Godzilla: Humans are Powerless but Awesome (Many Spoilers)
I’ll be honest. I loved Godzilla. I was pretty much sold before the opening credits were over. I liked the fights. The shots were beautiful and preserved scale in exactly the way monster movies should. (Honestly, stop with shaky crane shots of giant monsters that make them look like tiny models. What are you doing?) I honestly liked the corny family love fest. I loved that it was a story about a war of attrition, a philosophical concept that fascinates me.
But the thing that stood out to me about the movie was how well the humans took the catastrophe. I mean there was screaming and horror and all that, but there was also a sense of getting down to business and taking care of each other that is unusual in a monster movie and really focused the theme. I like big action movies and big action movies treat first responders and disaster relief agents pretty poorly. Either they are killed dramatically, are screaming something like “I don’t have time for this!” at our hero, who is just trying to help them, or they’re useless, terrified, and confused. It’s serves the purpose of making the hero look like the only one in control, but it’s pretty disrespectful to the type of people who run at disasters.
Even worse are the movies where the heroes have to escape from the refugee camp or government outpost or whatever. It’s a ridiculous premise – running away from the people who should be helping them. For example, the chaos and uselessness of the camps in Cloverfield was ridiculous, and the heroes are inexplicably able to talk their way out past several military men tasked pretty much only with not letting them do exactly that.
The heroes in Godzilla are not like those heroes. In fact, all humans in Godzilla are absolutely powerless. In fact, they’re powerless in a way I’d never seen in a monster movie. Besides setting the eggs on fire, no human accomplished anything helpful. Seriously, the main character couldn’t even make it to his wife on time. Yet people are doing things for the entire film. In every scene people are desperately trying to accomplish something, even if it’s just to buy a few more moments or ease their neighbor’s suffering.
This is where the triumph of the film is, in these moments. When the main character is looking for his son, a man can tell him where he is. When he survives the airport there is paperwork to help him find the boy’s parents. There are dozens of shots of nurses and doctors bustling about with efficiency and purpose.
This was one of my issues with Pacific Rim. The Kaiju were the bad-guys, sure, but so were the humans, often inexplicably. There’s a few lines indicating that, for some reason, the humans were pretty much happy with retreating and letting people die along the costs. This was never really explained or explored. It was just given as the reason why everything was terrible. It was a plot point, and one that I saw time and time again. Sometimes the organizations aren’t just incompetent, they’re outright evil, as in Cabin in the Woods. In Godzilla, on the other hand, even the powerplant scene had a pretty good reason behind it. They weren’t being evil, they were just clueless and stuck between letting the thing keep absorbing energy or flooding the city with radiation. They did their best, and then they tried to help those around them when it went terribly wrong.
Because I know we humans haven’t dealt with a giant monster, but we’re actually really good at reacting to the myriad ways the planet tries to kill us. We actually haver permanent structures, known as Hospitals, dedicated to this sort of thing. We train people for disasters they might never experience, just in case! These things don’t disappear or stop working when a new disaster shows up.
This is where the hope of the film lies. The giant monsters aren’t concerned with their species, or even the well-being of the other monster. They seem pretty unconcerned that they’re the only ones left on the planet. They just eat and make tiny giant monsters. They’re focused on reproduction and Godzilla is focused on destruction. The theme of the movie is that nature is huge, massively powerful, and could crush us at any moment, but our hope lies in our individual ability to care for each other and to organize, ant-like, around our survival. For me, this is what made the movie human and real, despite the plasma-breathing monsters.