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Review: Godzilla (2014) — The Big Guy Plays Hide and Seek in Epic Monster Smackdown

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The 30th Godzilla film opens in 1999, with an apparent earthquake triggering a meltdown at a nuclear plant near Tokyo, Japan, killing the wife of technician Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston). Flash to present day, where Brody and his estranged son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) reunite after many years. During that time, the elder Brody has become an obsessed conspiracy theorist as a result of the tragedy which took his wife, and what he uncovers sets in motion the events which lead to the return of Godzilla, as well as a couple of other nasty kaiju known as MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). Godzilla is turned loose to hunt the MUTO, but can he take them out before they reproduce?

The King of Monsters is back after a ten year absence, but instead of beginning a new era under the careful eye of long-term Japanese production company Toho, the keys to the franchise have been passed on to Hollywood. 1998 was the first and last time that a Godzilla film was produced outside Japan, and I think we can all remember how that turned out:

The horror...

The horror…

Directed with audacity and confidence by Gareth Edwards (Monsters), Godzilla definitely does not fall into the same patterns that audiences have been accustomed to with big movies over the years. Much like Monsters, Edwards brings a slow-build to the proceedings, not even showing the titular monster for the first hour of the film. He is effectively teasing the audience with his appearance, building tension until a massive reveal during the epic climax. Holding back on Godzilla and focusing on the human element only emphasises those moments when we get to see monster mayhem; a seemingly forgotten storytelling method best practised by Steven Spielberg in Jaws and Jurassic Park.

"Excuse me madam, I'm all thumbs today."

“Excuse me madam, I’m all thumbs today.”

Today’s audiences may not be ready for such a slow build, due to years of hollow Transformers films convincing the masses that flashy, shiny movies with no substance can be considered entertainment. Not to say that Godzilla doesn’t have action, because it does in spades; it just leaves most of it until the third act (albeit with smaller action set-pieces littered throughout). The bulk of the film concerns the origins of Godzilla, the cover-ups involved with his existence, and the monitoring of Godzilla and the MUTO’s movements and battles. Pacing wise it is reminiscent of last year’s World War Z: Following a crisis as it moves from place to place, unravelling mysteries as the plot progresses.

Edwards keeps the film grounded, with all the action seen almost exclusively from the point of view of the human characters, never Godzilla himself. This is a calculated technique that preserves a level of verisimilitude and realism. By refraining from outlandish and impossible camera moves, Edwards succeeds in building the tension necessary to maintain the pace without becoming stale. The quick point-of-view glimpses we get of Godzilla and his foes throughout the movie may seem like a tease, but they draw in the audience and demand investment much more than chaos-filled CG ever could.

Father/Son onesie night begins...

Father/Son onesie night begins…

The main issue with Edwards grounded style is that — with the exception of Cranston, who plays the only interesting and developed character — all the other characters are flat, trite, and uninspired. As mentioned above, Spielberg’s Jaws and Jurassic Park have memorable human characters to compliment the titular creatures, and Godzilla is nowhere in that league. Taylor-Johnson’s Ford Brody is the main protagonist, and with his cliché traits of Navy officer and family-man, he is bland with no interesting characteristics. He is basically an empty vessel, a point-of-view surrogate for the audience. The same can be said for his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), who also has the convenient profession of nurse, which allows her to be at ground zero, in and around the action. Ken Watanabe‘s Dr. Serizawa is the only character that comes close to being as interesting as Cranston’s Joe Brody, but he mostly comes across as nothing more than an exposition device.

For me the biggest highlight was actually the score composed by Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). The main theme in the opening credits is catchy and perfectly sets the tone for what was to follow. With an emphasis on large drums and violins, the score is menacing and pulse-pounding, but retains a sense of optimism and adventure. Although one major disappointment in Desplat’s score is the lack of the iconic Godzilla March. A modernised version or even a small sample of this piece of music would have been a nice touch in an otherwise great score.

It may not be what you expect, but the Godzilla franchise has been reinvented and re-energised. Hopefully the film gains some traction at the box office, because I would like to see a continuation of the mythos in this new vision, adding some of Godzilla’s greatest foes and allies into a sequel of epic proportions. Can you imagine this universe featuring the likes of Rodan, King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla, and Jet Jaguar?

Jet Jaguar, baby!

Fuck yeah, Jet Jaguar!

Llama Score: 8General audiences may not be prepared for the slower pacing after being fed a steady diet of Michael Bay, but patience is a most rewarding virtue when it comes to Godzilla. Good things come to those who wait, and the tension and steady plot progression build towards a satisfying monster-mash crescendo. Hollywood have made amends for 1998.

 

Award: Golden LlamaAward: Stan WinstonAward: Recycle

Highlights Banner

– Godzilla is finally done justice outside of Japan. The King of Monsters is imposing and huge.

– A terrific slow burn plot.

– The third-act monster mash.

– The score by Alexandre Desplat is incredible, but…

Lowlights Banner

– …the lack of classic Godzilla theme is disappointing.

– Flat characters.

Further Viewing Banner

Godzilla (1954)

Godzilla (1998)

Pacific Rim

Catch up on everything Godzilla related.

Directed by: Gareth Edwards Written by: Max Borenstein, David Callaham Produced by: Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliete Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures Run length: 123 minutes Australian Release: Out now in theatres

 

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  1. Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014) — Cruise Keeps Dying, Doesn’t Stop Running, in Smart and Gripping Sci-Fi Spectacle | Sorry I'm Late.com

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