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Nature goes on rampage in ‘Godzilla’

POSTED: May 15, 2014 1:00 a.m.

I am stunned to discover how many moviegoers are excited to see another “Godzilla” movie.

The big lizard has maintained a devoted cult following since its debut in 1954 but has never been more than a curiosity for most.

Its release date pits one of the world’s oldest daikaiju (the Japanese word for giant monster) against a crowded field of very popular costumed vigilantes. And the last “Godzilla” film, in 1998, was a complete disaster.

Despite all of that, anticipation for this reboot is high.

Equally surprising is how glowing the advanced reviews have been. It’s hard to imagine “Godzilla” as a critics’ darling, but suddenly it is.

Are all the excitement and praise warranted? Yes, mostly.

“Godzilla” indulges in too much implausible plotting to ensure its main characters are always in the center of the action, but it works well as a hedonistic summer spectacle.

Those in the mood for action, computer-generated mayhem and big monsters fighting will be very happy. The kaiju (the Japanese word that literally translates to “strange creature”) battle is the defining set piece of the “Godzilla” franchise. And this movie’s battle scenes are visually mesmerizing and offer the kind of humor a monster movie should.

We are more than accustomed to seeing massive destruction on the movie screen. In fact, many of us are bored with it after years of seeing supervillains destroy our most populated cities before the superheroes finally finish them off. But the battle scenes in “Godzilla” are unusually effective, because the filmmakers show everything from a human visual perspective. The camera is almost always on ground level with the people.

Oh yeah, I should mention there are human actors in this movie. Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins are all good. Whatever, that’s not why we go see “Godzilla.”

Maintaining a human point of view keeps us ever aware of not only the potential human toll of the destruction but the sheer enormity of the monsters.

This stylistic choice alone elevates “Godzilla,” because it manages to present human life as valuable yet also disposable in the eyes of nature.

The Godzilla character here and in previous movies is often indifferent to humans. It doesn’t vengefully target and kill people; we just happen to be in its way while it follows its animal instincts.

This representation, along with the cheers and gasps of the screening audience, made me think about why this particular monster’s appeal has transcended cultures and time.

Plenty of movie franchises feature giant monsters and big loud bedlam, but Godzilla endures because of what it represents. And this is where the movie most succeeds, at reminding us why Godzilla matters in the first place.

Among other things, Godzilla is a reflection of human hubris, the arrogance of believing we can contain the forces of nature. Watanabe’s character sums it up at one point: “The folly of man is believing he controls nature rather than the other way around.”

Godzilla has always represented this uncontrollable power of nature. “Godzilla” mimics images of the tsunami that devastated the Pacific in 2004 and other natural disasters to tap into our fear of being powerless against nature, of feeling small and impotent against a world over which we foolishly believe we are masters.

We create monsters like Godzilla to figuratively embody, and therefore harness, the nature we can’t control in real life.

Yet “Godzilla” also plays on our hope that nature will ultimately save, or at least spare, us. We hope nature will show us kinship and kindness even in the midst of a lethal disaster. Godzilla may be apathetic to us at the beginning of the movie, but there is always the hope by the end we will earn its trust and protection.

“Godzilla” suffers from plenty of flaws, but the character still works on these more profound levels.

And yeah, the monster fights are pretty cool.

Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.


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