Thursday, May 15, 2014
Movie Review: "Godzilla" (2014)
WARNING: SOME SPOILERS INCLUDED
Godzilla has transcended the limitations of other giant monsters. When people think of giant monsters, Godzilla is usually the first thing that comes to mind. Not because of his design or his actions, but because of the ferocity and strength behind him. Whether he is destroying Tokyo with his bare hands, or protecting the planet from three-headed space dragons, Godzilla has remained strong and almost terrifying.
There is a reason he is called the King of the Monsters, after all.
After a ten year hiatus, he has returned to the screen, with Gareth Edwards' 2014 "Godzilla." With an American studio, Legendary Pictures, at the helm on this one, it promised to wipe the stench of the previous American film and make Godzilla interesting to watch again.
This new film nails making Godzilla an exciting and worthwhile character, but misses the mark on other aspects that makes the movie irritating at some points.
A group of researchers have found a large spike in radiation in the Philippines, and send in the covert group Monarch to investigate. Inside they find the bones of a gigantic dinosaur and a tower of glowing eggs. They find out that something had grown from these eggs and escaped into the ocean. Meanwhile, in Japan, a nuclear plant suddenly collapses and the wife of Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is killed in the accident.
Joe then spends the next fifteen years researching why the plant just disappeared and realizes that it may not have been an accident after all. He gets his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) involved when Joe is arrested for trespassing on the quarantined zone, leading them to a discovery that calls in Monarch once again.
What they find quickly becomes too much for them as it destroys everything around it and quickly heads for the United States. The head scientist of Monarch, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), believes that there is only one way to stop this monster before it reaches a major city, an ancient creature that he calls "Gojira."
So let's start with what I enjoyed about this film. In particular, the size and scope of Godzilla. Whenever Godzilla is on screen, you feel just how massive he is and kind of power he possesses. When merely coming onto land, he creates a tsunami that already destroys part of the city before he even gets there. As demonstrated in the trailer, just by passing battleships he can push them aside as if they were toys in a bath tub.
Even when Godzilla is just traveling through the ocean he looks intimidating. His spines stick out of the water and with an aerial view you can make out most of his body, which is twice the size of the aircraft carrier right next to it.
On top of that, this film reworks the origin of Godzilla, but makes it far more believable and interesting. In the past, Godzilla was just a dinosaur living at the bottom of the ocean for millions of years until atomic bombs mutated him and set him free. But here, Godzilla is a creature who has always thrived off of radiation and could live forever with a big enough supply. So he burrowed as close as he could to the Earth's core and absorbed radiation from that. Whether this mutated him further is anyone's guess, but this was a good way of keeping Godzilla to his atomic roots while making the whole 'million-year old dinosaur' part a bit more believable.
The monsters which Godzilla fights, on the other hand, are hit-and-miss. They are parasites who also feed off of radiation, which explains why they were inside the bones of a dead Godzilla and why Monarch is so afraid to kill them in the nuclear plant. Their designs are bland, as they look more like the Cloverfield monster but with red eyes that only seem to see radiation. Once they start moving though, their progression becomes the basic plan of tracking down their mate and making babies. These monsters have an origin that ties directly to Godzilla, but their story beyond that isn't anything interesting.
Which leads us into the trademark of any Godzilla film, and my least favorite part of the film, the fight sequences. These monsters have several chances to battle one another, including one at an airport in Hawaii, but we don't actually get to see these fights until the climatic battle in San Francisco. Until that point, we get to see the beginning of a brawl as the monsters charge at one another, but then it quickly cuts away with no resolution to the scene.
It is one thing to build up the ultimate confrontation between these monsters, but another to tease the audience with an action sequence and then rip it out of their hands. It would be nice to know how the parasites got away from Godzilla's grasp and how Godzilla knew where they were going, but we don't get any of that.
We see Godzilla roar at the other monster, the two lunge at one another, and the scene is over. We might get some media playback of some of the fight, but that is hardly the same thing.
While the climax to the film is enjoyable in its own right, you have to sit through a lot of teasing and sighs in order to get to it.
The acting in the film is so-so. Most of it left no impression on me, especially Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as Brody's wife, who both just looked happy to be there. Brody is along for the ride during most of the film, yet he always carries the same dull expression on his face, unmoved by anything he witnesses.
Ken Watanabe as Doctor Serizawa has some good moments though, especially a scene where he tries to convince the army director to not endanger millions of innocent lives and relates it to the bombing of Hiroshima. He serves as a nice middle ground, someone who understands the destructive potential of both Godzilla and the parasites, but believes they can serve a better purpose in society by being studied. Much like the original Doctor Serizawa, he is someone who wants to create a better world, but dances the line between right and wrong.
Then you have Bryan Cranston, who is always the center of attention when he is on screen. Not because of his popularity but because of his over-the-top acting and tendency to yell every other line. After the nuclear plant is destroyed, his character is made out to be crazy, when all he wants is to understand what went wrong. He does it not just for his work, but for his lost wife. So his anger is justified, but still a bit weird for going off the handle at times.
Acting wise, Cranston and Watanabe steal the show. They're just a few of the people who show genuine surprise and fear when the monsters begin to attack and their actions make sense throughout the film.
Lastly, it should be noted that this is a great example of a monster movie done entirely from the perspective of human characters. Almost every shot in the film beings with people in the frame and eventually pan up to show the monsters. Very few shots exist solely just to show the monsters. This adds a pleasant human element to the film, which makes the collapsed buildings and floods that ravage major cities all the more shocking and disturbing. These scenes stick out because they're not just their to look cool, but to show the scope and impact of a monster attack.
Overall, "Godzilla" is an enjoyable piece of monster fun, even if it misses the mark a few times. It takes itself very seriously and this gives us some wonderful human moments. The effects are beautiful and capture just how big and imposing Godzilla can be, though it is lame that we have to wait until the end to get a full fight sequence. The story has a few rough patches when it comes to Brody and the parasites, but it does smooth out near the end. Whether you are a fan of the classic Godzilla series or just want a good monster movie, "Godzilla" is satisfying to watch.
Final Grade: B