The new Godzilla film by director Gareth Edwards has attracted multiple comparisons to the work of Steven Spielberg, whether it is for the tease-and-delay monster revealing from Jaws or the terror-tinged wonder from Jurassic Park. But one comparison that hasn’t quite been brought up as much is the bond of family that runs through most of the veteran director’s work. In the case of Godzilla, family bonds run so strong that they form the backbone of nearly every important action and motivation from the primary characters. Major spoilers are to follow from here on out.
The most frequent criticism that has been leveled against the new Godzilla has been its thin character development, which is a valid one for certain. It’s a constant that runs throughout the entire Godzilla series; the monster(s) are cool and the humans are dull. But the King of the Monsters’ 2014 film revival mitigates this to a degree by tying together the characters, even the monsters, by the universally relatable motivation of family. As Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa repeatedly warns the others, nature is a primal force that humans cannot hope to control. He’s referring to the destructive power of the great beasts, but what is more primal than protecting those closest to you?
It’s a narrative shortcut that ends up working in the movie’s favor. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) early in the movie due to an accident caused by the M.U.T.O. creature. When Aaron Taylor Johnson shows up as his grown up son Ford (did I mention a film whose lead character is named Ford Brody has been compared to Spielberg?) 15 years later, Joe is leading a one-man crusade to expose the truth. After Joe’s life abruptly ends at the same site where his wife perished, Ford is left with two things that keep him going forward: making sure his parents’ deaths don’t go in vain and keeping his wife and son out of danger.
Even Serizawa, who is otherwise just an exposition vessel, has a moment of human clarity. Later on he reveals that the pocket watch he carries around once belonged to his father, and then stopped after the Hiroshima bomb in 1945. During the suspenseful Honolulu airport sequence, Ford pledges to protect a boy on the tram when he is separated from his parents. For a brief moment after surviving the incident, Ford thinks he lost the boy to the crowd, perhaps scarily reminding him that he is still unaware of his own son’s whereabouts, until he witnesses a touching moment of family reunion as the couple embrace their child.
There is a similar moment between the male and female M.U.T.O.s that occurs prior to the thrilling third act monster throw-down. Both creatures share an unexpectedly tender moment as a father and a mother ready to embrace and nurture their litter of crab-like hellions. Their violent temperament positions the M.U.T.O.s as villains, but when looking at the root of things their motivations aren’t too dissimilar from the helpless humans. Then again both species also share an affinity for advanced technology meant for destruction.
That leaves Godzilla as the anomaly of the pack, to an extent. On the surface he’s a lone wolf, seemingly the last of his kind who shows up in unpredictable intervals to clash with the M.U.T.O.s. The humans, excepting Serizawa, see the titular monster as a last resort to their problem. What the humans don’t understand is that not only is Godzilla their biggest hope for survival, but that he sees them as his family. He has no one else except them. He protects them much like the M.U.T.O.s protect their nest and Ford protects that boy, and he even protects them from themselves.
During the Golden Gate bridge sequence, the Navy does that foolish movie trope of firing missiles at the monster when other humans are close by. But rather than dodging the missiles like Not-Godzilla did in the 1998 movie near the Chrysler Building, Godzilla jumps right in to block the missiles from hitting the bridge traffic. In fact, the big man might not have knocked into the bridge just afterwards had the Navy stopped attacking him. As the climatic brawl in San Francisco nears its end, Godzilla and Ford share a moment together in their battered states, perhaps sensing an understanding together of what drives them.
When Ford makes his sacrificial move with the bomb and the mother M.U.T.O. desperately attacks to avenge her fallen kin, Godzilla works up his strength to end the M.U.T.O.’s reign of terror once and for all with an applause-worthy finish. In the ending minutes, Ford finally reunites with his wife and son after the perilous journey halfway across the world, and Godzilla completes his role as the savior of humanity (give or take a few skyscrapers that crumbled in the process) as everyone freezes in awe at their protector. Nature finds its balance again at the conclusion of Godzilla, showing that the driving force behind nature, one that audiences can easily relate to, is the primal instinct of protecting and living up to those who mean the most to you.