King of the Monsters!
Director Gareth Edwards’ (Monsters) remake of Godzilla is a perilous, jaw-dropping, and monumental adventure across the Pacific that maintains some of the heart and themes from the 1954 original while creating some original flair to modernize the destructive daikaiju. The opening shots depict enormous, green slopes populated by trees in The Philippines reminiscent of Godzilla’s prickly, scaly spine shown later in the course of events. Despite a straight-forward plot with cookie-cutter protagonists individually performing some act of kindness or bravery that come standard in a blockbuster with a large, talented cast, the film still delivers with Godzilla alone and then some. Edwards’ Godzilla will be the definitive film of the legendary monster at least until it gets rebooted again with even cooler computer-generated imagery from the future. (Are remakes of remakes the grim future for film entertainment?)
Godzilla came under heat recently due to criticism from the East about the titular titan’s massive size. While the creature’s proportions certainly exceed those of any kaiju ever sculpted out of clay or generated by a computer, this review finds in favor of the enormous entity. The sheer scale of Godzilla provides an ominous, foreboding backdrop—he’s there all right, but you don’t see him… yet. Any shot displaying Godzilla’s entirety is an insanely wide angle with the entirety of the respective city skyline consuming the shot as well. Simply put, the viewer just can’t lose when Godzilla is in frame. Although not the main factor until Act Three, the pace quickens enough so the human characters don’t feel forced. After all, some time must be devoted to the human element or the audience can’t relate. (Unless the audience is, in fact, a kaiju, but they have different interests like eating and giving birth.)
The first two acts tease and slowly build to his appearance not unlike Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, making the third act feel like a frenetic freak-show of mayhem and destruction. Who wouldn’t get a little preoccupied at the mere fact of knowing something like that is out there? The first act of the film spends time building the mystery and asking questions surrounding the creature (mostly through Bryan Cranston’s perspective). The second act comprises itself of several Muto sightings, but mostly we just follow the creatures as they make their way toward the city by the bay. Act Two slows the pace down considerably. Every time Godzilla shows up to do battle with male Muto or bigger, scarier female Muto, the camera cuts away quickly to the next scene. It’s such a letdown that by the time all factions converge on San Francisco Bay, one merely wants to see Godzilla for more than two seconds before the credits roll. But when they do meet up, all is forgiven and it’s much longer than two seconds.
The interesting dynamic in this motion picture is the use of nuclear weapons as a plot device and metaphor. Humanity seems dependant on nuclear weapons to facilitate the removal of these creatures, despite the fact that these creatures are the result of radiation and appear to feed off of it. Only Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Ichiro appears to understand that Godzilla is a force of nature with dominion over mankind. Everybody else is either caught up in their own personal drama or too arrogant to accept such a notion. One could argue that Godzilla (2014) is really about how different types of people come to understand and submit to an entity visibly—not ideally or philosophically—dominant to humanity.
The quick-cutaway-from-combat stunt cheapens the performances from the talented cast. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass 2, Anna Karenina) and Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House, Martha Marcy May Marlene) star as married parents, Ford and Elle, to a little boy. A ripped, yet wooden Taylor-Johnson returns home from serving in the United States Navy and Olsen works as a nurse in a San Francisco hospital. Bryan Cranston with hair (Argo, John Carter)plays a crackpot conspiracy theorist living in Japan who is also Ford’s father. Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Batman Begins)stands out particularly from the cast as a doctor optimistic of Godzilla’s presence in a world full of doubt and fear.
Even the bit parts are filled by in-demand performers. Recent Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Happy-Go-Lucky) plays the assistant of Watanabe’s doctor. Even Juliette Binoche (Chocolat, Cosmopolis)and David Strathairn (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Good Night, and Good Luck) pop in for extended cameos. With such a talented cast, how could a creature such as Godzilla seem necessary? For one, nobody is given any room to flesh out their character, making Godzilla the easy favorite. Each actor/actress falls into the blockbuster character stigma where the ability to laugh, cry, and believably deliver a line are the sole requisites. Only Cranston gets some wiggle room to act as the widower demanding answers circling the death of his wife.
One would expect an American remake of an older Toho film to be filled with camp and Edwards’ Godzilla certainly has an obvious B-movie quality with the plot material, but the feature never forcibly injects humor for the sake of taking itself too seriously. Composer Alexandre Desplat’s score adds a tense layer of class to a film brimming with award-winning performers and outstanding production value. Gareth Edwards proves that Monsters was merely a stepping stone for a greater coming out party in Godzilla, a Hollywood blockbuster harmoniously blending class and B-movies into an unforgettable showdown between two (and three) forces of nature.