FORGET MY FORMER EXCITEMENT: the new Godzilla film sucks, not only replicating much of the boring cheese of the 1998 version, but actually managing to end up worse than that one by taking itself seriously, with a slow, character-driven approach informed by the 1954 original. It’s character-driven, that is, without featuring any actual characters. I could whine for a long time about all of the problems Godzilla 2014 has, but that might get tedious so I’ll focus on one problem it has in particular.
Ken Watanabe, one of many fantastic actors doing their best* with sub-par material, plays a Japanese scientist named after, & supposedly inspired by, the ’54 original’s complex, haunted Dr. Serizawa character, except not at all, since Watanabe!Serizawa, somewhat predictably, is the kind of close to the earth “ethnic” scientist character that blockbusters such as this one continue to include. Medium-sized plot spoilers follow, but this is a giant monster movie, so don’t be too surprised: when two MUTOs (insectoid creatures that, unfortunately, resemble Clover of Cloverfield fame) rampage through Las Vegas & San Francisco, he strongly opposes the use of nuclear weaponry in civilian population centres to destroy these monsters. Well, quite rightly – who wouldn’t? Serizawa’s strong opposition to nuclear weaponry stems from the historically improbable circumstance of this 50-ish-year-old-man’s father having been caught in the blast at Hiroshima, & things get stranger from there: Serizawa endorses the use of Godzilla to wipe out the MUTOs instead, which is probably an even worse option than nuclear terror** since the big guy, unlike nukes, is unpredictable & outside of human control. It’s conceivable, of course – in fact, makes more sense than the film’s intended plot – that Dr. Serizawa was simply a Godzilla fanboy who wanted an excuse to see the beast in action, just this once.
But why does Godzilla 2014 give Dr. Serizawa such an odd choice to begin with? Nuclear weapons or Godzilla? Conventional arms larger than handguns are never brought up in the film, whose military tacticians seem to have missed out on the last 200 years of warfare. For one thing, nuclear weapons, aside from their immense destructive power, are primarily for wiping out populations, similarly to biological or chemical weapons, though on a larger scale. Were a monster to rampage in your city, proper military tactics would involve drawing the monster out of the city, followed by the application of huge, side-effect-free firepower***. Really big bombs, basically, but not nuclear bombs, which would pointlessly render New York, or San Francisco, or wherever, an uninhabitable wasteland.
O, & by the way, Godzilla 2014 ends up using a nuke to kill off the monsters at the end anyway, so the point of bringing Godzilla into the film isn’t clear, except to ensure that the title isn’t totally misleading. But Godzilla 2014 isn’t alone in forgetting conventional weaponry. It seems ever since the invention of nukes, it’s been them or small arms or nothing, & everything from ICBMs down to light artillery, in the mind of screenwriters at least, has ceased to exist. Thus Independence Day‘s finale features a nuke detonated inside a spaceship in low orbit over Earth; Godzilla 1998 is wrapped up with the detonation of a nuke in New York; Avengers Assemble ends with the detonation of a nuke over New York; The Dark Knight Rises climaxes with the safe detonation of a nuke over the coast just off Pittsbu – Chica – New Yor – er, Gotham; Pacific Rim‘s denouement features a nuke detonated underwater/in another dimension; & so on. Modern American cinema, far from having any sort of Nuclear Weapons Taboo, seems to be hyping the nuke as a safe, clean & effective means of destruction, one that has rendered conventional warfare obsolete.
Even leaving aside the implications of this warm embrace of the nuclear option, most of these scenarios are tactically unsound. There are, of course, fictional circumstances in which the detonation of nukes really is a sensible option, a natural conclusion to the problem at hand; as, for instance, Resident Evil & the nuking of Racoon City. But Racoon City was overrun with zombies, contained few surviving noninfected humans, & presented such a threat to the rest of the US/world that the total destruction of the city & its population really was the safest option. It helps, too, that Racoon City, while decent in size, doesn’t appear to have any of the economic, cultural, strategic, &c., value of New York or LA – if you’re going to detonate a nuke in a city, you’d better be sure that the total annihilation of that city is a desirable, or at least acceptable, result. Being overrun by zombies seems one such circumstance. There would be others, too, that we might imagine, but none of the films presented above have come up with them, preferring to use a Deus Ex Nukina just anyway – a misplaced sense of American military pride, perhaps, given that it’s the States that both invented, & have been the only nation to deploy, nukes. It’s a troubling development, to say the least; nuclear bombs are dirty, scary and destructive weapons, not some sort of sonic screwdriver for screenwriters.
*Not Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who seemed almost as bored by the material as I was.
**Not to mention that Godzilla, as discussed, is a nuclear stand-in himself.
***Godzilla 2014 makes a half-arsed attempt at justification, with the MUTOs able to release an EMP that is really indecisive in terms of what it affects & how. But modern fighter jets & missile guidance systems are EMP-resistant anyway, so whatever.