On Thunder Lizards


I saw Godzilla.

SPOILER ALERT: stop reading this if you haven’t watched Godzilla yet.

DISCLAIMER ALERT: stop reading this. I’ve never made a movie. This is me talking out of my butt.

Things gonna get crazy

The movie establishes multiple mega monsters roam the earth. You know what this means:

At some point in the middle of the movie, two mega monsters finally converge at the same location. It’s night time. It’s flooding. Tourists are running willy nilly. The military is launching everything. The two beasties, mano-a-mano, finally. They posture. They warcry. I prepare to experience every variety of shattering building. Things gonna get crazy.

We instantly cut to the next day. Morning sunbeams on a kid. He hangs out on a couch. The living room is sensibly-furnished.

Did totally awesome monster punching happen? Yes. We’re fed scraps of the mega monster battle on a television broadcast.

But who beat up who? Who won? What variety of shattering building was there? Were there suplexes? Who cares. We’ve seen destruction porn before. We know it’s early enough in the movie that both monsters will handily survive. They both gotta do stuff for one more hour, right? Nothing of consequence would’ve happened. A fuel truck might’ve gotten exploded.

The movie trims this fat. You don’t get your greasy junk food fix. You’re left a little unsatisfied, hungry for more. It’s surprising, it refuses to give you what you want, and we carry on.

That one shot

There’s a shot that (irrationally) got stuck in my craw. I’m going to ramble.

Because monsters are soon visiting town, Elizabeth Olsen dumps her kid into an evacuation bus. The bus door closes. Through the windows of the closed door, we see Elizabeth Olsen wave bye to her kid. A waving Elizabeth Olsen is outside the bus. The camera is inside the bus. Totally fine.

The bus starts moving. The camera remains where it is, staring at the closed bus door. Through the windows of the closed bus door, a blur of city passes by. This is where I get bothered: I couldn’t figure out how to read the shot. I interpreted it a few ways.

Maybe the shot is from the perspective of Elizabeth Olsen. Let’s go with that. But once the camera gets whisked away with the moving bus, this doesn’t hold water.

Maybe the shot is from the perspective of the kid. The kid is not in the shot, but we infer he’s close to the camera’s location. Okay, let’s go with that. He looks at the closing door, he looks at his mom waving goodbye, he… continues staring at the closed door as if he suddenly entered a catatonic state. I would’ve expected the kid to continue looking at his mom as the bus pulled away, but maybe I’m being a softie.

Maybe it’s from the perspective of the bus door. To which I ask: the bus door now a character? And: cool, bus door character.

“Geez Brendon, not every shot has to be from someone’s perspective.”

I guess this shot stuck out to me because the characters are going through very emotionally-charged stuff. Elizabeth Olsen will possibly never see her child again. The kid is suddenly dumped on a bus with strangers on their way to who-knows-where. But we’re left with this lingering shot of nondescript city features whizzing by. We don’t necessarily need to see a person in order to feel something; I just don’t know what’s being said here.

“Geez Brendon. It’s just a shot.”
You’re right! I’ll stop.

Baby arms

Godzilla is a tall lizard. Godzilla swims like a champ. Godzilla is positioned as a monster lizard mother nature, bringing balance to the world.

Yet in a fight, I don’t think I’d bet on Godzilla. At the finale, we finally get an uninterrupted view of the Godzilla vs. Big Mantises showdown. And what does Godzilla do? Godzilla uses his baby arms to kinda push the Mantises around. It’s not unlike high-school push fights where both parties shove one another with ”you wanna fight?” threats until the lunch bell starts 4th period.

Okay, so Godzilla’s arms aren’t his strong suit. Godzilla has a mouth with teeth. He does some biting. He gnaws and wiggles, but ultimately his clompers just aren’t anatomically suited for chomping bad guys. Godzilla can’t quite squeeze enough flesh in his mouth.

He has a tail and can swat things, which is like an insistent push.

He atomic laser breaths. It’s effective. And that’s the thing. It’s Godzilla’s ace in the hole - scratch that, it’s the only card he has - and it’s a bit jarring when compared to his mega monster foes, who can fly, have scary pointy talons, are agile with their lanky articulated legs…

But they’re not armored against atomic laser breath.

There was a disconnect. I suppose I wanted to see some push and pull between the mega monsters.  I wanted to feel the give and take of a good conversation, but said with jumbo-sized hostilities. Instead, there’s a physical altercation before Godzilla decides to press the “I win” button a couple times, zapping the Mantises.


Human characters exist in the Godzilla universe. The movie admirably frames the mega monsters from the characters’ perspective. It does get a bit weird at times. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is apparently the center of these mega monsters’ lives, as he has literal face-to-face encounters with the beasts about half a dozen times.

Okay, so Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a monster magnet. That’s fine. What do the other characters do?

So what do the characters offer to the story? They’re a framing device for the monsters.

Soon after the monsters are established, military experts surmise the beasts are heading toward San Francisco. The beasts end up in San Francisco. The military devises a plan to lure the monsters with a nuke. This plan does not come to fruition, and in fact puts San Francisco in great peril.

Ultimately Ken Watanabe is correct in saying “let’s just bug out and let things sort themselves,” because human intervention just ends up complicating things.

Fine - it’s a disaster movie, and honestly, humans are gnats buzzing around forces of nature. What got me was how grim the characters all were.

Okay, it’s possibly the end of the world. Okay, things aren’t looking so hot. But I have to think people would still wear more than one feeling (harried). I’m not looking for a comic relief character. I’m not looking to have a joke quota be filled. I’m looking to have the humans be more human.

Face hurting

With all that said, I enjoyed the movie. Some things I thought the movie completely nailed:

The monsters themselves were masterfully realized. There’s mass. There’s scale. They movie delivers on them being towering deities. And that sound design - oh god, those wonderful roars.

The opening credits were wonderful. We get some conspiracy, some super science, some historical appropriation, and all of it conveyed so frictionlessly. Scientists at the Bikini Atoll shot atomic super guns at a mega monster? The government covered it up with a flim-flam story about nuclear weapon testing? Got it. I’m so on-board with this. It hurts my face how much I’m on-board with this. I love what’s being said and how it’s being said.

I most appreciated how much restraint there was. The mega monsters tangle on multiple occasions. These tangles happen off-screen. When we finally get to see actual monster punching, it’s the tail end of the last encounter. It’s the only battle that matters, and the movie is all the more satisfying for doing this.

Mantis sex

When the male and female mantises finally meet, I can’t possibly be the only one who was expecting crazy mantis sex.

Et al

Godzilla is a summer blockbuster. I went in wanting to see mega monsters do things that mega monsters do. The movie delivers that.

I’ve been involved in large game productions. It always felt like in order to make the project work, we had to win the lottery 1000 times in a row. Gotta win the gameplay lottery, gotta win the audio lottery, gotta win the art lottery, gotta win the tools lottery, gotta win the pipeline lottery, and so on. On top of that, you had to win them in every developmental stage from conception to release.

For something of Godzilla’s scope, the amount of required winning lotteries was a magnitude I can’t begin to imagine. When I see a production totally nail a specific aspect, it’s an amazing feat. When I see a production nail everything, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

But ultimately, when someone wins a game or reaches the end of a movie or book, they never think: “that one part was super bad. But you know what? I bet the creators were going through a rough patch in their personal life. And the investors flaked out on that promise. And the equipment malfunctioned that day because of that awful snowstorm.”

Instead, they think: “that one part was super bad. The creators are super dumb.” And that’s valid. Not true, but completely valid. What you deliver in the final release is the one and only thing that matters.

Go forth. Make things. The only person who’ll know the full story of that project is you. And that’s fine.