The 2014 Godzilla film is a strange amalgam of sorts. The most famous of Japanese giant monsters is many things to many people, its movies spanning generations, the narratives of which vary between Godzilla as the power of nature made reality, a representation of the hubris of humankind, and kick-ass monster eager for a rumble against its fellow kaijuu. Rather than going for the heavy reintepretation as with the old 1998 film, Godzilla 2014 tries to embrace all facets of the lizard with some mixed results.
I have somewhat of an “improper” understanding of Godzilla. Certainly I grew up on some of the movies, having watched my Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla VHS tapes religiously as a kid, for example. However, I’ve still never seen the original (not even the English adaptation with Raymond Burr inserted in), nor am I so hardcore into Godzilla that I can tell you all of its production history. I’ve realized that deep down I think of Godzilla first and foremost as teaming up with Mothra or Jet Jaguar and giving monster smackdowns, so when I originally came to the movie expecting something more along the lines of a disaster flick, I could feel the kid inside of me smile as the film revealed that it was definitely leading to a massive battle.
At the same time, Godzilla 2014 definitely does not have the same feel as those Showa-era movies I’d grown up on, the heavy emphasis on military presence makes it feel somewhat closer to the Michael Bay Transformers films. Fortunately, Godzilla maintains the image of futility as the US Navy’s weaponry proves overall ineffectual, a classic trope of the franchise, and so it avoids the more jingoistic feel of Transformers when it comes to representations of the military. Even though the main protagonist is a soldier, and he accomplishes quite a bit as a human being, his significance pales in comparison to Godzilla, and the film does a good job of conveying the smallness of humanity.
In this respect, the movie tries to have its cake and eat it too, being on some level the disaster movie I expected going in, but also the monster mash that Godzilla is famous for, but also the contemporary US blockbuster with that strangely stylish militaristic vibe that has increasingly become a part of the movie experience. I find that it balances these incongruities surprisingly well, which is actually pretty impressive, but I also can’t help but shake the feeling that the “something for everyone” approach allowed it to only go so far. I won’t say that it was like three films in one, as I do think there is a good sense of continuity and cohesion overall. Instead, it’s more that Godzilla 2014 embodies the idea of an “American-made Godzilla” to a tee, for better or worse.