In which, and don’t say I didn’t warn you, many movies will be ruined.
I’ll never forget the first Godzilla movie, for two reasons that have very little to do with the film itself. First: The soundtrack was worth buying, back when we believed artists should be paid for their work and we weren’t ready for Thomas Piketty. Second: Partway through the blockbuster, we learned a taxi driver’s name was Haroon. For a brown kid in a white suburb, this was validation on steroids. Little had I known how much I’d needed it: My friend Patrick, who’d by that point in our friendship hung out with me, I don’t know, probably four hundred times, joyfully exclaimed: ‘Hey, you do have a real name!’
Had he believed that my parents were playing a cruel joke on me—and him? Thus everything came together, in that special way things do if you think about them either not at all or for insalubrious lengths of time. Idiocy is always found at the extremes. True intelligence depends on balance, no matter the field. As in xenophobia, so in digestion. When I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I purchased a ridiculous tub of Coke Zero and foolishly began sipping at Smaug’s debut—think Godzilla, but erudite—thinking we were near the end of the movie and I would have access to the bathroom shortly.
My bladder and I learned our lesson. Come The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I didn’t dare drink my soda until (spoiler alert!) his creepy friend Harry’s became obvious to Peter Parker, whose Spidey sense must be judged harshly as a result. With Godzilla, I didn’t even know when to start drinking: I’d not read a single review, nor seen any of my friends post Facebook reviews. Would it be like Noah—which was entirely like the man’s life, in that very little happened for a very long time, and then a lot of things happened, and oh yeah apparently Eden was Caucasian. In retrospect, while Satan wasn’t white, he was not not-white, either.
Maybe Godzilla would be like the trailers for Transformers: Age of Extinction, which subtitle intimates to the terminal disappearance from our world of a) vulnerable ecosystems, b) fragile species, c) plot. (As befits the trilogy so far—I: The All-Spark’s missing! II: A piece of the All-Spark’s missing! III: A piece of the piece of the All-Spark’s missing! Credit my brother for the condensation.) There is, after all, dumb entertainment—it makes you dumber—and then entertainment so stupid it expands your mind. Fast Five, the fifth in the racecar series, is similar in absurdity. We’re kept awake by plot holes big enough to drive a pair of muscle cars hauling a big-ass bank-vault behind them through.
How is that a flipped over bus enables Vin Diesel to escape, but a nearly similar replay of physics—spoiler alert, but I’m saving you nearly two hours of your life you get no refund on—all but eliminates the bad guy?
How come the bad guys don’t have rocket-propelled grenades when they need to?
Does Rio de Janeiro not have a single helicopter?
How does a police officer notice that a man’s badge misstates his race—in other words, it’s not his badge, and he’s suspicious—but then ignore his own discovery a few minutes later and permit said man to enter the relevant police station?
Did the writers die but keep writing?
Are zombies real?
Why does the Pakistani consulate close at 1pm everyday?
The Actual Review
Fairly, the new Godzilla was much better than I thought it’d be. Don’t get me wrong, of course. I’d never watch the movie again, and only recommend it on the bigscreen—it is rampaging monster mayhem, made for oversized display. But the monsters are genuinely monstrous—you are horrified, terrified, and glued to the screen, if even two of the Trinity look vaguely like the Alien from one of the Alien movies; the action scenes are riveting, surprising, and at times original. Very soon, I found myself looking forward to each scene because I knew I wouldn’t know where to look to receive the surprise. Too, the pacing isn’t terrible—sometimes, a little slowness does the mind some good—and I found myself, in the hours after, thinking. Which was a welcomed surprise.
Earlier, I’d completed a tour of the 9/11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero. Not several hours later, there I was, watching radioactive monsters annihilate cities and tear down skyscrapers; television screens in the movie even read ‘America Under Attack’. It was hard not to flinch. To remember. To wonder: Why do we love seeing ourselves destroyed? And who’s it permissible to destroy? You wouldn’t want to see Damascus destroyed, I’m guessing, because Hollywood can’t count on you to be sufficiently emotionally invested in Arabs to care if they die by the thousands.
In an age when more Americans are of color, and buy tickets, and more people around the world can be counted on to buy tickets, then we must have less genetically, ethnically, phenotypically, linguistically offensive baddies. Freakish lizards would work, or aliens—vampires and zombies are more than encouraged too. People you can kill without affecting the bottom line. If your country is a major market, your country is less likely to be offended—but also, and here’s the funny thing, more likely to be one of the cities hopscotched through. Maybe other countries with money want to see their latest urban achievements and infrastructural attainments flattened right after they are dangled before our eyes like so much tourist porn. Hell, definitely. Hollywood wouldn’t keep doing it otherwise. But why is it that we watch so many movies that feature our greatest achievements rebounding on us, threatening us, all but destroying us?
On September 11th, hijackers turned civilian aircraft into weapons; they also used our mass media as a means to further their murderous ends. As the Memorial Museum estimated, approximately 2 billion people across the world were glued to their screens for some part of that day. Which has never ended. No trauma ever ends. It just resurfaces, unbidden; just as our prosperity pollutes the planet, we fear our rise will not only end us, but the very thing which makes us strong also makes us weak. And so ritually, superstitiously, we try to make sense of ourselves—to assure ourselves it is not true. Maybe the wakened monster will harm us. But it will not destroy us. We are not like the people who came before, who were destroyed, nor are we like our enemies.
It might be our nuclear power that brought the Godzilla into the world, but at least it is ours. Imagine if ‘they’ had nukes. Imagine what they’d do! Because we are different. Even though, of course, we are the only ones to ever use nuclear weapons. Twice. On civilian targets. It’s not what you do, then, but who you do it to. And whether or not you are allowed to. Some people can have weapons of mass destruction. Some people are meant to be trusted. They’re just trustworthy, inherently, essentially, biologically. After September 11th, we ask: what kind of suicide is acceptable? I Am Legend. Pacific Rim. The Dark Knight. Oblivion. The trend precedes, of course—who can forget Independence Day? Even if you wanted to. It is the same privilege that enables Ross Douthat to call the Iraq War a ‘blunder’, moral blindness in op-ed light of day.
Tens of thousands dead, and it’s a goof. Imagine how that sounds elsewhere, to anyone else. Consider how that looks on television screen; ‘shock and awe’ wasn’t a movie to the rest of the planet. We should pay more attention to our nightmares, to why we pay to watch them while wide awake. To what it is about these themes and demons that so compel us. There is protesting, and then there is protesting too much. Week after week, the same blockbusters keep falling upon us, as if someone somewhere very far away knew our most intimate fears, and how to turn them to their advantage. We are entertained, and they are paid, and yet, no matter how much we watch, we cannot be bothered to see.