Monday, May 19, 2014

Godzilla Review

Godzilla Review
Godzilla on film has always been a fun exercise, especially for me. As I grew up, and I saw Godzilla on film, I was always flattened by what I was seeing. Even if was just a guy in a big costume, it was always effective. While it was big fun for American audiences, the Japanese actually had something to say when they created the character. Godzilla was a reaction to the Japanese attitude toward World War II and their confusion and terror surrounding the end of that war came out in this giant lizard-monster who can breathe fire. The original 1954 film had a lot on its mind and that made it even more piercing to watch.

Sadly, most of the other Godzilla movies to come out since then didn’t have the impact as the 1954 film. In fact, the more movies made featuring the character, the sillier they got. The extravaganza and the fiasco were always a part of the appeal, but it was hard to keep watching these with a straight face. The 1998 Americanized version of the story was a joke, and just an excuse to milk more money out of a franchise which hadn’t had in traction in years. There was a thought in the back of my head that this 2014 reboot would have done the exact same thing, but I went in with an open heart and open mind, as usual.

Look, I don’t need an award-worthy script every single time I sit down to watch a movie, I don’t need everything to blow my mind and force me to rethink everything I know about cinema. I just want a story told well and spark of inspiration. It is just tough to get that in this day in age, where we have seen countless films of giant monsters beating each other up. I can say with full confidence that this new Godzilla movie does just that. This is the Godzilla movie we all have been waiting for. The massive monster battles are completely awesome to witness, but the humans that inhabit this movie feel like real humans and the personal stakes set up in the movie make this whole journey worthwhile.

As the opening titles play out, we learn that there were several nuclear bomb tests carried out in 1954, but that was a cover up to destroy…something. Right away, I liked that they at least tried to connect this film to the original film. I liked that they tried to set up some sort of continuity between the older films. After the opening credit scene is done, we move to 1999 in the Philippines. Scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are called in to check on some odd occurrences. Meanwhile, in Japan, married power plant supervisors Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Sandra (Juliette Binoche) go to the plant to look for any damage that came from whatever it is that Serizawa and Graham are studying; this leads to an earthquake that traps Sandra in the power plant as it realizes radiation. Joe believes something very specific caused the earthquake and that it was not the usual accident. Fifteen years later, Joe is still convinced that something killed his wife, and it has been straining his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who has become a demolitions expert within the United States Navy.  Joe asks his son to help him sneak back into Japan, to look for clues that could have caused the earthquake. At first, Ford isn’t convinced, but after more thinking, he knows that Sandra was his mom and he wants to help his father for the loved one he lost too.

So right away, the human characters in this movie feel like actual humans. These are not just humans we have to keep track of because there need to be humans in the movie. They are not just blanks to keep us distracted while Godzilla is off fighting and destroying. In fact, a long stretch of the film is completely Godzilla-less. We only focus on the characters and why this mission of discovery is so important to them. Their stories are also written just right, so that the audience will care about these characters. It also helps that Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins are all at the top of their game. They may know that they are starring in an epic summer blockbuster, but they certainly don’t act like it. They make each of their scenes and each of their lines matter. I also liked Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the film and he has matured and grown as an actor since the days of “Kick-Ass.” I also like the chemistry between him and Elizabeth Olsen, who plays his wife in the film. They are a near-perfect match and they are going to work wonders as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch once “Avengers: Age of Ultron” rolls around in 2015. All the human roles are just right to make the audience care about them.

Oh man, I haven’t even got into Godzilla yet. Man, let me tell you all, he hasn’t looked this good in years. I love the creative look of Godzilla, as he looks like something that could have been made by us. Yes, I know it’s just a movie and I may sound crazy for saying that, but the authentic look of the monster is awe-inspiring. I like that Godzilla is neither a hero nor a villain in this movie, he is simply a force of nature. I never really cared for the notion of painting a giant monster as either a good or bad monster in these movies. It seems much more natural for him to just be a presence, a reminder of what experimentation an produce, a shocking metaphor in the incarnation of power. This version of Godzilla will make you believe in him again, and that’s exactly what I wanted from this new film.

Yes, it is true; there are other monsters in this movie. Even though they play as foils toward Godzilla, I like that they too were treated as forces of nature. We never really know why these monsters are against each other, but it never feels like a good guy versus bad guy battle. The only thing that bothered me about these antagonist monsters was the design of them. I felt one monster looked too much like Clovie from “Cloverfield” while the other looked like Clovie with wings. I thought it was quite the lazy set up. There is so much inspiration they could have pulled from other movies in the Godzilla mythos, and I was quite surprised that they didn’t.

I want to give a special emphasis on the music by Alexandre Desplat. I love that a lot of the scores in this movie feel like they were pulled from pasted Godzilla movies. It has a very classic tone to it that I absolutely dug. It is also music that elevates the scenes and action sequences throughout the movie.

While I liked that the film established its human characters before introducing the big monster, I felt they did it a little too slowly. In these movies, there needs to be a happy medium between introducing the humans and introducing the monsters and I feel some people might get a little bored by the wait. I will say that it is well worth the wait. The twenty or so minutes of the movie is gargantuan monster extravaganza. They feature scenes that any type of Godzilla fan will appreciate and they start this summer season in style. This 2014 redo of “Godzilla” is everything we have wanted to see for awhile and well worth the effort.

FINAL GRADE: B+

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