Godzilla (2014)

Directed by Gareth Edwards
Written by Max Borenstein

Having seen none of the other Godzilla films, a blip on my movie watching radar I hope to resolve in the near future, there is no context for the monster from the deep for me. Nothing to compare it to, and nothing to expect from it. I of course have a basic understanding of the concept of a giant monster who rises from the deep to lay waste to grand city’s like Tokyo and New York City, etc. However, my context for the film comes from it’s sophomore director, Gareth Edwards, whose debut feature, Monsters, succeeded greatly with its subtle use of CGI and mysterious treatment of the title characters. This brought me definite hope and interest into the 21st century version of a beloved monster franchise.

The backstory of the monster was one I had no preconceived ideas about. So thanks to Ken Wantanabe, who plays Dr. Serizawa, who steps forward for a tidy recap of the monster’s history, we learn his company has studied the beast for many years, keeping quiet with the truth. Meanwhile, the dangerous M.U.T.O. creature is hatching and causing havoc of it’s own, disrupting a nuclear power plant where Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Juliette Binoche) work. Morning the death of his wife, Joe remains in Japan searching for the truth. Years later, his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) hopes to bring his father back to reality and away from the madness he has retreated to since the meltdown. However, when Joe’s suspicions start to come to fruition, their unique experience becomes important as Godzilla faces off with the M.U.T.O.’s.

To begin, I too have no idea why the world might need another Godzilla movie at this point. But to continue, I can say that from beginning to end, I was pulled right into the film and felt involved the whole way, through some miracle performed by the filmmakers. The premise of the film is absolutely ridiculous, but that is not a fault of the film. When I took a step back at the end of the film, I could not tell how it kept me transfixed being such a ludicrous premise. However, when I examined character I found that Ford, the protagonist of the film, to be the connection. I won’t say Taylor-Johnson deserves any credit for this, as his performance was mediocre at best. But Ford is the ideal. In a disaster movie, we seek the hero. What might I have done in the same situation? Probably freaked out and run and hid. But we can aspire to heroism, which is what Ford represents, always doing and saying the right thing. He pauses for a second to see how unbelievable the sight of Godzilla is, but then he snaps right back to knowing and executing his duty.

Okay, so I’m not fooling anyone by saying that the central character is the glue that holds this film together, but it keeps it from falling apart, a subtle difference. The glue that holds the film together is truly thrilling treatment of disaster action sequences. Edwards fails to fall into the temptation of recent films, Man of Steel and Transformers come immediately to mind, of creating a bloated climax to the film where we have CGI-fest for 40+ minutes. Instead, what I found impressive was his restraint, something that made his first film effective as well. Instead of focusing solely on the big, climatic fight between our CGI monsters, he smartly intercuts this with the more human, relatable portions of the film: the military trying to save the city, the loving wife trying to save her son, etc. By breaking up the big battle, I didn’t feel battered over the head with it. Quite the accomplishment in this day and age by my estimation.

Far from perfection, the film ignores the women as characters worthy of screen time, lines, or otherwise significant roles. Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, and Elizabeth Olsen are all stunted of their talents in the film. Even Ken Wantanabe lacks anything to do by sound ominous and warn the government. While the acting left some to be desired, the story was just grounded enough from a human perspective to be able to marry the sci-fi fanaticism of the monster story. Much of this has to do with Edwards smart capturing of the monsters, revealing just enough to intrigue, but not too much to steal the imagination away from the audience. He gradually builds the aura of the creatures, thereby building a solid, entertaining creature feature.

*** – Very Good

 

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