Out of all the monumental cinematic properties out there, Godzilla is perhaps second only to Star Wars in terms of sheer reverence to the material. Even if you don’t agree with that positioning you’ve got to admit he’s up there toward the top. Other properties like Marvel movies are dynamic in the ways they transplant their characters and their unified world to the screen, but the signifying scope of [Godzilla](movie:45291) is much bigger than that. We’re talking about national Japanese identity tied to a giant, city-stomping monster here. And in 1998 we ruined all that.
Roland Emmerich’s Americanized [Godzilla](movie:45291) is widely considered to be a bastardization of the beloved character, so much so that Toho, the legendary movie studio that first created the creature, retconned the so-called “Godzilla” of that movie into an entirely different entity within the Godzilla mythos they dubbed “Zilla.” Memories of that movie are far from fond, and for good reason, so when a new American reboot was announced a few years back the fans of the King of the Monsters were appropriately skeptical.
The Toho-backed, Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures reboot has stressed an allegiance to the spirit of the original from the get go, and pretty much everything we’ve seen from director Gareth Edwards’ update has seemed to back that claim up. Here’s why Edwards and co. are on the right track to updating Godzilla without tarnishing the good name of the venerated original.
The most important thing gleaned from the trailers, interviews with the cast and crew, and the synopsis so far is that they seem to have captured the perfect tone. Tone is a difficult thing to talk about because of its obvious intangibility, especially when we’re basing an argument off of an original movie that had a guy in a rubber suit stomping all over toy models, but the real reason why the original—and hopefully the 2014 film—still resonates is from a legitimate tone drawn from its subtext. The original was born out of a post-Hiroshima and Nagasaki mindset, of nuclear annihilation being a potential reality and the possible outcome of our regrettable actions manifesting themselves into something that will completely destroy us all. Godzilla 2k-14 looks to appropriate that subtext into a post-9/11 tone of paranoia free from the misplaced campiness of Godzilla ’98. I don’t mean to outright knock ‘98’s overwhelming campiness (even though it’s a legit bad movie) because it was a financially viable extension of Emmerich’s own like-minded blockbuster Independence Day at the time, but it has no place in a movie like this nowadays. The updated film’s reliance on very serious subtext to tell an outwardly sci-fi film—something that most of the best sci-fi movies do—is key.
Though it seems like a simple conclusion, the new Godzilla cast is nothing to shake a stick at. Other than the big guy himself its ensemble includes Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, and David Strathairn among others. Despite the fact that you’ve got a couple of Academy Award nominees, the best French actress of her generation, and possibly the man behind the best television character of all time in there, it is a group of solid actors who will solidify the level of empathy needed for a global story. The trailer hints at a similar kind of panoptic worldview that was sorely lacking in something like World War Z in order to portray the inter-connected story on a wide scale. Binoche and Cranston are Taylor-Johnson’s parents, Olsen is Taylor-Johnson’s girlfriend, Watanabe seems to work for the company Cranston works for, and so on. Each bit of the ensemble will hopefully contribute to the multi-faceted view of Godzilla’s destruction to ground the story or audiences.
Lastly, the trailer and the official description hint at a much-welcomed bait and switch for the story they are going to tell that brings it back to its roots. Godzilla ’98 was a slog because the narrative thrust pitted a massive monster against the military, and when that got old the filmmakers threw in a laughably bad plot twist involving dozens of little reptiles running around Madison Square Garden. The 2014 film will keep things on that massive scale…with multiple monsters. Legendary’s main Godzilla page states the film “pits the world's most famous monster against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity's scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence,” guaranteeing we’ll see some Kaiju battles just like the originals. Though interviews with Edwards stated these other beasts won’t be recognizable Godzilla adversaries (Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah, etc.), it will be essential for the reboot to refresh the genre’s tropes using these creatures given the countless other Hollywood films (Cloverfield, Pacific Rim, etc.) that co-opted the original’s fantastic tropes. The nonspecific details surrounding the new film also give it a great simple throwback to when audiences—and film geeks—didn’t know every single detail about a movie before they saw it on the big screen.
This is all speculative of course, but it looks like certain building blocks of a monster hit are all there. Yet it’s up to Edwards and his crew to deliver on those building blocks while honoring the hallowed original. Hopefully they’ll live and learn from past mistakes, otherwise we’ll have ruined Godzilla more than once.