It's not a secret: pretty much everyone hates the 1998 Godzilla with a fiery passion. On the eve of the new Godzilla movie's release, one Complex staffer is here to defend 'Zilla's universally maligned trip to New York City and Madison Square Garden.
My thirst to see Godzilla in 1998 remains palpable even today, 16 years later. I was already down with the God from the 1954 classic and onward, so when an American, New-York-City-based update was announced, I was ecstatic. And the marketing for that shit was extremely next-level, too much for a 7-year-old enthusiast to handle. While the creature's full design and updated features were shrouded in mystery, subway cars, billboards, phone booths and other visible objects through the Big Apple were adorned with clues to just how monstrous he would be.
School night or not, you can be damn sure my parents knew not to front on me. We were on site opening night as soon as they got off of work. And I fucking loved it.
But of course I did, right? What 2nd grader is going to judge a movie starring Godzilla for having cardboard characters, a blasphemously lizard-ed Gojira, and for shamelessly swagger-jacking Jurassic Park? Surely everyone around my age loved Roland Emmerich's Godzilla at the time, only to recognize all the fuckery within when they caught it on TNT several years later.
As we get older, we all have those moments when we have to sit our younger selves down and explain how that movie or TV show that was wildly significant during adolescence is actually just garbage. It's no better than the bullshit we roll our eyes at when forced to watch something juvenile with younger cousins, nieces, and nephews.
I’ve done it numerous times. But 7-year-old Frazier and adult Frazier have never had that convo about Godzilla ’98, because it’s moot. The movie is still fire. Last week, after I agreed to go public with this very unpopular opinion, I fired up the Blu-Ray to re-watch, just to be sure. But that in itself is proof of how much I ride for this flick: I own it on the latest video format available.
Is this a "good" movie in the award-worthy sense? Of course not. But it’s a fantastic “monster movie.” My fellow Godzilla stans all take issue mainly with the three things I named above, but the general moviegoer basically kills this flick for having a whole lot of nothing in between a whole lot of destruction. But pick any of the preceding Godzilla movies. Can you tell me what went down in between the monster mashes in, say, King Kong vs. Godzilla? All I can recall is being pissed that Kong ended up winning.
Gareth Edwards' new Godzilla has the opportunity to transcend its base genre; that’s why it’s such an event. In the late ‘90s, that possibility didn't cross anyone’s mind. Remember, just one year earlier Joel Schumacher was reminding everyone on the Batman & Robin set via megaphone, “This is a cartoon.” People weren’t considering the wild notion that you could give real weight and gravitas to genres like superhero blockbusters and monster movies.
Though Godzilla '98 is, yes, vapid, its ambition lies in hitting the smash-and-roar checklist, and if we're being honest and unbiased, it does so quite well. Throughout the film we’re treated to the homie G doing battle with tanks, fighter jets, and submarines. Fauxteur Roland Emmerich is free to present the rampage gleefully, unfettered with the tricky burden of evoking 9/11 imagery—though in the movie the city’s mayor does refer to the 1993 WTC bombing. And yes, there is that mayor, the cringeworthy subliminal-from-saltines Emmerich and partner Dean Devlin un-subtly aimed at Roger Ebert. Everything about his character is stupid, as are the rest of the barely-humans in this movie, with the exception of Hank Azaria’s dogged cameraman because Hank Azaria is always awesome. (Jean Reno, too, while we’re at it.)
Even today, what with being a student of cinema and all the snobbishness that comes with that, I can tune all that mess out and wholeheartedly enjoy Emmerich's efforts. In any other film the beyond-basic romantic struggle between Matthew Broderick and Bland Actress No One Remembers (name: Maria Pitillo) is enough to make you jump off the theater balcony; what Godzilla '98 has working in its favor, though, is a gloriously absurd and relentless third act that makes me forget any of the place-holding before ever happened.
Let’s run down everything that goes down in the film's grand finale. Godzilla knuckles up against three submarines. Broderick's character finds a Madison Square Garden full of BABY GODZILLA VELOCIRAPTORS. Hank Azaria keeps being awesome. Within seconds of their births, the G-raptors decide "human" is on the menu and they CHASE EVERYONE AROUND MADISON SQUARE GARDEN. THE ARMY BLOWS UP MADISON SQUARE GARDEN.
The end? No, sir.
Big Homie rises up real Swag King Immortal like, v. heated that the squad torched his nest. They flee in a cab, because this is set in New York City, man! And the ensuing chase is far from rote—hate on Emmerich all you want but the sequence is on point to the brink of endearing stupidity (a creature this large should not be able to pull the "'Where did he go?' then pop-up" slasher villain trick as often as G does in this movie). At one point the cab is inches away from sliding down Godzilla's gullet, then Broderick decides the only way to trap dude long enough to let the choppers off is to do so on the Brooklyn Bridge. Why? Because we haven’t destroyed enough landmarks yet (again, pre-9/11 fuckery).
A suspension cable blanket and about 17 missiles later, the beast is finally down. Broderick’s kind of sad. Reno walks off wistfully like he spent his time on set imagining he was Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. One G-raptor egg improbably survived the crumbling of MSG and hatches. Cue credits. Cue the absolutely insane soundtrack single with Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page. (If you dislike "Come With Me," you probably frown at babies and generally dislike fun things. Similarly, if you dislike Godzilla '98, well, that's understandable, but you're also arguably running away from the fun as well.)
Gonna weep when the opening credits roll b: This New Image from "Godzilla" Gives Us the Best Look at the Monster Yet http://t.co/JYMEtcZYh6
I haven’t seen Gareth Edwards' Godzilla 2014 yet because my influencer credit score isn't high enough for that kind of A1 access yet. Please believe, though, I’m just as excited as I was in ’98; I’m expecting it to change my life and require at least three additional IMAX viewings on some Dark Knight shit. Godzilla's second coming to America deserves to be handled by an auteur and screen-time with today’s acting elite like Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen. He deserves a sequel to “Come With Me” by the Bugatti Boyz over a Yeezus beat.
I hope Godzilla ’98 pales in comparison to what ’14 has to offer. But, keep in mind, I may be easy to impress. Because, yes, I'm the guy who kinda digs Godzilla '98.
Frazier Tharpe is a Complex staff writer. He tweets here.