Godzilla — Why America Will Love This Film, A Christian Movie Review
After a tragic event at his power plant changes the course of his life, nuclear power plant engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) obsesses over a mysterious bioacoustic phenomenon that he observed before the power plant disaster. At the risk of appearing crazy to his loved ones, he asks his son Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to help him find the truth. Their investigation leads to a terror that neither of them expected. I’ll give you a hint: it starts with a G and ends with an A. (No, it’s not gastro-diarrhea. Good guess, though.)
Besides covering the parental guidance issues in this film, this review will explain (with very mild spoilers) why Godzilla is one of the best monster movies ever made and why it is going to be hugely successful. Please note, however, that does not mean I endorse the underlying worldview that informs the film’s plot. I’ll explain more about that in the “worldview” section.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity: Husband and wife kiss/snuggle passionately on couch but it doesn’t lead to anything.
Violence/Gore: Monsters crush (literally stomp) on people in some scenes but it is not gory. Dozens of soldiers are seen killed in the wake of the monsters’ destruction. One scene lingers on a few dead bodies of soldiers, but it is not graphic. A tidal wave caused by a monster sweeps away an entire street of people and drowns them. While not graphic, it is sad to watch. Monsters are impaled, shot, and hit with explosives in various ways. A group of scientists die from radiation, but it is not graphic nor does it show any symptom of poisoning. Innocent bystanders are seen falling to their deaths and screaming as a subway train on a bridge is split in two by a monster.
Language: Mild swearing (d-words, h-words, s-words, no f-words).
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Some mild social drinking.
Frightening/Intense Content: Besides the violence above, the movie is psychologically intense. It is not a dumb, block-headed monster/disaster movie. It is very smart, and it leaves you anxious and intensely involved from beginning to end; and this makes the monsters scarier. Definitely not a good pick for kids under 13. They might have some crazy nightmares. I saw young grade schoolers in the theater with me. (Come on, people. Stop bringing 7-year-olds to PG-13 movies.) Although not gory, it is powerfully scary in some parts. Also, close-up shots of fertilized eggs with squirming baby monsters in them are seen attached to a female monster, and it is, well, very gross looking. If you can’t handle creepy crawly gooey monster grossness, you might want to skip this one. Again, nothing in this movie is R-rated gore or shockingly graphic; it just might make people squirm if they’re especially sensitive to that kind of thing. Besides all the monster stuff, the movie is actually very emotionally intense. It deals with the tragic, sudden loss of immediate family members in a powerful way that is rare for a monster movie. The first act of the film plays out more like a family drama with people crippled by grief. If losing immediate family members is a sensitive topic for you currently, just keep in mind that this film yanks at those particular heart strings with all of its monster strength in several scenes.
I will say that — all around — the movie was much more restrained in the elements above than many PG-13 movies. It tries to remain relatively clean and tolerable for a 13+ family outing, despite the fact that it’s depicting giant monsters destroying entire cities. It could’ve gone in very gory/graphic directions in many scenes, but it consciously chose not to.
(Review continues below)
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“Frankly, Godzilla does something that tent pole monster/disaster movies never do (or do well): it hides a potent family drama within the lizard-green camouflage of a summer monster movie.”
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
Wow, what a start to the summer blockbuster season. Godzilla — as far as movie craft goes — was incredible. It is a “how to” for making an A+ monster and/or disaster movie. So many films fail so pathetically in this genre that it is actually shocking — and refreshing — to see a movie get it right for once. By the end, the entire theater was cheering and clapping. The film, despite being a remake of one of the most well-known movies of all time, kept us guessing, and it was like watching Rocky but with monsters instead of boxers (as far as the engrossing spirit of the film, not the plot). People were about ready to jump on their feet and cheer as if they were at a football game.
So why was this movie so awesome (in an artistic sense)? Because it restrained itself. It understood what “less is more” means in big action flicks. It kept the phantom threat of monsters in the shadows — lurking under your bed, hiding in the closet, moving just outside your window — for much of the film’s exposition. By being conservative with its monster footage and slowly building up to all of it, it gave the filmmakers time to establish real depth in the characters and in their relationships. Long before any crisis hits, you already feel a deep connection to the characters, and you’re emotionally invested in their lives. This raises the stakes for when the big boys appear on-screen ready to wreak havoc. Frankly, Godzilla does something that tent pole monster/disaster movies never do (or do well): it hides a potent family drama within the lizard-green camouflage of a summer monster movie.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Japanese film company called Toho Company — the company that did the original Godzilla — produced this new reboot of the original Godzilla. Yes, they are still around! Toho is over 60 years old. This gives the film depth and power. You can feel the enduring legacy of Toho’s original Godzilla film behind every scene.
Oh, and the special effects — especially Godzilla — completely blew me away.
Worldview and Redemptive Qualities (With Mild Spoilers)
All awesomeness aside, the most obvious worldview that supports the film’s premise is the theory of macro-evolution. [For the latest battle in that culture war, check out the recent debate between Creationist Ken Ham and macro-evolutionist Bill Nye the Science Guy.]
Godzilla assumes that the narrative of macro-evolution is true. I can’t get into specifics without giving away bigger spoilers, but, for example, in the opening credits, it prominently displays pages from a book about (or written by) Charles Darwin, and his theory is mentioned in several prominent places.
This movie is not that cut and dry, however. It takes the macro-evolution thing just far enough without overtly denying the possibility that a Creator was involved in the formation of life somehow. I personally am not an old-earth Creationist (I’m young earth), but I know of some old-earth Creationists that would probably tolerate the worldview of this film.
To make the matter more complicated, there are some overtly religious elements carefully placed in the script. A Japanese scientist points out that the name Godzilla describes the supremely powerful creature as being a god. And, depending on how far you take it, you could spin a convincing theory that Godzilla, as depicted in this movie, is actually a metaphor for God — or, even more wildly — a Christ-figure. The term “Savior” is even used in a context that bears similarities to the general redemption narrative in the Gospels. In addition, the film prominently features a military chaplain praying before the most crucial scene of the movie, and we hear his prayer loud and clear. It was so prominent in the film that I still remember what he said (slightly paraphrased): “Lord God, thank you for giving us the chance to serve our country and our fellow soldiers. Thank you for the blessings you’ve given us in our lives so far. Please be with us as (fades out)…” My words might be a little off, but I distinctly remember “Lord God” and lots of thank you’s.
Frankly, it was a very striking moment: just before this huge climax in the movie, the film pauses to hear a prayer of thanksgiving — yes, thanksgiving — to the “Lord God.” It was unexpected but powerful.
However, you could also come to the opposite conclusion: that this movie is declaring God to be a metaphor for “Mother Earth.”
The film dances around these possibilities without committing too hard in one direction, and, because of this, it might spark a few debates among Christians — especially the ones who notice the Christ-figure symbolism in certain scenes. It is subtle for sure, but it’s enough that it’s at least worthy of debate.
I do not believe that Christians should boycott this film even though it might promote a contrary worldview. We should be discerning and alert to the worldviews contained in the movie, and then use the film as an opportunity to discuss our beliefs about the origin of life — and even debate the possibility that the film portrays a Christ-figure. You could work the Good News in there in a creative way. In other words, we should engage our culture in a loving spirit and try to use the movie for good.