“The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight.”
Oh, and fight they did. Godzilla is back and he couldn’t be bigger or better! If you’re one of the many Godzilla fans that were driven to the edge of insanity with Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film, wipe your slate clean and get ready to smile because Gareth Edwards’ GODZILLA is the real deal.
In 1954 – only nine years after Hiroshima — Japanese production company Toho and director Ishirô Honda came together to create GOJIRA, a science fiction film inspired by earlier kaiju (Japanese for “strange creature”) films such as KING KONG and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. Two years later, the film was re-edited and re-released by an American company as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! It told the story of a giant dinosaur-like creature that was born out of nuclear radiation and went on to ravage and destroy Tokyo, Japan. After receiving worldwide commercial success, Godzilla soon became a household name and went on to star in twenty-seven more Japanese productions plus the one American one from Emmerich.
This film — the first GODZILLA film in nearly a decade — comes courtesy of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, the powerhouse company behind Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT Trilogy, Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL, Guillermo del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM and many, many more. Simply put, Legendary and their head honcho Thomas Tull know what genre fans crave and they nearly always deliver the goods. When the announcement was made in 2010 that Legendary had acquired the rights to create a new Godzilla film, I grinned because I couldn’t think of a better team to bring the King of the Monsters back to life.
At the same time that Legendary was busy acquiring the rights to Godzilla, an unknown writer/director was busy trying to make a name for himself by creating a high-concept sci-fi film on his own with a very miniscule budget. In 2010, Gareth Edwards wrote, directed, shot and edited MONSTERS; a film that followed two people as they traveled by foot from Mexico to the United States during a post-alien invasion world. The film showed great promise for Edwards and clearly Legendary caught on to that. In January 2011, Edwards was announced as the director of GODZILLA.
In GODZILLA, Edwards channels his inner Spielberg on numerous occasions, but rather than those times being a straight-up copy-and-paste, they’re done more as homage. It was impossible to watch this film without seeing shades of JURASSIC PARK, JAWS and WAR OF THE WORLDS and honestly, to me, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ll delve more into this shortly.
This new GODZILLA film isn’t afraid to be dark and gritty. The French clichés and Tatopoulos jokes have been replaced by giant monster battles, somber tones and a jaw-dropping performance by Bryan Cranston (like that was really a surprise). Legendary’s GODZILLA brings the King back to being a force of nature rather than just a massive lizard who strolls out of the ocean to fight another monster Power Rangers-style, pulling off some sweet tail-slides and high-fives in the process (Google this stuff if you don’t believe me). There are also zero Velociraptor-like babies, so that’s a plus.
The story focuses on the Brody family, dealing with their struggles in a world gone mad. Cranston stars as Joe Brody, a man on a mission to find the truth after an incident in Janjira, Japan causes him to lose his wife (the wonderfully talented Juliette Binoche who was incredible during her few short minutes on the screen). Anyone who’s seen what Cranston is capable of in BREAKING BAD knows exactly what to expect here: a mesmerizing performance like no other. When Joe Brody got angry, you believed it. When he cried, you felt it. When he stared off somewhere in awe, you were right there with him. There are not a lot of actors in the world who can take a viewer to that level of emotion, but Cranston is definitely one of them who can.
His son (and the lead of the film), Ford Brody, is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Taylor-Johnson is probably most known for his role in the KICK-ASS films, so it was interesting to see how he’d perform as the headliner in an actual big-budget Hollywood flick. To put it simple, he did not bad. He was fine during the military-centric scenes, but when it came to the smaller, more heartfelt moments, his performance came off as slightly awkward. He can glaze over his eyes with ease, but to actually show an emotion and have the audience believe it, he somewhat failed. Another problem that I had with Taylor-Johnson’s performance was that you could hear his natural British accent try to sneak out at times. Now, I’m not going to say or assume that hiding your actual accent is an easy task, but I will say that if you’re headlining a $170-million big-budget picture, you should be able to hide it a little bit better than that. Personally, I think it was too early yet for Taylor-Johnson to take the lead in a film of this caliber. I must be in the minority, though, because his next film is set to be Marvel’s AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the always-amazing Elizabeth Olsen portrayed Ford’s wife, Elle Brody. Really, there isn’t much to say here. The most-talented Olsen sister nailed her role once again. When buildings were crashing down and monsters were roaring, Olsen played off fear and desperation with relative ease. During her moments with Taylor-Johnson, Olsen made you believe that she loved and cared and worried for her husband. It’s just too bad that the chemistry between the two of them couldn’t’ve been stronger due to Taylor-Johnson. The only conclusion that I can come to at the moment is that Olsen is also in next year’s AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON and strangely enough, this time around, she’ll be playing Taylor-Johnson’s sister. For some reason, I have a feeling that their chemistry will be stronger as siblings than it was for as lovers.
Ken Watanabe is an actor who I’ve always admired ever since I first saw him in THE LAST SAMURAI. He usually brings an incredibly strong presence to whichever film that he’s starring in. Unfortunately, this time around, the magic wasn’t there. As Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, Watanabe spends most of his time staring off at things with a blank expression on his face. He probably had the most memorable lines in the film, though, and I don’t think Watanabe’s performance in GODZILLA was his fault, but more-or-less the fault of the character that he was playing. He essentially did what was asked of him; I just wish that there was more for him to do in the film.
The final two live-action stars of the film, David Strathairn and Sally Hawkins, were both phenomenal in their smaller roles. I’ve always been a fan of Strathairn, so I thoroughly enjoyed his performance as Admiral William Stenz. Hawkins, on the other hand — I was completely unaware of her work. Her performance as Vivienne Graham was excellent and she was the perfect actor to play alongside Watanabe.
Now that all of the “real people” are out of the way, let’s get to the real stars of the film: Godzilla and the M.U.T.O.s. All three giant monsters were designed so ingeniously, you really have to give applause to Edwards, Tull and Legendary as well Toho for approving the final look for Godzilla. I recently read an interview with Edwards where he said that he thought it’d only take a day or two to put together Godzilla’s new look, but it ended up taking a year. After sending Godzilla sketches back and forth to Toho, bits and pieces of the several different looks were assembled together in order to create the final one seen in the film. The way that Godzilla moved in the film was beautifully fluent considering how he’s been reimagined as a massive brute. Even his roar was spot-on; a recreation of the original classic sound using today’s recording technology. For those who thought Godzilla was going to be fat in the new film, he’s not. He’s built like a brick outhouse and he fights as if Legendary had a UFC fighter come in for some Godzilla MOCAP (motion capture) work. The King was nothing short of impressive in his new film.
The M.U.T.O.s were a completely different breed of beast. Co-designed by both Legendary and Toho, both the male and female M.U.T.O. (an acronym for “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism”) have a very American look to them while also staying faithful to their kaiju origin. When Legendary acquired the rights to GODZILLA, he was the only character that they were able to use in their upcoming film. In order for him to fight a foe in their reboot, they had to create a new villainous monster. The M.U.T.O.s provide a great challenge for Godzilla and proved that they could stand their own against the titular monster just as much as other creatures have in the past such as Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah.
The CGI used in the film was absolutely superb, which shouldn’t be a shock when knowing that Peter Jackson’s WETA Digital spearheaded the project. Not once was I taken out of the film during the many appearances by Godzilla or the M.U.T.O.s. because they seemed so alive amongst the natural elements and real actors. While both M.U.T.O. creatures acquired more screen-time than Godzilla himself, I could always sense the King’s presence whether or not he was on the screen. As I said earlier, I definitely received a real JAWS vibe from this film in the sense that the monster is shown just the right amount of times until his full, final reveal. This helped to build up the tension and suspense in the film and it made the final act just that much more exciting. If Godzilla would’ve been on the screen throughout the entire film, the final bout between him and the M.U.T.O.s wouldn’t’ve had the same impact.
Max Borenstein, a relatively new screenwriter on the scene, penned this film, and while the pace of the film has been receiving some slack from fans, I personally thought it was perfect. Borenstein did a great job of crafting this new Godzilla-led world together; I just wish he could’ve perfected some of the character development a little better.
The music in the film from composer Alexandre Desplat was well-suited enough, though not quite as exciting as I would’ve hoped. A lot of the pieces drew a great deal from John Williams’ score for JURASSIC PARK, but unfortunately never from the best part of Williams’ work: the theme song. When I think of giant monster films, I automatically think of a theme. JURASSIC PARK and JAWS both had memorable themes, as did the 1954 version of GODZILLA. Even monster films from the last few years such as PACIFIC RIM and CLOVERFIELD had memorable anthems. So while Desplat did a very good job of assembling this GODZILLA score, I can’t help but wish that there could’ve been at least one catchy, memorable theme for me to hum along after the end credits were over.
Over GODZILLA’s opening weekend, I was lucky enough to see the film twice; once in 3D and once in 2D. I found that there were pros and cons with both versions. With the 3D, certain elements in the film were amazingly brought to life. I really enjoyed the ashes during the opening credits as well as every time there was a helicopter scene. During the massive Godzilla vs. M.U.T.O. battles, though, the imagery often became blurred as I had trouble focussing. With the 2D, I was able to better focus on the battles, but then those exciting scenes with the helicopters and ashes that I had previously seen in 3D suddenly became flat and boring. I can’t help but think that to get the full, 100% perfect experience, I need IMAX picture and sound, so hopefully I can find an IMAX to sit down at real soon.
In the end, I had so much fun watching this new GODZILLA that I really didn’t even care about the small amount of negatives. Sure, I maybe would’ve done some things differently, but the King of the Monsters is back and he’s more awesome than ever, so I’m not going to sit around and nitpick and complain. This film won’t be for everyone, but for the big kids and the small kids out there, chances are, you’re going to be smiling and saving up your pennies for the GODZILLA Blu-ray as soon as you get home. Thank you Legendary and thank you Gareth Edwards… and thank you to you, Toho, for sharing your monster with people who love and respect him as much as the fans.
Final Thoughts are an opinion, not a review. I don’t believe that anyone should base their own opinion on that of another person. Reviewers and critics are just regular people like everyone else and their opinion shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all. What you just read were my Final Thoughts of GODZILLA (2014). I hope you share yours.