Friday, May 16, 2014

GODZILLA (2014) Review - Javi's Take


Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Written by: Dave Callaham, and screenplay by Max Borenstein

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston and Juliet Binoche
Synopsis: After lying dormant  for millions of years, creatures from deep underground surface, causing untold amount of destruction. 

GODZILLA has always had a rather goofy place in the American pop culture landscape. Images of "guys in rubber suits," visible cheesy cables, bad dubbing, a weird cartoon, and of course the Roland Emmerich mess of a film from the 90's. What people forget is that the original GOJIRA movie was filmed just one year about Hiroshima and Nagasaki's nuclear destruction and was, for all sense and purposes, a coping mechanism for a nation that just suffered a devastating loss. GOJIRA had a very ominous tone and the destruction that came via crude effects was meant to match it. Director Gareth Edwards seems to understand the gravitas of Godzilla as, not only a force of destruction, but a reflection of humanity's faults, as well as a catalyst for change. This 2014 remake, made after a ten year break mandated by Toho Studios and to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Godzilla, harkens back at the original in all of the best ways.

The story is mostly seen through the eyes of the unfortunately named Ford Brody (Taylor-Johnson), a lieutenant who just came back from deployment who is once again pulled away from his family when he receives a call that his father, Joe Brody (Cranston), has been arrested in Japan. Him and his father are one of the survivors of an accident with a nuclear plan in Jinjari, Japan 15 years earlier that left Joe Brody with the terrible choice of having to essentially doom his wife to fatal nuclear radiation poisoning. Convinced that the nature of the accident is more than what they have been told, they go back home to start looking, kicking off the events of the movie.

Given Edwards' previous film, MONSTERS, it appears that he likes to show how there is always a human element within a wide-scale event. It just so happens this one includes a giant radioactive lizard. This is the movie's biggest strengths and potential weakness in the eyes of frat bros wanting to see the kaiju equivalent of a Transformers movie. Edwards does something that very few of the original movies were able to convey which was the sense of scale and destruction caused by these giant creatures. From the way that the camera is shot at the right angle to the first time that Godzilla appears and you get to see the camera slowly pan up to show him, you never lose sight of the fact that we barely register in the creatures' eyes. You will not see Godzilla or any of the kaiju going down and chasing a ragtag group of humans. There's almost a certain amount of disinterest in the humans with the kaiju, but this being a summer blockbuster, it has to have a big climactic battle in big American city.

To be slightly critical, it is easy to see where there are some set pieces that feel superfluous and drag the movie down. There is a particular set piece involving a train that could have been cut for the sake of time and pace, but that would also deprived us of one of the most memorable scenes. While the humans are the focus for the majority of the movie, one could say that they way too one-dimensional to justify us following them. The counterpoint would be that this movie is ultimately about the fact that there is always a human behind every tragedy, every cover up, every conspiracy, and every disaster. These huge events, such as what transpires during the movie, all affect millions, but what the movie tries to get to is the one person's perspective of a big tragedy. Because this is such a broad theme, the characters have to be an almost blank slate to stand in for the audience. The same point could be applied to the people that are complaining that there is not a lot of Godzilla in the movie. Once again, due to the themes of the movie, Godzilla, the creature, is only necessary in small bursts. Would it have been great to see even more of the monster? Sure. But that's why we'll have the sequel.

GODZILLA delivers in many ways that the old movies never did successfully giving us a glimpse of the human POV of the scope that a great creature like Godzilla could cause. It also manages to very carefully thread the line of making Godzilla both a source of fear and a creature that we can root for. Not forgetting the visuals, this has one of best fights of the entire franchises in a way that calls back to the originals. Be warned, if you're looking for non-stop action and CGI so crazy it will make you bland, just wait until AGE OF EXTINCTION comes out. By making GODZILLA a movie about human tragedy that also happens to feature the big guy, it is trying to be a great commentary on the soullessness of modern action movies while also being a strong entry into the genre.

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