I happen to be very nostalgic in regards to pop culture. I have t-shirts referencing the early 90’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon and the less well-known series Dinosaurs. I wear them with absolutely no irony; I just remember such things fondly. But instances such as 1998’s Godzilla or Alien vs. Predator have me constantly wary of retcons and updates. Yet much to my own surprise, I took a leap of faith and saw Godzilla in theaters this weekend. And while there are now three movies that share that exact title, I’ll trust you know which one I mean.
It ended up being two hours well-spent. Bryan Cranston straddled the line between delusional fervor and righteous fury like a pro. Give Ken Watanabe a line, any line, and he makes it sound ominous and prophetic. The big payoff battle doesn’t disappoint, either. Just when you think you’ve seen all the moves Godzilla has to offer, the other monsters go ahead and really piss him off, setting up an insane finale. I almost pulled a muscle geeking out.
Some critics are not as happy about film’s pacing. The King of the Monsters arrives one hour into the movie, and it has been questioned why the actors were needed as placeholders for that long. I’ll admit that Cranston’s character is treated as little more than such. As soon as the big bad hatches and begins its rampage, his character is killed rather unceremoniously. From that point on, we experience the escalating devastation through the firsthand point of view of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s everyman Marine and the exposition delivered by Watanabe’s reverent scientist.
So is it a problem that Godzilla takes his grand old time showing up? No, it’s called being fashionably late. More than that, it’s Moby Dick. That’s right. I just tricked you in to reading a rant about a book you haven’t thought about since high school. Deal with it. For all of you who don’t remember the assigned readings, let’s take a minute to lay the groundwork. We have our narrator and archetypal designated protagonist in Ford (Taylor-Johnson), a marine who just wants to reunite his family. Like Ishmael, his primary function is to allow us to view far grander characters through his eyes. Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa provides a counterpart to the undeniably weird Elijah, describing the unstoppable creature and the cataclysm to come in prophetic tones.
Finally, there’s Captain Ahab, whose representation comes with a bit of a red herring. Joe Brody (Cranston) seems like a good candidate, searching for what caused the disaster that killed his wife with a level of obsession that is clearly meant to unnerve. But the true nature of Ahab is the hunter, more dangerous than even his quarry, and whose presence and reputation humble lesser men. When it comes down to it, only Godzilla fits the bill.
The surface resemblance is pretty obvious. The King of Monsters is dead set on killing the MUTOs. Their existence rubs him the wrong way on an evolutionary level. These creatures attempt to evade his wrath until they have no choice but to fight to the death. The US military even takes on the role of Ahab’s crew, fearful and in awe of his power and determination to the extent that he becomes their guide to find the other beasts. Multiple shots in the movie show Godzilla making a beeline across the Pacific accompanied by various ships and aircraft, looking more like an entourage than watchdogs.
The coolest part of Godzilla’s character in this movie is how he goes about his business with an indifference towards humanity. In past portrayals, he was pure destruction until some greater threat forced an uneasy truce. The new Godzilla has no time for alternating displays of good and evil. Aboard the Pequod, Captain Ahab was not to be and intentionally cruel man, but would sacrifice anything for a shot at his nemesis. Likewise, Godzilla doesn’t target his rage on a single human being for the entirety of the story. Make no mistake though, anything standing between him and his prey is acceptable collateral damage.
So how does my eleventh grade B- theory prove why it’s so important for Godzilla to arrive late to the party? To get some perspective on their legendary status, we need supporting characters creepily alluding to Ahab and the G-man (I’m running out of things to call him). These giants don’t take the time to explain themselves, and explaining their nature of singular purpose takes some time. Moby Dick did a fine job using vague comments to give us the sense that the more we know about Ahab, the less we understand. Godzilla has the added advantage of visual aids. The MUTOs demonstrate multiple times how futile all of man’s firepower is against them. Dr. Serizawa explains in no uncertain terms that the only hope of stopping Mr. and Mrs. MUTO is an apex predator who shrugs off nuclear attacks. In short, humanity has no choice but to hope that the most dangerous thing in the world will help us kill the second most dangerous thing in the world, despite the fact that we already tried killing him. That’s some damn clear perspective.
The message here for disgruntled critics is have some patience. Godzilla takes us back to a time before horror reboots started dropping pacing and dramatic tension in favor of gore. In fact it takes us back over a century and a half. Withholding the proverbial money shot is more than just a plot formula, it lets an audience’s minds run wild with speculation and anticipation. And in case anyone’s forgotten, that’s what true suspense is. It’s a useful tool in a monster movie. I’ll take the hour-long wait any day over seeing the King of Monsters join Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger in the circle of hell reserved for monsters that forgot how to do their job.