Two images punctuate Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, a film bent on resolving persistent issues of contemporary blockbuster filmmaking. The first of these images is one that addresses scale. Tasked with insuring the integrity of a railroad bridge, Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is confronted by a creature wreaking havoc on the bay area. The image is significant in that it not only establishes the sizable difference between human and monster, but it also establishes the critical dichotomy that courses through the film: anthropocentricism versus biocentrism. The visual construction of this aforementioned scene conveys the human ignorance associated with tackling concerns of great environmental affect.
A second image, and one that reinforces the ignorant anthropocentric perspective that Godzilla plays with, involves Brody revisiting his childhood home with his father Joe (Bryan Cranston). Quarantined and left in shambles, Brody retrieves but one item from the rubble of his childhood home: a toy soldier. Edwards emphasizes that image for perhaps a bit too long, but the point is clear: Brody’s of small stature when compared to the monsters he must confront.
But does this amount to anything especially significant? With reservations: yes. Godzilla, unlike any other blockbuster of this year or most others, possesses the unique trait of transcendence. There are persistent images that enter a political, social, and satirical stratosphere; sometimes all at once. It’s a rarity. A beast of a blockbuster that maneuvers like a Spielberg film yet has elements that range from Soderbergh to Verhoeven.
A particularly rocky opening act doesn’t offer much confidence in the film’s merits, though retrospection gives its interpreted lightness more thought. In a move akin to Soderbergh’s Contagion, Edwards sifts through A-List talent without much thought. Whereas most blockbuster pictures tend to latch onto a particular character and emphasize their journey of personal struggle and redemption, Godzilla is less concerned with such flagrant human egoism, particularly in light of the catastrophic goings-on that compose the picture. No, the film’s centerpiece human character is like its titular character - bulky, lumbering, and not especially interesting outside itself. But Brody, and perhaps more specifically, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, is a vessel for observation. This goes for all the characters in the picture once the film moves to its second act. This is a film that yields to its creatures while providing some scathing remarks on the culture that it destroys. From the military culture that proves too inept to handle a crisis to the condemnation of media consumption (passing news reports are a device that Edwards uses to keep his first-world world connected), Godzilla is likely to be the most cynical blockbuster released this year.
Godzilla is an admirable effort and one that submits a measure of introspection to its design. It suffers because of what it is: a blockbuster meant to induce spectacle above all else. But it does so in a context that is infinitely more rewarding than any other blockbuster released this year. I may have resisted, but the film submits one of the most startling images I’ll see all year: a nurse sees a parachuting pilot emerge from the dust-filled sky, only to swerve to her side to see that plane crash into a building. No music, no frills. A simple but cautious emblem of destruction.