By Michael Parnell
Back in the 1960s, I loved to stay up on Saturday nights to watch Shock Theater, the late night airings of classic monster/horror movies. There were the Hammer Films productions, which usually centered on Dracula. But my favorites were the Godzilla movies produced by Toho, the Japanese film company.
There was a certain way the storyline of those old Godzilla movies developed. You could see certain images and characters and you knew it was a Godzilla movie.
In their new film release, Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures have retold the story of what has been called the “world’s most famous monster.” This new story adds some new details about the origin of Godzilla but still follows the classic Toho formula.
One new detail is that the nuclear bomb test which was supposed to have inadvertently created the monster really was an attempt to kill it. In this version, Godzilla is part of the natural order, the last in a line of monsters. Dr. Serizawa (Ken Wantanabe) declares that Godzilla is the alpha predator, the highest order of creatures on earth.
The story deals not only with how Godzilla is reawakened, but also with how two other monsters — both called MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) — are unleashed. Dr. Serizawa and his colleague Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins) find evidence that one of the monsters is escaping. Another pod left behind contains the second monster.
Meanwhile, engineer Joe Brody (Brian Cranston) and his coworker wife (Juliette Binoche) discover that the Japanese nuclear plant in which they work is feeding the re-emerged MUTO. Then the plant implodes and Joe loses his wife in the damage.
The movie jumps in time 15 years, when Brody’s son is grown up. Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is an explosive expert for the Army and is rotating back home to his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olson), and son, Sam (Carson Bolde). Before he can get settled he’s told that his father was arrested in the quarantined zone around the nuclear plant. Ford flies to Japan to bail out his now crazy father. Soon after that the first MUTO appears.
What follows is the emergence of Godzilla. The theory is that Godzilla exists as a counter-balance to the MUTOs. By now the female MUTO also is loose, along with the male of the species.
When an admiral (David Strathairn) in charge of dealing with these new monsters wants to use nuclear bombs to destroy them, Dr. Sherizawa begs the admiral to allow Godzilla to fight these two. That is why Godzilla exists, he says.
This movie takes the Jaws approach to the monsters — they don’t have much screen time. That’s saved for the end.
Director Gareth Edwards uses this waiting time to show what happens when the monsters attack. We see the aftermath, and it is stunning. The wreckage and havoc are very realistic.
One aspect of the film takes a bit of a stretch to understand, but I’m willing to do it. The message is providence in God’s creation. The idea that Godzilla exists as a counter-balance, as a champion to put things right when they go wrong, can be a way of speaking of God’s action in the world.
I do not see Godzilla clearly as a messianic figure, but there’s a clear idea of how a natural creation in the world — the world of the movie — stands up and takes on threats to life.
This offers a chance to speak about how God works. God does not leave us without a champion, one which will come forth and make a way for us, one which will fight battles we are unable to wage.
Now, obviously Jesus is not a monster who fights other creatures, but Jesus is our champion. He fights the battles we cannot.
I liked this new version of Godzilla. It holds to the tradition of those old Toho movies I watched as a kid. If that was part of your childhood, go see it. You’ll like it, too.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence
Directed by Gareth Edwards. Written by Max Borenstein, based on a story by Dave Callaham
With: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), Brian Cranston (Joe Brody), Ken Wantanabe (Dr. Serizawa), Sally Hawkins (Dr. Graham), Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody), Elizabeth Olson (Elle Brody), David Strathairn (Admiral Stenz)