Here they come, marching into American sunlight. Godzilla and Kong, eternal enemies, not seen on screen together since the Kennedy administration, when Kong threw Godzilla off Mount Fuji. They say it will be different this time. One must fall. Kong bows to no one.
But I know Godzilla inside and out. I know more than is humanly healthy. I know the shot sequence in King of the Monsters just about cold. The deadly cadence of the monster’s stomp. The Paleolithic ridges on his back. The children scurrying frantically through Tokyo. The miniature trains and taxis tossed carelessly out of frame.
I know the things nobody seems to see in this franchise. There are 36 canonical movies. That’s more than 10 million reels of film, some of it just totally jostled footage, shot in all the fevered intensity of the Zapruder Film; all that cellulose nitrate the source material for a transatlantic advertising campaign hell-bent on repackaging a generation’s collective fear into coffee mugs, novelty phonograph records, children’s Halloween costumes — a record of the steady glide toward Gomorrah in Godzilla, Ghidorah, and Gamera.
Of course this new film is strange to my eyes, elusive in its references, filled with baroque apparitions, and hard to adapt to — but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Overcomposed close-ups, momentous gesturing, actors trailing these immense animated creatures. There is something to study in every frame: the camera placement, the shapes and planes and then juxtaposed shots, the sense of rhythmic contradiction; it is all spaces and volumes, it is tempo, mass, and stress.
In all Godzilla films I note that the camera angles create a kind of dialectic. Arguments are raised and rehearsed, theories drift across the screen and instantly shatter — there’s always an element of Sturm und Drang.
It seems Godzilla vs. Kong is more than a movie about monsters. Kong swings through the frame, bellowing and beating his chest, looking like the first man in dinosaur country. Godzilla tunnels through some crudely defined subterranean spaces, popping out only to flatten cities. There are also humans, many nameless, perhaps only included to provide a sense of these titans’ scale. And yet all face a common enemy.
In a scene that is extravagant, silly, off-kilter, and technically impressive all at the same time, Godzilla stares down Mechagodzilla, a robotic version of himself, created by a mad scientist who believed that only a man-made terror could strike down humanity’s great chthonic antagonist. The two fight. Kong joins on Godzilla’s side. They create unspeakable carnage.
A strange feeling wells within me. Finally, this is war that we can see and feel. Alone, Godzilla is surreal. Kong is surreal. This is real. Mechagodzilla is real. He is all of his enemies and worse — the physical product of an escalating internet arms race, wireless signals, data breaches, cryptocurrencies.
You don’t have to ask what that means. You’ve seen it on the streets. Money is running wild. Cheap money. Mechagodzilla. Government-funded. Financial mayhem. Mechagodzilla. Nothing new.
Cyberattacks, GameStop, coronavirus. Immigration and health care. Texas is frozen. Power grids collapsing. And what else? Are the oceans rising rapidly? Is the air getting warmer, hour by hour, minute by minute?
This plot is hard to follow. There is no plot. Just Mechagodzilla, an indescribable fear masked by an absurd Japanese cognomen. His appearance heralds the triumph of death. This film is a newsreel, and all who see it carry a solemn scrap of history.
When it concludes, the theatergoers stream into the streets. Around them in the world, people ride escalators and elevators, masked, on their way to places they would rather not go. Working men sit at Bloomberg terminals during the day and space out in steakhouses at night. Young women watch sugar cubes dissolve in their teacups. Nervous passengers pack into the coach section of airplanes and fly over miles of flatland and deep into the night, nagged by constant worries.
The future belongs to Mechagodzilla.
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