Friday, May 23, 2014

Godzilla Review

Godzilla is one of the most recognizable symbols of Japanese pop culture worldwide and is a major icon in cinema history. America tried to make their own movie featuring the giant lizard back in 1998 which, frankly, wasn't very good. Hollywood decided to take another crack at it and we have Godzilla (2014).
When a Japanese nuclear plant goes into meltdown mode and the wife of Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) gets caught on the wrong side of the containment door, a massive cover-up ensues. Fifteen years later, Joe's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has become a bomb-disposal expert in the U.S. military. After returning home to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their son Sam (Carson Bolde) he gets word that Joe has been arrested in Japan. Ford ventures to Japan and reluctantly agrees to join Joe in traveling to their old home in the quarantine zone. The pair are taken into custody end up in the plant where Joe used to work, and where Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) is studying a massive cocoon-like structure that appears to feed on radiation. The situation turns critical when the events of the present mirror those of the past and a terrifying winged-creature dubbed "MUTO" is unleashed. Meanwhile, as the military attempts to devise a plan to destroy the beast, signals indicate that is has been calling out to something before it broke free, and the scientists learn that is has awoken a towering godlike leviathan that has lain dormant for centuries.
In the original 1954 Godzilla movie, Godzilla represented the fears that many Japanese held about the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the possibility of recurrence. While the movie featured a rubber suit monster stomping on cardboard buildings, it primarily focused on the humans being affected by the trauma and disaster, and it was poignant. I think that's what the goal was in this 2014 movie, but the story arches for all but Joe's character were flat and uninteresting. Joe was fanatical about uncovering what he believed to be a massive cover-up that caused the death of his wife for whom he still grieves. Ford was conveniently a military character so we see what the military was doing. His wife's character was conveniently a medical civilian in San Francisco so we could see the people affected by the monster fights. Everything that makes up Ford and Elle is the fact that they want to see each other again. Joe really is the only character that's even remotely interesting. Stronger and more interesting human characters would have made the whole movie much better.
But who goes to see a Godzilla movie to watch the human characters? The monsters were amazing in this movie! The MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) was huge and scary looking, and seemingly unstoppable as it travels across continents seeking out radiation to consume. Godzilla himself was incredible! We don't get a real good shot of him until about halfway through the movie, but it's worth the wait. All of Godzilla's previous incarnations were used for inspiration during design, making this Godzilla resemble the classic sci-fi monster we all love rather than that goofy, long-legged iguana in the 1998 film. They even revamped the original Godzilla "roar" for this movie. Since the terrible human storylines take up a lot of movie time, we don't see a whole lot of monster fights. They take place in the background while the human drama takes center stage. I really think this movie would have been better with more monster action, but what we do get to see is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
In the storyline, Godzilla is an apex predator and arrives to protect his territory from rival predators. He doesn't want them encroaching on his food source (radiation). He's not there just to stomp on major cities and cause trouble. Thematically, Godzilla is nature's force for balance. The military is conflicted about the wisdom of allowing Godzilla to attack the MUTO, but Dr. Serizawa states, " The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight." The colossal beasts fight, and Godzilla ends up looking like the best chance for survival since the military weapons seem to have no affect on the monsters at all. The monsters aren't out to specifically destroy things, it's just cities happen to get in the way of their animal behavior.
There is a lot about this new Godzilla movie to praise. This is only Gareth Edwards' second feature film to direct, but he has a masterful grasp of camera work and cinematography. The visuals are stunning to say the least, even when there aren't colossal monsters stomping around. The score is as epic as a movie featuring a legendary one hundred meter-tall behemoth. The CGI rendered monsters are incredible and are animated to illustrate the sheer magnitude and weight these giants have, comparable to that of Pacific Rim. It is an absolute delight to watch.
Godzilla was pretty darn good despite some writing flaws. The monotonous, non-developing human characters were tedious to endure and took center stage a bit too often. Even when they were moving along their weak story arches, it remains a visually striking and gorgeous movie to watch. It borrows from the "Spielbergian" style from the way the camera moves, to the use of music, to the gradual rolling out of the big effects. The action is tense, the monsters are larger-than-life, and the music is outstanding! Props to Gareth Edwards for taking what has for decades been a loved but albeit laughable franchise and made it into something audiences will flock to see. This is worth catching in theaters; Godzilla just won't look as amazing on a small TV screen. I might consider getting this on Blu-Ray eventually, but it's certainly worth watching at least once.

Which classic Godzilla monster is your favorite? Apart from the King of Monsters himself, I like Mothra a lot. Comment below and tell me yours!

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