May 30, 2014

Review: Godzilla (2014)

Godzilla is celebrating its 60th year in existence and what a ride it's been. From the original which is an undeniable classic, unique entries like Gojira tai Hedorâ [Godzilla vs. Hedorah] or unmitigated disasters like Gojira-Minira-Gabara: Oru kaijû daishingeki [Godzilla's Revenge]. One thing that can be said is that Godzilla has always been fun. It may be easy to just laugh at the series because Godzilla is just a man in a rubber suit right? Personally, I find it amazing what Ishirô Honda, Jun Fukuda, Yoshimitsu Banno, etc. have been able to accomplish as directors and turning Godzilla into something so much more than just a man in a suit smashing miniatures.

Godzilla films started out as having Godzilla as a pure villain but he went through a shift to become more of an indirect ally. Other giant monsters would appear and Godzilla would come to save humanity even if they would regularly engage him as an enemy as well. I've seen all the Godzilla movies and I guess you could say he's a beloved figure in my eyes. I know I'm not the only one either.

That's why this American remake was so crucial to nail. Roland Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla maybe gets a bit of an unfair wrap because I'm sure that if the title weren't Godzilla, it wouldn't have been so universally hated. I was skeptical about this 2014 version when I first heard it announced, but that changed when I saw the first trailer which was attached before The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I don't usually let trailers influence my excitement for movies and usually ignore them, but this trailer really pumped me up and I had to see if the movie would deliver on its promise. 
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Genre: action, sci-fi, thriller
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Produced by: Bob Ducsay, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, etc.
Written by: Max Borenstein
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Running time: 123 minutes
Production company: Warner Bros., Legendary Pictures, Disruption Entertainment, etc.
Distributed by: Warner Bros., Toho Company, Bandwidth Digital Releasing, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $160,000,000
Box office: $528,676,069 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Carson Bolde, Richard T. Jones, Victor Rasuk, Patrick Sabongui, Jared Keeso, Luc Roderique, Al Sapienza, Brian Markinson, Catherine Lough Haggquist, Jake Cunanan, Warren Takeuchi, Yuki Morita, Ken Yamamura, Garry Chalk, Christian Tessier

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Synopsis


Godzilla begins with a prelude where Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) arrive at a mine where a huge prehistoric fossil has been discovered. Two bizarre eggs are also discovered, with one having hatched. Whatever was inside this giant egg has disappeared into the sea. This sets off a chain reaction of events at a nuclear power plant in Japan with disastrous results, mainly for Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston). Fast forward 15 years later and what happened back then is being covered up. Brody and his son Ford aim to find out the truth of that day.

Review


Godzilla is a summer blockbuster with a heavy reliance on CGI and destruction porn. I can't deny that. So I'll go ahead and say that these elements are absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. The destruction that goes on is really impressive and Godzilla is a masterpiece. Unlike the ugly duckling of a Godzilla from the 1998 version, the designers for the 2014 edition get it right. Yes it's clear that the designers went with a bigger is better mentality which didn't seem very appreciated by Japanese faithful but it made for an ever grander spectacle. The sheer size of Godzilla makes for some great shots that rarely show Godzilla fully. It actually takes a while before you see Godzilla in all his glory and I'm definitely a fan of this slow reveal. It's a Jaws approach if you will.

So the other part of a regular Godzilla movie are the human stories. Throughout the series, there have been some good human stories, bland ones and bad ones too. I think the 2014 version is one of the good ones and part of why it works so well is because the actors that were casted are really talented. They don't look like a typical blockbuster cast. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is the main character and he makes for a good leading man. Bryan Cranston is a Hollywood darling at the moment and he plays a crackpot truth seeker where he gives it his all. Joining Cranston as another great supporting actor is Elizabeth Olsen who adds some more emotional depth. Lastly, Ken Watanabe is also a nice presence. 

The script does use some easy disaster cliches like kids being in danger for example but these didn't bother me for some reason. It's an easy way to influence the audience but Gareth does this to make the audience care for the whole crowd. It's easy to not really care to much about a faceless crowd but add in a kid or a dog let's say and the stakes are raised. There are also parallels that are drawn between Aaron Taylor-Johnson's character Ford Brody and his father Joe Brody that I liked. There are even parallels drawn between Ford Brody and Godzilla which I appreciated and it's just nice to see a script that could have gotten away with being mindless but isn't. 

I also like the way in which the military is utilized. It's happens too often in Hollywood blockbusters where the military is heralded as an untouchable savior. It just feels like soft propaganda to me for the most part but there's none of that in Godzilla. I don't think I saw a single American flag anywhere and I find that refreshing. I'm not trying to hate on the US military or anything but not every movie that involves them has to be some kind of tribute. They're not mistake-proof in their approach to dealing with the Godzilla situation which happened many times in the Toho films too.

This isn't a movie where the military solve the problem. It's humanity vs nature and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa gives a stern warning about nothing being able to fight nature. Godzilla brings balance  which is is role he's played in past Godzilla movies as well. He's not just some dumb monster who decides to wreak havoc for no reason. He's an anti-hero with motivation.

Godzilla movies of the past have had their fair share of cheesy moments and there are a couple in this edition as well. I'd rank the cheese type as "good emotional cheese" which I couldn't help but love immensely. You know those moments that make you want to just get out of your seat and clap? Don't ever do that because I'd laugh at you but you know what I mean. It's those kind of moments I love about Godzilla and it's just pure movie magic. 

Godzilla is a huge success in terms of successfully rebooting a past failure. Gareth Edwards has had experience at making a good monster flick in Monsters where he did some amazing stuff with a limited budget. This time around, Legendary and Warner Brothers have opened their purse strings for him and he's delivered in every sense of the word. Taking on such a mythical character as Godzilla must've been daunting but Mr. Edwards patiently built up the character and injected some human emotion. I wish every summer blockbuster could be this exciting.

Rating


7.5/10