Godzilla 2014 was the second attempt to make a Godzilla film set in America. It centers on humanity’s attempts to defend America’s western coast against not only Godzilla, but the MUTOs – two insect-like kaiju that feed on nuclear energy. In the end, its Godzilla that takes them out, in an ending sequence that almost makes up for the fact that he only has about 10 minutes of screen time throughout the movie.
Godzilla is meant to end with Godzilla being the only way to take the MUTOs down. To facilitate this, the military’s attempts to stop them can’t work. This makes sense, but the movie made two huge mistakes in the execution.
Ideally we would have seen the military try various methods of repelling the MUTOs, until they’ve exhausted all their options and are forced to let Godzilla do it. Instead, the writers opted to have them try the same method over, and over, and over, in an act of dangerous incompetence.
We learn early on that the MUTOs (and possibly Godzilla) feed off of nuclear energy. Dr. Serizawa and his student Vivienne Graham relay this information to the military officials. The military also witnesses the male MUTO eating a Russian warhead in Hawaii. They decide to use nuclear bombs against the monsters anyway, to lure them offshore of California and kill them with the force of the blast.
This plan backfires horrifically. The female MUTO attacks the train carrying the bomb to San Francisco. This results in the deaths of nearly all the soldiers accompanying the train. She also eats one of them. Despite the obvious dangers, they continue with the plan and transport the other to San Francisco. The very live bomb gets stolen by the male MUTO this time, and buried in the ruins of Chinatown, in the MUTO’s nest.
Serizawa warns against the use of these bombs, but the officials insist it’s the only thing they can do. Their hardheadedness results in the deaths of their soldiers and who knows how many civilians, as well as massive destruction of a major city. Were it not for the soldiers themselves, the bomb would have blown San Francisco off the map.
I have no idea why the writers opted to have the officials ignore the scientists, rather than exhausting all of their options. These people are supposed to be professionals, yet they look like amateurs. Even the “arrogance of man” thru-line doesn’t justify this. That refers to the idea that humans thought they could destroy the kaiju, who are forces of nature. It doesn’t explain the utter refusal to consider other methods of doing that.
Despite the military’s complete failure to take care of the problem – and the writer’s failure to make them competent – the movie still spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on their operations. Because of that, other characters lose valuable screen time that could be used to develop their relationships and motivations.
Ford Brody is the biggest loser in this department. We never do learn why he falls in with the military operations rather than returning straight to San Francisco and evacuating his wife and son. He definitely has a stake in the situation – by the end of the first act he’s lost both of his parents to the destruction – but he takes no stand against the cover-ups, and doesn’t oppose any of the actions despite what he knows. He strong-arms himself into the operation because reasons.
Further, Ford and his family have close to no development. In fact, Elle and Sam Brody have little presence or purpose in the movie, except to be in the midst of trouble when it comes. We also don’t know how Joe’s behavior and absence affects the family. We don’t see Elle’s reaction to Joe’s death. Ford is supposed to be the protagonist, and yet we know nothing about his family. We could have been learning about them instead of watching a million different briefings.
Ford’s one contribution to the plot also isn’t given much shine. Destroying the MUTO nest saved the world from a kaiju invasion, but none of the other characters acknowledge what happened. The fact that he did this on his own adds to the military’s incompetence too. They knew the MUTOs would mate when they met up, but made no plans to deal with it.
Serizawa and Graham are sidelined as well. These two know the most about the monsters, and yet no one listens to them. As I stated above, the military decides to use the bombs though Serizawa warns against it. His assertions that Godzilla should take care of the MUTOs are similarly ignored. Neither character has much development, though Serizawa’s motivations are outlined briefly. Vivienne, not so much. These two are wildly important to the operation, but the story doesn’t treat them as such.
In the ultimate oxymoron, even the characters within the military don’t get much development. Soldiers are given names and not much else, then marched off to die in various MUTO attacks. Officers give commands, debate with Dr. Serizawa, and that’s it. All of this time is devoted to the operations, but the people who conduct them get close to nothing.
The overt focus on military operations, and subsequent portrayal of such, keep Godzilla from being a truly great film. Not enough time is spent fleshing out the characters, and so the audience isn’t compelled to care about them. The military refuses to learn from their mistakes, and so the audience isn’t compelled to care about them either.
It’s clear that Godzilla wanted to show the destruction of kaiju attacks from the human standpoint. You can see it in the way the movie is shot. It ends up undermining itself by making most of the human characters flat and uninteresting. If more time had been devoted to developing the Brodys, or the scientists, or even the soldiers and officers, this movie would have been nearly perfect.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures