It's one of the most hyped movies of Summer 2014. But does 'Godzilla' have the movie goods to make a big blockbuster impact?
It wouldn't be surprising if what you know of the "Godzilla" movies is from references in other Film and TV franchises. The last major film with the green scaled monster was in 1998, and that was critically panned and hated by actual Godzilla enthusiasts. The earlier Godzilla films go back all the way to 1954, originally magnificent in their campiness, but becoming weak self parodies year with each installment. Director Gareth Edwards 2014 film doesn't bury itself in the mistakes of its predecessors. His film is well crafted, building masterful suspense and anticipation that doesn't quite result in anything big but is plenty entertaining on its own.
"Godzilla" begins with Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his team investigating a quarry in the Philippenes where the remains of an enormous monster and its eggs have been discovered. We then are transported to Tokyo, where engineer Joe Brody is caught in an impending nuclear meltdown caused by giant earth shifts of some unknown origin. Then, one last time, we’re transported to present day, where the negelected, Naval officer son son of Joe, the confident but reserved Ford Brody, must free his father from a Tokyo prison after being accused of trespassing. The father/son team trespass once again, are arrested and carried to where the MUTO artifact is being examined.
Each little tweak and turn in the story points the inevitable hatching of the MUTO, or Massive Unidentified Terristrial Organism, not actually Godzilla himself. The MUTO’s go on an atypical rampage before escaping to the next destination to rampage again, wash, rinse repeat. Godzilla isn’t introduced until nearly the halfway point of the movie, but the anticipation leading us there is immaculately rewarding.
This is clearly the film’s biggest strength, the well choreographed suspense to big moments, where not too much is revealed but enough info is on the table for audiences to still know what’s going on. But the actual battles themselves, while still visually striking, don’t leave the same impact on audiences like the buildup to them. When Godzilla finally makes his appearance and battles the MUTO’s, the excitement becomes stagnant, leaving us waiting for the next moments.
"Godzilla" holds many themes of human kind’s ignorance in the face of weapons of mass destruction. Time and time again Serizawa beckons and warns his counterparts on the error of using nukes, actually making the beasts stronger, only to have his cries thwarted by the military higher ups. Miscommunication is also a recurring motive, with Ford constantly being unable to reach his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and Bryan Cranston’s decision to seal the nuclear power plant despite the team having the ability to make it out in time. And when Ford carefully watches over a distraughy Japanese child while their subway car is attacked, he receives no thanks or gratitude from his parents, the penultimate good samaritan risking his neck to do the right thing but with no one by to watch.
Nobody even listens to the permanently shell-shocked Serizawa, the supposed Godzilla and monster researcher but whose expert advice still isn't demeed noteworthy enough to influence military decisions. And almost every character has a death wish. Ford’s entire career nature puts him constantly in harm’s way with his bomb disarmment and his unending enthusiasm to volunteer on every suicide military mission. His father foolishly travels into radiation infested areas, and Elle opts for cowering in the San Francisco BART tunnels while sending her child off to a supposed but unguaranteed safer fate. Ford and Elle aren’t great parents, they’re just trying to build their lives again amidst Godzilla’s rubble. The characters in “Godzilla” have each suffered loss or abandonment in their own way, so it’s no wonder that they’re fighting as if they’re alone.
J.J. Abrams’ found-footage monster movie “Cloverfield” borrowed a lot from the “Godzilla” films, notably with an alien life whose purpose and motive for destruction was shuddered in ambiguity. But director Gareth Edwards takes a page out of Abrams book, not so much explaining why of the monsters as much as the how. These creatures could be mother nature’s way of purging itself of petulant humans like Serizawa claims, or just Godzilla and his foes exhibition sparring in-between hibernation periods. The reason for these behemoths being here is unimportant. We just need to get a good seat up top and enjoy the show.
Pros: Lots of thrilling suspense, highly choreographed fight sequences.
Cons: Cranston doesn’t get enough screen time, nothing really captures the excitement of the first act of Godzilla’s reveal.
Buzzworthy Verdict: See it. This movie isn’t about the destination of seeing the green scaled monster on screen again, it’s the journey. Even through its bumpy parts, “Godzilla” proves to be one great thrill ride.