2014, PG-13, 123 mins.
2014, PG-13, 123 mins.
Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody / Elizabeth Olsen as Elle Brody / Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford / Juliette Binoche as Ford's Mother / Stepmother / Sally Hawkins as Dr. Graham / David Strathairn as Admiral Stenz / Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro / Victor Rasuk as Tre Morales / Brian Markinson as Whalen / Al Sapienza as Huddleston / Patrick Sabongui as Master Sargeant Marcus Waltz / Yuki Mortia as Akio's Mother
Directed by Gareth Edwards / Written by Dave Callaham
For those of you out there – myself included – that believed that the criminally awful 1998 Roland Emmerich iteration of Toho’s iconic GODZILLA franchise was the final cinematic kick to the gonads of their fandom, along comes Gareth Edwards’ full bodied, lovingly faithful, and - for the most part - exhilaratingly crafted epic that serves as a sincere apology for past misdeeds.
British filmmaker’s previous film – the ultra low budget, but never
looked as such – MONSTERS from 2010 was an auspicious and impeccably made
science fiction film regarding misunderstood extraterrestrial beasties.
Now, with a budget roughly 160 times that of his debut feature,
Edwards evokes the classic GODZILLA accoutrements of yesteryear while
marrying that with disaster genre human drama.
Not all of it coalesces together smoothly, but you can definitely
sense the love and admiration that Edwards has for this cherished franchise,
something that was woefully lacking in the previous Hollywood GODZILLA
of this now 60-year-old movie property is precisely what this new GODZILLA
film requires to not only appease die hard/old school fans, but to also
lure new ones into the fold. Edwards
is shrewd enough here to understand that the decades-old mythology is
hallowed ground for many, and rarely are there any attempts on his part to
stray away from its tried and true formulas (as Emmerich’s film egregiously
did). This new version
apparently takes place in the same film universe that the original 1954 Toho
produced film does, and much of Edwards’ film is not so much a new
fangled origin of the monster as it is a continuation of his story set in
contemporary times. One of
the more controversial aspects of this version is that it stridently
follows a JAWS model in terms of not really showing the title character at
all well until the half way point of the film, thereby methodically building an
escalating sense of uneasy suspense for his big reveal.
Fidgety and impatient moviegoers may deeply dislike this
slow burn approach, but it makes for the film’s grand finale to be
that much more tantalizingly awe-inspiring.
the film begins not in the present day, but 15 years in the past in Japan,
during which time the city is experiencing some rather unusual seismic
activity that could be dangerous for a nearby nuclear power plant.
Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Crantson and Juliette Binoche) are a
husband and wife physicist team that are assigned to investigate, but
things go south really fast and disaster strikes, leaving Joe a widow and
the plant and surrounding area around the city indefinitely quarantined.
In the subsequent years, Joe becomes obsessed with the thought that
no natural force caused the accident, and his fanatical conspiratorial leanings eventually estrange him
from the rest of his family...and people in general.
to the present and Joe has discovered some alarming new data that suggests
that the same seismic phenomenon is returning to Japan to wreak havoc. With his now-adult son Ford (a bomb disposal technician for the
military, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) begrudgingly teaming up with him, the father-offspring tandem discover
a gigantic insect/dinosaur-like creature at the nuclear power plant’s
ground zero that is feeding off of radiation.
When the M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) frees
itself and escapes, the severity of the situation reaches a boiling point
for the rest of the world. Tracking
the monster (and potential other monsters) is Dr. Ishiro (Ken Watanabe)
and Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins), the former of which seems to have a keen
– if not more than a bit convenient – knowledge not only of the M.U.T.O., but
also of another monster called Godzilla that his government knew the
existence of decades ago and tried to contain it.
Theorizing – rather outlandishly – that Godzilla is an alpha
predator/protector, Ishiro believes that the best course of action to save
humanity is to let the monsters “fight.”
Predictably, utter pandemonium ensues when the beasts square off in
central conundrum of most monster/disaster flicks is that the human
element is often overshadowed, and GODZILLA is no real exception.
Edwards certainly tries - as he and his screenwriter Dave Callaham
can - to
fully invest in the personas that eventually bare witness to the city
destroying chaos in front of them, but even they can’t seem to find a
manner of making fine and appropriate use of their finely assembled
international cast. Cranston – looking semi-ridiculous in an obvious wig – is
actually very strong in the few key scenes he’s in, but the rest of the
cast never really follows suit. Aaron
Taylor-Johnson looks the part of a soldier, but is ultimately dully defined and
lacks charisma. The great
Ashley Olson has little to do but play the worried, grieving wife role to
Ford, and Ken Watanabe emerges – sometimes laughingly so – as one of
those obligatory scientist characters that elicits ample expository
dialogue about what the other characters – and we in the audience –
should expect next. His emotional range is limited to shock, awe,
and befuddlement throughout most of
the film while trying to explain to every shortsighted person around him
just what the hell is going on.
we don’t see films like this for their humanity, but rather for their monster-on-monster carnage, and there’s absolutely no denying that
Edwards wholeheartedly delivers on all counts. Again,
the director takes the atypical approach here of slowly building up to the
climatic reveal of Godzilla himself (more or less, he looks like a
faithfully rendered man-in-suit creature, albeit with extraordinary CGI
upgrades) and when some of the initial battles are shown, they’re often
captured on TV screens or in the distant background and, in some
instances, the director cuts away from the action just as it's about to
get underway. This may have
many in the audience crying a resounding foul, but it only serves to
build-up a level of anticipation towards the film’s final 30 or so
minutes, during which time Edwards and his visual effects artisans unleash
a grand scale monster battle royal that fans have only dreamed of for years.
The whole film is, in one way, one scrupulously manufactured tease
leading up to its final act, which allows, in turn, for the audience to be
thoroughly ready to be appeased. It’s
as spectacularly constructed of a climax as you’re likely ever going to
get from a film like this.
The film certainly has many superlative sequences leading up to this point, though, such as a bravura set piece on the Golden Gate Bridge (the most criminally abused bridge of the movies) that shows how adept Edwards is at manufacturing edgy tension in our anticipation of hell breaking loose. Then there’s another set on a railroad bridge in Nevada that knows how to milk audience unease with silence. Edwards, if anything, is a director that intuitively knows his way around both instances of massive city-spanning destruction and quieter, perhaps more spin-tingling moments, the latter that most other genre filmmakers would largely ignore. And, yeah, GODZILLA is kind of a failure on a character level (the absentee-father subplot is in on pure auto-pilot) and lacks tonal cohesion (it seems somewhat too pretentiously solemn for its own good instead of finding a healthy balance between gravity and preposterousness). Yet, when we finally get to see the improbably gigantic title creature in all of his rampaging glory, taking names and kicking multiple M.U.T.O. ass, seemingly all nitpicky criticisms disperse away very quickly.