For the second time this year, Brad Pitt has delivered a film that shatters audience expectations. Some went into Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood expecting a flashy, vengeful bloodbath. Instead, they received a hazy hang-out film, only slightly blood-spattered. Some will go into James Gray’s BrAd Astra expecting an action-packed cosmic thriller filled with high-speed moon buggy chases and laser blaster fights. Instead, they’ll receive a languid character study centered on Roy McBride (Pitt), a top-level Sad Astra-naut who desperately needs to go to therapy.
Rather, McBride’s superiors opt to send him to space on a deeply emotional mission to make contact with his estranged Dad Astra (Tommy Lee Jones), further destabilizing his already shaky mental state. As they explain to him the possibility of his father’s survival, his entire posture almost imperceptibly changes. His eyes twitch with the effort of repressing his true emotions, and his chest rises and falls with a newfound velocity, indicating that his static pulse that famously never goes above 80 bpm is pounding away underneath the polished layers of his military uniform.
Horror films are poignant, cultural commentaries, reflecting our fears back at us. Yes, you may want to sit back, turn on a scary movie, turn off your brain, and just watch giant mutated animals fight each other, but you can’t ignore what they’re saying about their cultural contexts. Take Ishirō Honda’s 1954 classic, Godzilla. At face value, it is a silly movie about a giant lizard stomping on Tokyo while crowds point and scream, “Gojira!” However, it’s more than just an old monster movie — it is a cutting reaction to the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a condemnation of nuclear power. Godzilla is literally awoken by underwater hydrogen bomb testing. But even more, Godzilla’s destruction is reminiscent of these bombings. As he crushes buildings and demolishes cities with his nuclear breath, images of devastated cities are conjured up. Characters in the 1954 film even reference the bombings when discussing their fears of the giant lizard. While these films are weird and wacky, they also serve as a reminder of the atrocities Japan has suffered at the hands of Western society.
The puppetry is ridiculous and writing can be laughable, but there’s no doubting Godzilla’s influence on the monster movie genre. These five films are the best Godzilla movies Criterion has to offer, from their message to outright monster-fighting hilarity.