Welcome to my first review for Geek Say What?! Today I take on the newest entry in the Godzilla franchise. Godzilla is directed by Gareth Edwards and stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, and Elizabeth Olsen. As a long time Godzilla fan, I am happy to say that the King of the Monsters is back! This review comes with an overwhelming sense of relief seeing as how the last American attempt at a Godzilla film was more than disappointing.
Being a fan of Godzilla since childhood made it difficult not to have high hopes for the latest film. I had quite a bit of concern when it came to the approach and tone. The last American film seemed to believe that the franchise was one big joke. That is not the case for this year’s version. The latest iteration takes more after the original 1954 film, which feels more like a war film than a monster movie. The film has successfully come off as more of a disaster film, however the film makers still had quite a bit of fun as well. It’s as if the film borrowed heavily from its serious origins and just added a dash of the campy fun from the 60’s and 70’s versions of Godzilla.
I really appreciated the film's treatment of the monster and the original themes that go along with him. What struck me most about the best Godzilla films was how the monster was treated as more of a force of nature as opposed to a traditional movie monster. Actually, I haven't seen this type of treatment brought to the forefront like this since the original. The monster represents how humans are helpless against nature's wrath. If Godzilla was real, there really isn't much that we could do about it.
The most prevalent theme throughout many of the Godzilla films is the terror of nuclear weapons. The director of the 1954 original, Ishiro Honda, has gone on record saying Godzilla represented nature's revenge on mankind for creating the bomb. In the original film, the director was referencing the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The modern version seems to be using the same theme, but referring to nuclear power in general. Man's wrecklessness with nuclear weapons has done enough damage to the planet and the monster in the is how nature plans to get revenge. Godzilla, and many other giant monsters in the series, are a form of punishment. But don't worry, the new film doesn't just rehash this, it has its own take on it.
The Breakdown *POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED*
Let’s get down to it. The plot overall is solid, but it’s packed with some great surprises. In short, the plot boils down to this: Ancient, god-like life forms, that destroy everything in their path, have risen back to life due to mankind's experimentation with nuclear power, and mankind has to find a way to stop them. Also, we get something that I totally was not expecting (I avoided as many trailers as possible), we got more than one monster! If fact, we got three! One of the major surprises was the reveal of the first MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), giant bug like creature that feeds on radiation. Another, larger Muto is revealed later in the film and Godzilla does battle with both in San Francisco!
The monster battle came as a surprise since every initial film in a traditional Godzilla series only features the giant lizard. And this is where the new film presents its twist on the tradtional monster-equals-revenge theme, Godzilla is not just part of the punishment, but he's also how the planet is cleansed. He's more nature's reboot than revenge. The titular monster does his fair share of damage, but he also brings balance back to the planet. He is the alpha predator for the Muto, and because of this, Godzilla gets painted as more of a hero by the end of the film. It's not the approach I personally would have gone with, but it really works well in the film and it sets up sequel opportunites. I would love to see this version of the monster again.
Godzilla has never looked better. This version of the monster is the beast that we all wanted back in 1998. There’s no overgrown iguana here. Basically , Godzilla looks like a believable version of the 1954 version of the monster. He's big, bulky, and intimidating. Scaling up Godzilla like this added so much to his on screen presence and his reveal was just flat out impressive. There is a real sense of terror when the monster is looming over everybody looking up at him. The designers really went out of their way to pay homage to the original, but present something more believable than a man in a rubber suit.
The entire cast gives a solid performance, with Bryan Cranston being the standout. Cranston. Initially, I felt that the cast wasn't given enough to do. However, as the film went on it was clear that all of them were playing they're roles with an underlying sense of despair. Which, to be honest, is probably the most realistic thing about all their performances. If you saw these monsters in real life, there isn't anything that we could do other than nuke them. And that might not work becuase they feed on radiation! Even the main protagonist, Lt. Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), has moments where he seems to lose hope. And in what is kind of a waste of Ken Watanabe, his character, Dr. Serizawa does next to nothing other than suggesting that the monster fight and take each other out. However, when Watanabe delivers those lines, he's doing it as if he's out of actual ideas. Which, again, makes sense because there's nothing else that anyone could do.
If I had to sum up the movie into one sentence, I would say that it’s a slow burn with a BIG payoff. The final act of the film is worth all the setup. I would go as far as to say that it ends with the most epic giant monster battle that I have ever seen. (There's even a part that makes you want to yell, "FINISH HIM!") I believe that the film is trying to sway the perception of Godzilla back to what was originally intended: a inevitable, terrifying force of nature. The film presented all of Godzilla' traditional themes while having all the spectacle of giant monsters battling each other.
Is this movie going to win any of the big awards at the Oscars? Probably not. However, this is the right movie to properly introduce the big guy to a new generation. The film had the right balance of ethics, philosphy and spectacle. If you're looking for a completely brainless summer blockbuster, Godzilla isn't it. If you want a spectacular looking movie that makes you think a litte, go get your ticket. I definitely recommend this film to old and new fans alike. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be writing a petition for a Godzilla/Pacific Rim Crossover.