Like all film fans, I don’t agree with the majority opinion on every movie. For example, I think the 2017 The Mummy is a fun action-horror romp, and I think the 2019 Pet Sematary remake is better than the 1989 original. But of all my unpopular opinions, this one just might be the most surprising. Few movies are detested by their target fan bases as much as the 1998 American Godzilla, so since I’m a huge Godzilla fanatic, you’d probably expect me to hate that film. But surprisingly, I don’t.
In fact, I quite enjoy it, and in my opinion, it gets dismissed way too quickly by most Godzilla fans. However, if we try to appreciate it for what it is rather than criticize it for what it’s not, I think we’ll see that it’s actually a fun kaiju adventure that’s much better than the majority opinion gives it credit for.
The Case Against Godzilla
To understand why I think that, let’s start by looking at the #1 reason why most Godzilla fans hate this film: the monster in it isn’t Godzilla. Sure, he has the name, but if you compare him to the real Godzilla, it’s easy to see that they’re very different creatures.
For starters, they look almost nothing alike. Granted, there’s a bit of a family resemblance between them, but if you saw these two monsters standing side by side, you’d never think they were the same character. The 1998 Godzilla looks like a T-Rex from Jurassic Park that grew spines on its back, but the real Godzilla is very different. While his look takes a bit of inspiration from T-Rexes, he’s obviously his own unique species, so from a visual standpoint alone, it’s clear that the 1998 Godzilla isn’t the same character.
Similarly, this monster also lacks Godzilla’s signature atomic breath. Sure, there’s a scene in the 1998 film where the creature screams at a burning car and makes it explode (presumably, his breath fans the flames…or something like that), but that’s a pale imitation at best. The real Godzilla can shoot an atomic heat ray out of his mouth, and he’s been able to do that in every one of his incarnations. It’s an essential element of the character, so any kaiju without this ability simply isn’t Godzilla.
On top of all that, there’s an even bigger problem with this monster. The real Godzilla is a near-indestructible force of nature that can shrug off just about anything our militaries can throw at him, so when he comes face to face with human enemies, he doesn’t back down. But once again, the 1998 movie completely throws this out the window. In that movie, the monster is very vulnerable to normal human weapons like torpedoes and missiles, so when the American military attacks him, he runs away.
And for many fans, that’s the biggest problem with this movie. Sure, drastically redesigning Godzilla’s look and taking away his signature weapon are huge faux pas, but at the end of the day, those are just external features that don’t quite reach to the heart of the character. However, making him a big scaredy cat goes one step too far. It totally destroys the spirit of the monster, so no matter what the people in the film call him, he’s just not the Godzilla we’ve come to know and love.
Because of all that, the 1998 Godzilla is a Godzilla movie in name only, so it’s totally understandable that the fan base would reject it. It feels like a huge slap in the face to the character and the franchise, and on the surface, it’s actually tough to see why anybody would enjoy it.
A Fun Kaiju Romp
However, I still think this film is a super fun kaiju romp. Sure, it’s not one of my all-time favorite giant monster movies, but if I just want to turn my brain off and enjoy some cool kaiju action, Godzilla more than does the trick.
In particular, I would point to three redeeming qualities that make this film well worth a watch. First, we have the monster. I know I just spent a whole section of this article explaining why he’s terrible, but hear me out. This may not really be Godzilla, but if we ignore the creature’s name and accept him for what he is, he actually turns out to be pretty awesome. In fact, it’s precisely the differences between him and the real Godzilla that make him so fun.
For example, even though this creature doesn’t look like Godzilla, I still like his design. It’s a great blend of familiarity and novelty, so from a purely aesthetic point of view, I think this actually is one of the coolest kaiju I’ve ever seen (the hit-or-miss CGI notwithstanding, of course).
Similarly, I also like the fact that he runs away from the military. It seems like just about every giant monster movie centers around a nearly indestructible force of nature that can barrel through whatever measly defenses the human race can muster, so this creature is a welcome change of pace. It gives us something we don’t normally see in kaiju films, so watching him run through the streets of Manhattan and totally baffle the American military is an absolute blast.
Secondly, Godzilla also does something else that sets it apart from the vast majority of its cinematic brethren: it features human-sized monsters in addition to its giant main attraction. Once the titular creature reaches New York, it quickly lays eggs in Madison Square Garden, and when they hatch, the little terrors cause all sorts of trouble for the protagonists. Sure, they’re basically just rip-offs of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park, but I don’t care. I still think these baby Zillas are a ton of fun, and I really appreciate the fact that this movie gives us multiple kinds of monsters.
Last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the French secret service agent Philippe Roaché. Actor Jean Reno imbues the character with the perfect mix of humor, badassery, and all-around coolness, so he single-handedly ramps up the fun a few notches whenever he’s on screen.
When you put that all together, you admittedly don’t get a real Godzilla movie, but like I said before, that’s beside the point. If we stop criticizing this film for what it’s not and just appreciate it for what it is, I think we’ll find that it’s actually much more enjoyable than most people give it credit for. It’s a fun kaiju romp with a new monster that’s pretty cool in his own right, so despite the admittedly inaccurate name, I’m still more than happy to give the 1998 Godzilla an enthusiastic thumbs up.