I was fully prepared to love the new “Godzilla” film. After the debacle that was the 1998 version, anything would be a better adaptation of the legendary monster.
The new film did not disappoint. The monsters looked great, the destruction was grand and thorough; this was no mock-up of Tokyo being trampled by a man in a costume.
Bryan Cranston plays an excellent madman-cum-brilliant-scientist named John Brody. Ken Watanabe, as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, effectively carried the Japanese/American angst present in the early films into the 21st century.
Two major themes stuck out throughout the film: the absence of sermonizing in any way and the use of scale to make the overall point that some things are beyond human control.
To the first point, I admit that I expected at least some anti-nuclear language in the film.
In recent iterations of the “Godzilla” franchise, the size and wrath of the creature has been a result of nuclear technology, leading the viewer to correlate nuclear power with mass destruction and nature’s wrath on humanity.
This most recent film brought in science, but not in a negative light. The creatures in the film are not the misguided creations of humanity’s use of nuclear power, but rather hail from a time long before humans when the earth was much more radioactive.
In this version, nuclear involvement with Godzilla has been a series of attempts to kill the creature that were disguised as atomic tests in the Pacific.
By removing humanity’s responsibility for creating the creatures in the film, “Godzilla” is able to look beyond the sermonizing of some monster films that drive home the theme of humanity’s corruption of nature, such as “Jurassic Park.”
Once human responsibility for the creation of the monsters was so effectively removed from the plot, a much grander theme emerged.
By skillfully representing the scale of the creatures compared to humanity and human civilization, the filmmakers implicitly demonstrated their theme that some things are too big for humanity to control.
The available weapons were ineffective against the creatures in “Godzilla,” leaving humanity no choice but to cower as the titans fight in San Francisco.
The main characters cannot claim responsibility either for the creation of the beasts or for their demise–this is up to the higher powers themselves.
Viewers will certainly see Godzilla the monster as a Christ figure. He defeats the “bad” monsters and suffers an apparent death for his efforts.
He awakens the next morning, though, and swims away after a bellowing roar and the applause of the people who witnessed the titanic battle.
Identifying Godzilla as a Christ figure may be inappropriate, though. His is not a struggle on behalf of anyone or to achieve some moral purpose; rather, Godzilla fights because his nature directs him to fight.
His species hunts and kills the parasitic creatures that serve as the antagonists in the film.
He doesn’t care about collateral damage or lives lost. He is an animal being driven by instinct.
Audiences nonetheless cheer for the victorious Godzilla as though he was on their “team,” much like audiences did in the original “Godzilla” films.
The creature is a morally neutral agent who, through no intention of his own, saves human civilization by almost destroying it.
In this way, Godzilla is the nuclear option: The destruction of cities and innocent lives seems justified in the face of certain destruction by a malevolent force.
This moral theme makes a brief but tantalizing appearance in the plot. Just before the U.S. Navy commanding officer authorizes the use of a nuclear bomb to attempt to destroy the monsters, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa shows him a pocket watch that had belonged to the scientist’s grandfather and stopped working on the day Hiroshima was bombed.
This artifact does not sway the commander’s decision, but the brief interaction holds a powerful message for the rest of the film: Humanity’s value, even in the face of war and destruction, is not diminished by circumstance.
Amid all of the chaos and destruction brought on by both the monsters and men in the film, it is humanity’s value that is in question.
Are we simply a part of a larger, more ancient ecosystem that can destroy us in the name of “restoring balance” at any time?
Theologically we say no, that God has crafted us and directed us to care for and have dominion over the beasts and plants.
Yet we are also beholden to the forces that we unleash and the consequences of our ecological choices.
In “Godzilla,” at least, the powerlessness of man in the face of “natural” disaster preaches a convicting word about just who is in charge in this world.
Brock Ratcliff is a minister at Madison Chapel in Madison, Miss. He also teaches mathematics and computer science at Clinton Alternative School in Clinton, Miss. He blogs at Fides Quaerens Intellectum. You can follow him on Twitter @RevBrock.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Max Borenstein (screenplay) and Dave Callaham (story)
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson: Ford Brody; C.J. Adams: Young Ford; Ken Watanabe: Dr. Ishiro Serizawa; Bryan Cranston: Joe Brody; Elizabeth Olson: Elle Brody; Carson Bolde: Sam Brody; Sally Hawkins: Vivenne Graham.
The movie’s website is here.