Right off the bat, as I contemplated about the quality of this film (which is really hard to decipher given how good and bad it is in parts), I harkened back to the trailer and realized that this movie wasn’t pinned or theorized by Garreth Edwards as a “monster movie” at all… it was a disaster movie. Think about it… for those of you who have seen Godzilla, what service did any of the monsters provide to the film other than being vehicles of destruction and peril in the face of human beings? Every other scene of the film was people simply just staring in terror at their homes/offices/restaurants etc. being blown to smithereens by either two giant bat-things, or this gargantuan lizard that came out from deep in the Pacific Ocean.
On top of it all, there was the really cheesy central family story. A scientist labeled a conspiracy theorist (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife in a nuclear power plant and spends the rest of his years predicting the awakening of a giant monster while everyone else calls him crazy. He has a son named Ford who is in the army and who shields himself from the memory of his lost mother. He also has a loving wife and a kid. With these emotional connections established before anything even remotely related to Godzilla even happens, Garreth Edwards makes his first mark that this movie is about human beings first and foremost. This is the typical narrative arch that is common to disaster movies, where characters undergo a familial struggle, but the impending doom brings them together, then separates them for a while, then brings them together at the very end where they either hug or kiss. This isn’t a spoiler by the way, every person who has seen a Hollywood movie should be expecting this before they even buy their popcorn. What Edwards does with his film however, is unique only to Godzilla movies… it is a natural disaster by way of a monster.
While films like The Day After Tomorrow deals with a meteorological catastrophe that human beings cannot control, and Pacific Rim deals with a direct solution from human beings themselves; fight monster with artificial man-made monster, Godzilla is a film in which the social/political struggle becomes “should we interfere, or not”? This, as I said is unique to Godzilla movies because the entire concept of the monster is to, as Dr. Serizawa said, to restore a natural balance. That is Godzilla’s job (as weird as that might sound). He goes on to make that direct connection to those other movies and build a contrast: “The problem with human arrogance is that we think we can control nature, when really it is the other way around. Let them fight.” This is the crux of the movie in one sentence. From here on out, we can be assured that there will be no significant interaction between humans and monsters (aside from the futile and pathetic machine guns being fired which are little more than a nuisance to the creatures).
The movie then becomes the journey of Ford doing “whatever it takes captain” to save the city and reunite with his wife and child. The monsters meanwhile, are simply reduced to natural disasters, background storms which spend the night destroying the city and then calm down after a while. This is a major problem with the concept of this movie, because when you title a film GODZILLA, people expect to get GODZILLA. That’s not what we really get. While the human element could be argued to be more relate-able for us (how would this monster affect our lives?), most ordinary people wouldn’t be able to do much. Even military personnel wouldn’t be as resourceful and bold as Ford is in this movie, because they have to abide by a restrictive and structured code of the military. In the movie, Ford just kinda sweet-talks himself into all these scenarios where he can display his “bravery”. But it is the ending of the movie which confirmed my position. The final scene of the film is Godzilla simply just crawling back into the ocean after having defeated the two monsters, leaving a destroyed city/country in his wake, and making not even a splash as the water calmly glistens in the sunlight and Godzilla’s massive spine dips under the surface. This is the final statement then, that this wasn’t really a monster movie at all, it was a disaster movie, a film about humans coping and dealing with an unstoppable force of nature, who comes and goes as he pleases to restore whatever balance mother nature demands, and when he leaves, he leaves without a peep… and we wait wondering when or where he will appear again.