Prediction: Godzilla is going to be the most impressive summer movie of 2014. Yeah, I know we've got Captain America and Spider-Man and X-Men and all those other heroes in skintight suits, Tom Cruise battling aliens, another Planet of the Apes, and a dozen other major tentpole movies. We're sure some of those movies will be great. So far, however, none look to have the sense of wonder and awe and terror that Godzilla is showing off.
So far the trailers have been an expert tease of money shots and withholding context, and the newest trailer (see below) is no different. This is the international variant, which includes a lot more footage of destruction while still holding out on showing us all of the giant monster action, and that's a great thing. We're currently in a glut of megabudget movies that destroy cities left and right, but the destruction in movies like Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel, though visually overwhelming, is oddly hollow. Godzilla director Gareth Edwards and screenwriter Max Borenstein look like they want to make that destruction matter again.
Our own Jacob Hall already covered the Godzilla SXSW event, but since I was also lucky enough to see it, I'd like to touch on that a moment so I can put all my excitement into context. If this is the first you're hearing about it, Warner Bros. put on a screening of the original 1954 Gojira followed by a scene from the new film, with Gareth Edwards there to talk about it. I'd actually never seen the original all the way through, and the experience was a revelation. Yes, Ishirô Honda's film is deeply antiquated at this point - it's got a melodramatic love triangle plot that's particularly stagey and a lot of the effects have not aged well - but what still resonates is the sheer terror of the Japanese public portrayed in the film.
It may seem cheesy by today's standards, but once you remember that movie was made barely a decade after two nuclear bombs decimated Japanese cities and changed the world forever in the process, you start to realize just how ballsy Honda's film really was. He's got a giant, unknowable monster emerging from out of nowhere and spewing radiation over cities, melting vital infrastructure and leveling homes and businesses everywhere he goes. To put it in a more modern context, imagine if Steven Spielberg made a movie about giant wasps emerging from mountains in the Middle East that flew across the ocean and crashed themselves into buildings, and did so 10 years after 9/11. That'd be insane, right? That's essentially what Godzilla did for the Atomic Age. It corporealized this impossible sense of destruction, and turned it into a target that the Japanese could try to capture, contain and ultimately destroy.
Granted, Gareth Edwards' Godzilla doesn't have such direct atomic fears to deal with, despite the obvious role that radiation plays in the film, but there are still real-world issues that he can bundle into this mutant behemoth. The strange thing is that didn't really occur to me until I watched the scene he had to show off at SXSW. Up until that point I just assumed this was going to be in the vein of Pacific Rim -- humans versus giant monster -- because it looked cool and why not. But as soon as I saw Godzilla approach the shore of Honolulu, I understood what Edwards was bringing to the table.
Godzilla doesn't just show up and start hitting buildings with his tail. Before he even reaches the shore, his enormous body has displaced so much water that he causes a tsunami to hit Honolulu. We see hundreds of people flee for their lives from this wave of destruction before he ever gets there. And then we see another monster, which looked kind of like a bat mixed with a praying mantis, already inland, already wrecking havoc on an airport. But as stunning as that looked, it was that tsunami preamble to Godzilla showing up that sealed the deal for me. That's what convinced me Godzilla 2014 may actually be about more than just a bunch of pixels blowing up on-screen.
In those few minutes, even with crudely unfinished visual effects, Edwards was able to paint this scene of very palpable dread as we see an unannounced horror take an entire city by surprise. We live in a time when these kind of events are what shock the world. It doesn't fully matter if they're the intentional acts of a few people (terrorists), if they're just a side effect of mankind's exploitation of planet Earth (global warming), or if they're totally random (the 2006 tsunami). All that matters is that it's humans trying to survive the arrival of something unprecedented. It's hardly a new notion in cinema. Disaster movies from War of the Worlds to Independence Day have been tapping into this particular vein of survival story for decades, but it's actually something Hollywood has gotten away from lately.
Blockbuster movies have become far too concerned with the origin of things, and of telling stories about just a handful of people saving the universe in ridiculous ways. As fun as those movies are, there are no real stakes to them. No one is ever truly in danger, the world is never truly changed by whatever's happening, and at the end of the day mankind is largely oblivious and uninvolved. I'm ready for a movie to once again transport me to a place where I can see something close to the actual world I live in interrupted by something no one saw coming, and I think Gareth Edwards is going to give us that this summer, and I think it's going to be an incredible experience.
Godzilla hits theaters on May 16, 2014.
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