Hey, we all have problems. You got ’em, I got ’em. Maybe you’re failing algebra or struggling to pay the bills. Maybe you’re feeling a little flu-ish at the moment. Maybe your job is in jeopardy. Maybe your movie review is due right now and you’re still trying to think of something clever to say. Our lives are never, ever problem free.
But some problems are bigger than others.
Take the one at Japan’s Janjira nuclear power plant, for instance. It was a happy little uranium reactor at one point, providing jobs to hundreds and electricity to lots more. Then one day in 1999, a huge problem slithered in, built a glowing, pulsating cocoon several stories high and started gobbling up radiation as if it were Kibble. The reactor was destroyed, people died and the country quarantined the whole area, leaving the cocooned creature alone.
Crazy, I know. Why Japan didn’t just spray the whole area down with Monster-B-Gone, I have no idea. If I found, say, a grizzly bear hibernating in my spare bedroom, I’d probably try to figure out a way to get rid of it before spring, no matter how cute it looked sleeping. But the folks at Janjira did not ask me.
Of course, if you don’t take care of your problems, they’re bound to grow. And, boy, does this thing grow. By 2014, the creature is stirring again, ready to make a grand entrance on the world stage. The Japanese government has made an attempt to contain the thing, stringing a web of cables above the cocoon to keep whatever it is from escaping. But, I dunno, given the size of that cocoon, the cables look about as effective as tangled dental floss.
Seems like a Plan B might be in order.
The American military has one handy. They’ve got oodles of nuclear weapons they’ve never been able to use and, really, this Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object (or MUTO for short) seems like a great opportunity to try one of those suckers out.
Well, except that this MUTO obviously eats radiation for lunch, as they say. And then there’s the unfortunate precedent that the last time a nuclear bomb was used on a giant monster way back in 1954—a truly titanic creature called Godzilla—it was about as lethal as a rolled-up newspaper. Sure, the nukes are bigger now, but what if they still don’t work? And what about any stray civilians in the area?
Does anyone have a Plan C?
Yeah, let’s face it. We humans don’t have a great template for dealing with problems quite this big. So the best we can hope for is that, if the dental floss doesn’t hold the creature in and the nukes don’t knock it down, Godzilla himself might miraculously make an encore appearance and decide to tangle with the new MUTO.
Because, really, when two creatures the size of small mountains square off against each other near major cities, what’s the worst that could happen?
Godzilla and his gargantuan co-star here aren’t bad or good, really. They don’t smash buildings because they’re members of a terrorist organization or have unresolved mommy issues. They’re just really big. They want to eat and procreate and, who knows, vacation in Hawaii just like the rest of us. And because they can’t really articulate why they do what they do, we can’t give them credit (or blame) for it.
The humans, on the other hand, know exactly what they’re doing. And, overlooking the wooden acting, many of them do some pretty amazing things.
The prime hero here is a Navy sailor named Ford. He’s got a wife (Elle) and little boy back home in San Francisco, and he loves them dearly. He loves his pop, Joe, too—even though he thinks the guy is way too obsessed with this mysterious 1999 “accident” at the nuclear plant once in his charge. Ford doesn’t want to get sucked into what he believes is his father’s fantasy world.
“I can’t put our family through that,” he tells Elle.
“Well, he is your family,” Elle reminds him.
Ford sees that she’s right. So he goes out to care for his father and bring him home—and then, somewhat belatedly, discovers that Joe’s actually right, you know, about the monsters and all that. Ford promptly swings into action not only to save his family, but to help save the world.
All the military fighters are remarkably brave and sacrificial, but no one more so than Ford. He saves a young boy on a train in Honolulu and risks his life to save San Fran from both monsters and a nuclear warhead. While the rest of San Fran is evacuating, the medically trained Elle stays behind to care for the injured and to wait for her beloved hubby to return. She sends her son off with a friend to make sure that, if things go really badly, at least he’ll be safe—a nice, sacrificial thing for a mom to do.
Actually, I think pretty much every human being we see at least tries to do the right thing. Even when folks disagree about how to take care of the monsters, all are working toward that shared goal. (You just can’t be petty when you’re being attacked by skyscraper-sized beasts.)
Someone refers to Godzilla as being like “a god, for all intents and purposes.” A prayer is said over a plane full of fighters about to parachute into a monster-mashed area.
After Ford returns from a 14-month tour of duty, he and Elle start in on foreplay on a couch. (Their interlude is soon interrupted.) They kiss elsewhere, too, and in flashback we see Ford’s mother and father smooch in a car.
Just kidding! This is a Godzilla movie, after all, not an episode of Downton Abbey. Chunks of entire cities are destroyed, as a matter of fact, and one would assume the fatalities soar into the hundreds of thousands if not millions. Most of those deaths are not seen, but at times the movie does show us the human cost of it all. For instance, when the MUTO strikes the Japanese power plant, radiation escapes, killing five workers, including Ford’s mom. A wall of water sweeps away hundreds, maybe thousands, of fleeing people. Others fall out of a train ripped from its tracks. Scores of military troops die as the MUTO rampages on, lashing and smashing and stomping. Corpses are seen on a muddy beach. We’re told that two parachutists died during a jump, and that 40 miners in the Philippines didn’t survive a cave-in.
Godzilla’s huge mass nearly capsizes several ships. Planes fall from the sky and crash into buildings or the ocean. (We see some pilots eject and parachute to at least temporary safety.) Buildings are destroyed or severely damaged. Bridges are bashed. Trains are set alight. Lots of stuff explodes, sometimes with nuclear ferocity. Towers are pulled down (sometimes carrying people with them). A blood-streaked man is severely injured by crashing debris and later dies. (We see a body bag being closed over his corpse).
The monsters are shot seemingly thousands of times (though the bullets have no effect). They’re blasted with rockets (which at least get their attention). But, mostly, they beat on each other—hitting, clutching, biting, yanking, throwing, tail-whipping and blue-fire breathing. [Spoiler Warning] One of the creatures dies after the other exhales fire into its mouth, and then has its head ripped off. Monster eggs are destroyed via gasoline explosion.
Four s-words, four or five uses of “h‑‑‑” and one “d‑‑n.” Jesus’ name is abused three times, God’s at least a dozen.
Ford and Elle drink wine.
Governments lie about the existence of the monsters (until they can no longer keep them secret from the public). Joe ignores the quarantine and is arrested. Then Joe and Ford again ignore the quarantine, busting into the zone to search for evidence.
Monsters leave behind some ooky goo.
The very first Godzilla movie was a product of Japan’s grappling with the horror of the atomic age. Godzilla himself was awakened by a nuclear test, his path of destruction reminiscent of the unimaginable disasters of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And we have similar hints of real-world relevancy in this new-millennium pic, too. The destroyed power plant can be seen as a cinematic aftershock of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe of 2011. And when an American admiral rolls out the nuclear option to stop the big beast, a Japanese scientist shows him his grandfather’s pocket watch—a watch that stopped in the Hiroshima blast. A hasty uranium mining operation stirs up the first MUTO—a creature that feeds off radiation—and while the American military wants to strike the monsters with everything they’ve got, the wiser Japanese scientist believes that Godzilla is nature’s way of keeping these fearsome forces in balance.
“The arrogance of man is that nature is in our control and not the other way around,” he says. “Let them fight.”
In the end, that’s exactly what happens. And, boy, do they fight. The destruction we see here is incredible both in scope and severity. On a childlike level, it’s pretty cool: As kids, we build things to just tear them down again, and Godzilla has always been a conduit to bring those destructive fantasies to the big screen. But in an age in which we’ve seen tsunamis kill hundreds of thousands and skyscrapers brought down for real, some of these images can be troubling if not inherently problematic.
In the midst of all that, at least we see heroism and sacrifice. In the middle of the destruction, we’re reminded of what’s worth saving, what’s worth holding onto: the people, the families. As buildings are torn down, families are repaired and preserved.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.