May 18, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)

I guess it is about time to add my voice to the echo chamber. I am sure you have likely read your fill regarding this new Godzilla film, but I still feel there is a requirement for me to jump in the fray. As you may have already guessed, I loved the film. It is not perfect, but it does so much right and kept me involved the whole time that it is possible to overlook many of the flaws it may have. If you want to nitpick it, go right ahead, I'm not going to stop you, it just isn't the way I work. It seems that today an opinion is not valid if it doesn't complain about something. Whatever. It is all right to enjoy a movie that is this entertaining.

Godzilla is a force of nature that has captured imaginations for 60 years now. Originally presented as a result of man's meddling with nature and the results of nuclear testing, the monster has endured through dozens of films. It went from nature fighting against humanity as a rampaging source of destruction, to a champion for the Earth against all comers and everything in between. It seemed logical that the Hollywood machine would want to get in on the action, the initial result being a 1998 film that turned our favorite monster into a giant iguana. It was not a good movie, one that seems to just not get what Godzilla is. The abomination inspired Toho to resurrect the true legend (he had been killed off in 1995's excellent Godzilla vs. Destroyah) in Godzilla 2000 for another successful run of films. Now, 16 years later, Hollywood has returned to well with another stab at it. Fortunately, they learned from past mistakes.

Godzilla was directed by Gareth Edwards who proved he could make a monster film with his debut feature, 2010's Monsters. That film was an exercise in making a character driven monster movie where you don't really have the budget to show actual monsters. It is a good film, and one whose lessons Edwards brought with him to the much larger budgeted Godzilla. It takes a lot of cues from Jaws in the reveal. It creates a sense of danger and menace along the edges of the screen, saving the big reveal and battle for the climax of the film, building atmosphere along the way.

There have been complaints about the movie not having enough of the monster in the movie and looking away whenever a hint of action arises. This is certainly understandable if all you are after is monster on monster or monster on city action. Still, I feel the slow build works well for a couple of reasons. One is that it is reminiscent of the 1954 original, that film did not have a lot of Godzilla in it either, but it was enough. It hinted at the threat and built to the reveal, much like it does here. It also shows the spread of information in a modern fashion. Our characters are spread out between Japan and San Franciso. We see glimpses through the news, through windshields, but never full on. Sure, it takes us away from the man on scene sort of reveal we would like, but it shows a different distribution model.

The story told is simple enough, keeps in line with most of the franchise. It begins in 1999 with an apparent accident at a nuclear power facility in Japan. One of the head engineers is an American, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), who loses his wife in the disaster. He spends the next 15 years trying to uncover the reason for the accident, which he believes is no accident at all. Meanwhile, his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), has grown up and is in the Navy. Called to Japan to bail out his father who was caught trespassing in the quarantine zone around the plant. The two return to the zone and find a facility that leads to the reveal of a monster.

Forget all this description. All you really need to know is some monster shows up in Japan that likes radiation. It takes off and starts heading across the Pacific. The military chases it. Godzilla shows up as nature's method of restoring the balance that was upset by this other monster and chases it. Man gets cocky and thinks it can step in and stop things, all leading to a big ole fight in San Francisco. Game over, man. Game over.

It is true, the majority of the human characters are not all that interesting, but that does not detract much. I think it is more about their underuse as the bigger story is told through the various people that splits off their time from making that much of an impact. I will say that I felt drawn in and invested emotionally from very early on, which helped carry through some of the more lackluster character moments later on. Still, we always had Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa (nice throwback to the original film, where a Dr. Serizawa used his creation, the Oxygen Destroyer, to help defeat the giant monster). I really liked his character and his continuous look of amazement.

The centerpiece of the movie is Godzilla. The monster does not disappoint, from his new design (which captures the classic look with a new twist), to his atomic breath, to his wrestling-like attacks, he does not disappoint. When he first is revealed by a camera panning up from feet to his head, you could not wipe the smile from my face. When we finally see him in action, it is a thing of beauty. Everything we did not get from the prior Hollywood attempt, we get here.

Godzilla is a big and massive film that works on most levels. It is exciting, atmospheric, and delivers what I hoped it would. It is not the smashing your toys together in the sandbox fun like Pacific Rim, but it feels like a precursor to that, much like Gojira was a precursor to monster mayhem like Destroy All Monsters. All I can really hope for now is that this is able to launch a new franchise and we get to see Big G take on more monsters. I would love to see a new take on King Ghidorah. This leads me to one other criticism, I cannot say I liked the design of the other monsters, but that is a small nit to pick. Settle in, grab some popcorn, enjoy.

Highly Recommended.

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