Ever since British national Gareth Edwards caught our attention with his shoestring indie entry into the field of bigger-than-life creature features, MONSTERS (2010), it was evident that he would not be a one-hit wonder, and would re-emerge as a reckoning force in Hollywood. Well, that day has arrived, as his $160 million tentpole pre-summer release, GODZILLA (2014), gets ready to flood movie screens across the country today and his current creatures of choice wreck havoc across several continents and metropolises. The film is a Legendary Pictures production and being released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Perhaps it’s the nostalgia I’ve held in my heart for the Kings of the Monsters since childhood. Or, perhaps it was due to the promise that Edwards demonstrated during his first outing. But no other movie in recent memory has had me as psyched to watch it on the biggest screen possible as Edward’s retake on Godzilla. And I’m glad to say I had that opportunity, and it certainly didn’t disappoint the fanboy in me.
The story is simple enough: ancient creatures hibernating deep in the earth’s crust are re-animated by man’s unstoppable picking and prodding, unleashing a torrent of deadly havoc, chaos and mayhem in their wake. As it turns out, these dual menaces, only referred to as MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), have an acquired taste for radiation. But humanity, and the military, being what they are, decides to attempt to destroy them with high-yield atomic warheads, which, in effect, becomes feeding time at the zoo. And since the creatures are a male & female pair looking to mate and use the deadly ions as nutriment for their offspring, the possibility of mankind’s extinction is exponentially high. These MUTOs should not be confused with Mothra – no pretty colors and soft edges here. One has wings and can zip through the air like those water bugs that emerge on humid nights (creeps).
Enter GODZILLA, who made its curtain call halfway through the movie—I clocked it at 56 minutes. Maybe it was due to all those extra pounds the Internet was abuzz about recently (yawn), but talk about making a ‘fashionable’ entrance. Not that it became a deal-breaker, as I rather enjoyed the slow re-introduction and ramp up of the story. Once the ‘King of the Monsters’ does roar onto the screen, however (and boy, I do mean R-O-A-R!), the film explodes in earnest with Godzilla marking his territory while doing the monster mash in awe-inspiring detail (not bad for a Kaiju pushing 60). Edwards knows epic.
Bryan Cranston is Joe Brody, a nuclear engineer at the Junjira Power Plant. His day starts out innocuous enough with the family getting ready for work and school. Young Ford Brody (CJ Adams) is working hard on a birthday banner for his father who is too preoccupied with his work to even notice (that’s going to leave a mark). At work, Joe has discovered anomalies that could threaten the plant’s nuclear reactor. After a series of serious seismic tremors all ears are perked, but it’s too late. Juliette Binoche is his loving wife and co-worker, Sandra, and the film’s first sacrificial lamb, whose untimely death early in the film provides a great deal of the movie’s sub-plot context and dramatic motivation, for the character and actor alike. To say that Cranston ‘nailed’ the role of the grieving and frustrated husband is an understatement, as he shines bright.
Flash forward 15 years and Aaron Taylor-Johnson has jumped into Ford Brody’s skin. He is now a ripped bombs expert for the U.S. Navy (who disarms, not explode them) who’s moved on with his life and now has a wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and a son, Sam (Carson Bolde) of his own. The same cannot be said of his father, however, as he continues to seek out the truth of that faithful day that shattered his own family and life. The Japanese village where he lived is now a radiated “forbidden zone.” At least that’s what the powers-that-be want you to believe. But Cranston is emphatically convinced that the events that caused his wife’s demise in 1999 were not caused by an earthquake – as the Japanese authorities contend – and determined to prove it.
The screenplay by Max Borenstein holds true to the origins laid out in the 1954 genesis of the franchise, including the requisite allegories of man’s innate impertinence and insistence of pushing itself to the precipice of self-destruction, as well as a dash of Greek-inspired champion-overcomes-all-odds spice thrown in for good measure. In this tale, there are two heroes. There is a clever plot device that connects the prolific atomic testing in the Pacific Atoll during the Cold War that lubricates this film’s storyworld without betraying what came before. The only thing missing from the film was to have someone point up into the heavens and yell “It’s GOJIRA!” while the camera zoomed in on a pair of fear-ridden bulging eyes. It may have been in the script and Edwards may have found it too much of an homage for his taste (OMIT Scene). Other than that, he throws in the kitchen sink for every fanboy/fangirl who’s ever loved the oversized reptile and the universe he stomps around in.
On the visual end, the CGI and special effects were both impressive and seamless and didn’t distract, as it often does. Godzilla and the MOTUs were convincing – both as animated avatars and gargantuan creatures with physical and emotional properties. While entirely generated in a binary world, the larger-than-life beasts from another millennia hearken back to the 1954 man-in-a-suit analog practical effects created by Toho Co., Ltd. So in that regard, we get the best of both worlds here. If I wore I hat, I’d doff it to Edwards and his enormous team of creatives who made these beings breath, move, and stomp. Well done.
There’s no point in going into the ‘spoiler’ zone with details about the action sequences and plots. Suffice it to say that you should experience those moments for yourself as they happen on a giant screen instead of a computer monitor or the small smart-phone or tablet screen you’re squinting to read this on. I know that you will.
Ken Watanabe plays Dr. Ichiro Serizawa, a scientific Godzilla groupie of sorts (aren’t we all?) who’s devoted his life to proving the creature’s existence, and who seems more knowledgeable than the entire U.S. industrial military complex. Meanwhile, the Japanese government is in on the little – or not so little, dirty secret and wishes to keep it that way. David Strathairn isn’t given a great deal to do but is pitch-perfect as Admiral William Stenz. Make sure not to miss Victor Rasuk in an extended cameo as Sergeant Tre Morales, who sidesaddles Ford during a few key moments in the film. The one character that felt entirely like an afflicted appendix was Dr. Ichiro’s loyal assistant Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins), who spends most of her on screen time spouting exposition and making abrupt exits whenever her colleague’s advice is ignored. Snip.
Godzilla is one of the greatest and best known of the disaster franchises in all of filmdom. Due to Warner Bros.’ ubiquitous marketing campaign for the film, it’s no secret that Godzilla is the one power on the planet who stands a chance of saving humankind’s rear and “restoring the order of nature,” as Dr. Serizawa puts it. Which begs the metaphoric question: If you were one of the last three humans left on the planet, would you get into a death match with the other humanoids over mere maggots? On second thought, it’s just much more fun to sit back and suspend disbelief for two hours and relish in Watanabe’s chameleon-like face as he utters the loftiest of words: “Left them fight.” (!)
THE FINAL WORD:
If you’re a lifelong fan of Godzilla, this one is for you. If you like epic disaster films, this one is for you. Edwards has gone a long way to re-invigorate and restore the dignity of the franchise. If the pockets allow, go IMAX – but forgo the 3D, as it was less than spectacular and seemed like a post-production conversion of the 2D content (insert wagging finger here). Note: If you’re looking to take the entire family, heed the PG13 rating, as it may be too intense for young children.