Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Godzilla: A Veteran's Review

I saw the new Godzilla movie over this past weekend. After watching it, I felt like compiling a list of the military inaccuracies of the movie, and generally sharing my thoughts, as this is a sub-genre of films I've rather come to enjoy in the last couple years. As a veteran, Hollywood movies are always good for a laugh in the aspects of military life and operations they get wrong, and this one was no exception.

Sufficed to say, spoilers ahead.

So we start off with some scientists exploring an underground cave in the Philippines filled with the bones of an unknown giant creature. Turns out there were a couple of eggs of some kind in there as well that had been dormant for...a long time. They're not super-clear on when the kaiju evolved, other than maybe early dinosaur times. Anyway, one of the eggs hatched and the creature burrowed its way out (although how no one noticed the giant hole and trail of destruction through the wilds it left, I dunno), and heads into the ocean.

Cut to a nuclear plant in Japan, where Bryan Cranston and his family work, i.e. his wife and young son of about 10 years. Some kind of tremors hit the plant, the wife is killed in a radiation leak, and the son watches from a distance as the whole plant collapses. I took extreme pride in the fact that my three semesters of Japanese in college led me to be able to understand a two-word line uttered during the crisis. Edumication, yo!

Fast-forward 15 years, and the son, Ford (whose name I didn't even properly catch until maybe halfway through the movie) is now in the military (his first scene, I'd have sworn he was in an Army uniform, but apparently he's actually in the Navy), and returning home from...somewhere. They don't say. Deployment somewhere, presumably. Or maybe a ship tour. He gets home and celebrates with his own wife and son.

And here we hit the first inaccuracy. At most, Ford is 27. His childhood scene he doesn't look like he's older than 10. In the current time period, he's married and has a five-year old son, suggesting he got married when was only 19 or 20. Anyone who's been in the military knows marriages at that age have something like a 99% failure rate, so these two still being perfectly happy after 5+ years...yeah, right.

Anyway, before Ford has a chance to perform his husbandly duties, he's gotta fly to Japan to bail out Ford Sr. (I don't remember his name, so I guess I'll just call him Walter) who got arrested for trespassing on the old nuke plant site, which has been quarantined ever since the accident (including the entire city around it) for supposed radiation. Ford bails out Walter, finds out he's turned into a hermit studying the incident and trying to get back in to prove it was no accident and recover his data disks from the day of the incident. Off they go into the abandoned city, discover there's zero radiation, recover the zip disks (zip disks! Oh, nostalgia!), and get promptly arrested by Japanese police. Who...take them into the plant site for questioning. The scientists from the start of the movie are at the plant, studying a giant glowing cocoon, and only find out Walter and Ford know about the incident until after they're brought in. Turns out the cocoon thing has sucked up all the radiation.

Speaking of, with perfect timing, the cocoon hatches, and out pops...not Godzilla! It's some kind of giant insectoid thingie (pretty sure not one that was in any of the original films) eventually classified as a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). It feeds on radiation, can fly, and generates an EMP field, both passively and can unleash stronger bursts as an active attack. It rampages around for a bit before flying off, injuring Walter who dies soon after, leaving Ford to seek vengeance and the truth. Or maybe just vengeance. He gets picked up by the USS Saratoga, an aircraft carrier tasked with tracking the MUTO.

And another oddity rears its head. At no point in the film does Ford attempt to report in to his actual assigned unit, nor even mention it. Maybe he's on PCS leave, so he doesn't have one at the moment technically, but normally the kinds of things he does in this movie would get him reported AWOL.

In either case, after being briefed about the existence of these giant monsters and Godzilla/Gojira (he gets both names in the movie, which was a nice touch), he's allowed to return home. I guess he had a Top Secret clearance being an EOD tech or something, otherwise he probably would have been kept on the Saratoga for information containment (At this point, they're still keen on keeping the existence of the monsters a secret). Off he goes for a layover in Hawaii, at which point the MUTO shows up and attacks. There's a subplot about him taking care of a kid during the attack that goes literally nowhere, but I guess it gives him something to do while the big G finally shows up and we catch a few glimpses of him fighting the MUTO, which promptly flees and Godzilla dives into the ocean to swim after him. Ford catches a ride on the fleet tracking Godzilla across the Pacific, and winds up in California.

Fortunately for the plot, he's at an impromptu field base somewhere right as a train carrying some of the Minutemen nukes comes by, headed for the ocean to be detonated to try and draw the MUTO away from the mainland (where they'll then super-nuke it and Godzilla, because that totally worked last time in 1954). Despite showing up in civilian clothes (presumably he's got his ID card, but still), and having no official duties or connection to any of the units present, he insists on being let in on the mission to transport the nukes because he's EOD and knows how to handle mechanical timers (because clearly no one else in the military or even this convoy would have such training). After giving an impassioned plea to an Air Force Master Sergeant (who's commanding some Army guys, lolwut), he gets let on, and even issued a full set of gear (I'm sure the deleted scene where he checks it all out of supply and fills out tons of paperwork to do so would have been riveting) to wear before hopping on the train. Realistically, though, that MSGT would have just laughed and told him to piss off, and he DEFINITELY wouldn't have been issued armor or a weapon (how lucky that Army/Air Force unit happened to have spare Navy multi-cams lying around, too!).

By now, it turns out the other egg, after being poked and prodded some, was, in an absolutely

move, stuck down in Yucca Mountain, i.e. the US nuclear waste depository. For some reason they send teams in manually inspect all the vaults to see if the egg is still there, because for some reason they failed to notice the giant gaping hole in the mountain from where it busted out. It promptly rips apart Las Vegas on its way to the Pacific (thankfully the Luxor was spared), and is apparently female, larger, and has no wings. The first MUTO is male, smaller, and has wings. Guess what they're gonna be trying to do as soon as they get together!

Naturally, the train with the nukes gets attacked, and the MUTOs abscond with the nukes and making sure to kill everyone but Ford. He gets a pick-up, and reunited with Admiral Admiralty (Yeah, I forget his name too), who's briefing an Army unit of...somebody. Special Forces, maybe. The plan is to do a HALO drop into Oakland where Godzilla and the MUTOs are now battling (and, of course, is where Wife and Son are, having their own hilarious misadventures in trying to escape the city). Oh yes, and right before that we get a tender scene of the two MUTOs cuddling before the camera tastefully cuts away and a slow saxophone solo plays (Still a better love story than Twilight).

Finally, FINALLY, after over an hour of teasing foreplay, we get some sweet, glorious monster-battling action that's not just a few quick cuts from a human perspective (although I admit those shots were fantastically done for adding a sense of scale to the carnage). And the action does not disappoint in the slightest. Godzilla's roar sounds like they took his original roar and added about five tons of bass to it, he looks almost exactly like he did in the classic movies, and his face has this perpetual "I have exactly zero patience with your stupid BS" expression, as is good and proper. The big G is an incredibly faithful reproduction here, and I commend them for doing that.

So while the monsters are beating each other senseless (with Godzilla taking lots of licks from fighting two enemies at once, of course, but remaining unperturbed by it all), Ford, who apparently received HALO training as part of his EOD schooling or something (honestly, at this point, I'd almost expect it turn out he also went to BUDS during a slow summer), hops in with this Army unit (I did have a huge laugh at him sitting next to a Private Murphy, though) and down they go through the stormy skies while music from 2001 plays (surprise cameo by a Monolith?) and off the team goes to find the nuke in the egg nest and disarm it before it destroys the city (as obviously the kaiju haven't done enough of that yet).

At last, the movie decides to do away with most of that annoying dialogue thing and gets down to the important stuff: Godzilla beating the stuffing out of other kaiju and leveling whole city blocks in the process as skyscrapers get used as clubs and battering rams and walls to beat heads against. Naturally, Godzilla wins the fight eventually, and the way he destroys both MUTOs is appropriately awesome for the King of Monsters. The egg nest gets blown up, the nuke is safely detonated, Ford gets a fortuitous last-second rescue and touching reunion with his family, and Godzilla, after beating both monsters, seems to roar "Screw this, it's nap time," before falling over and apparently dying.

Of course, though, he's not dead. As Japanese Scientist Dude and Sexy British Assistant approach him, he wakes up, gives one final "Don't mess with the King, baby" roar, and swims off below the ocean to wait until the next giant monster shows up to terrorize the world.

And that's the new Godzilla movie. Overall, I thought it was pretty solid, and everything with the action was done pretty much perfectly. I know it drew some complaints for being too focused on the humans in the story, and I do feel like the first half could have shaved a good 15 minutes off and not lost anything, but I don't feel particularly upset as it seemed to me like they were establishing the lore of the world with all this, and any sequels can just get right to the monster-bashing (and also there was likely the usual "It needs a human element or else audiences won't connect" silly discussion during its production).

What DID upset me, though, were all the gross inaccuracies with the military aspects. It's one thing to have the wrong ribbons on someone's Class A's, but when your entire plot hinges on multiple mistakes that would be obvious to anyone who is or was in the military, then something has to be said. Here's a quick list:

  • Ford got married when he was 20 at the oldest, and is still successfully married 5+ years later. Not to say this is impossible in the military, but, in my experience, getting married that young almost NEVER works out. It's just...something that happens.
  • Despite being told highly classified information, and being one of the only survivors of the initial MUTO attack, Ford is allowed to just go home to check on his family.
  • Even though he's not on any official personnel rosters for any unit stationed at Pearl Harbor, and even though it's totally short notice and he's only an O-2, he's allowed to hitch a ride on the fleet anyway.
  • Ford, as a Naval officer, is allowed to join an Army unit being led by an Air Force MSGT and even issued a full set of combat gear because apparently the unit transporting the nukes didn't bother to bring their own EOD tech to handle the timers.
  • There are Air Force security personnel in several scenes who know how to actually use a rifle.
  • Several Naval gunboats continue to fire their guns despite not having a confirmed target sighting, and their shots naturally inflict massive civilian casualties and almost get Son killed.
  • Apparently a nuke is light enough for only 6-8 guys to carry by hand.
  • Ford somehow has HALO training, despite this being a specialized course he normally wouldn't get access to as part of his job description.
  • "Oh no, it's the MUTO! Let's just stand around and fire our rifles ineffectively at it instead of scattering for cover or trying to complete our mission! Blargh, it just ate all of us in one go!"
  • The military repeatedly thinks they have a chance to do anything against motherfrakking Godzilla.

Despite those complaints, I still think the movie was well done overall. Godzilla was as BAMF as he should have been, and I look forward to seeing him kick more kaiju arse in any sequels they make.


  1. Having only been an Army puke, BUT having been part of the nuclear team, I took issue with the casual way that the nuke was being handled. Accountability alone would have necessitated at least a couple of Chair Force officers to accompany the warhead and they wouldn't have let some EOD clown, let alone a NAVY EOD clown anywhere near the missile that they had signed for.. My other issue was with the Navy Admiral and his near limitless power that he had when deciding about the nuke and about the methods of fighting the MUTOs. Anyone who knows anything about the military, know that he would have been getting micromanaged by the idiots in the White House and Pentagon and nothing would have been done without constant contact with NCA, Just my 2 cents... pre tax.

    1. You're right, I didn't think about that! The president never showed up! Logical fallacies with the military stuff aside, the action in this movie was fantastically done, and I'm sure the average civilian viewer wouldn't have caught most of them.