ve been tracking him for years, Godzilla awakens and stands once again, trudging with weary dignity out of the city he just saved. (Well, mostly saved.) The crowds cheer and the news labels him a hero. Before returning to the ocean from whence he came, Godzilla lets out one final, majestic roar, reminding us puny humans that there’s only ONE king of the monsters.

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And don’t you friggin’ forget it.

This is everything you want from a kaiju throwdown: there’s majesty, there’s menace, there’s fun. The humans are present but don’t take up too much time. There are twists & turns. The action hits hard and mean. There’s a fantastic finish. This is the kind of movie you walk out of feeling like you need a cigarette.

Grade: A

Relevant links: Godzilla returns this summer for a clash with the three-headed space dragon King Ghidorah, whose list of aliases on Wikipedia sound like a track listing from the best metal album ever made. Let’s hope it delivers.

Coming Attractions: It may take half a decade, but I always deliver.

ravenous

Hungry for a beatdown

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