I’m feeling in a weird mood today so while you may be expecting a Godzilla review from yours truly that follows the normal format of a pithy opening, minimal plot description, description of the highs and lows, rounded out with a summarizing paragraph … well, you’re sort of right. (We call that the ‘ol switcheroo!)
Actually, I am feeling non-linear … is that a feeling? Meh. I’ve written it. We’ve come too far to go back. Before I get to talking about the actual components of Godzilla (which I suppose is why you actually are reading this), let me start off by saying that if you are going to see this, do me and the world one favor. DO NOT see this in 3D. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I take this stance, but for a movie with a scale of this size, you’d think 3D might actually work out. It certainly did for Pacific Rim. But here, aside from some ash floating around during the opening credits, you’re about as likely to find depth in the 3D as you are to find depth in a Kardashian. So, let’s just not buy the 3D tickets pretty please and get Hollywood to be choosier about when to employ this blatant cash grab? And I’m talking mostly to anyone who doesn’t carry a U.S. passport. I don’t mean to profile but this 3D thing is sort of more the fault of worldwide audiences plunking down their cash for 3D than us ‘Mericans.
But I digress.
So, Godzilla. Should you see it? Well, really all you need to factor in is your enjoyment of big budget disaster/monster movies. If you like them, you’ll like this. I suppose there might be a contingent of hardcore Godzilla fans who may find this updated version a bit blasphemous but I’m sure I’m not alone in welcoming something … ANYTHING … that will wash the bad taste out of our collective mouths thanks to the truly horrendous Godzilla attempt in ’98.
Still, some people may not realize how director Gareth Edwards would put his stamp on things. Perhaps that’s because they didn’t see his previous film, Monsters. If you haven’t either, you’re truly missing out on one of the smartest, well shot, and freshest sci-fi films in years. And considering that film was done on a micro budget with almost no crew and Edwards somehow managed to make it look like he had tens of millions of dollars at his disposal, it’s nothing short of fantastic.
However, there are people who may not find it all that exciting … because the title and premise don’t fit into the expectations of the mainstream. Monsters is about the people, not the extraterrestrial behemoths. And that’s okay, because it’s compelling and intelligent; using the science fiction as a backdrop for the human drama that’s actually center stage.
Others may worry that Godzilla falls into Cloverfield territory. I’m one of the few people it seems who found that one interesting and there are certainly some similarities between the films. But there’s no hand-held camera conceit on display here and I think audiences will find more to identify with in these characters than in those hipsters running around New York.
So as I got myself ready for Godzilla, I wondered if Edwards would take a more humanistic approach to the big budget, high profile gig he had gotten himself into (some of the creature design also seems inspired by his work on Monsters). And with little shock to my system, the center focus of this movie isn’t the big G, it’s a Navy lieutenant (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his family. I don’t want to get into plot so much as it might lead to spoilers but he and his family are somewhat at ground zero for the majority of events that lead up to the world learning of these gargantuan creatures … and that they don’t have a lot of control when it comes to curbing their immense appetite for destruction.
Now, action junkies should not despair. There are a more than few cities that feel the repercussions of giant monsters and their disdain for buildings, bridges, and whatever the military tries to do to stop them. And the action is spectacular. Edwards has such a good eye for creating compelling visual effect shots and taking advantage of light and scale. He showed this brilliantly in Monsters and does so again here. More than a few scenes come with a multitude of poster moments and it makes the notion that the best place to see Godzilla being inside a movie theater even that more apparent. Sure, you’ve got a lovely, big television at home but unless you’re rolling in Dr. Dre’s Beats money, your set up still probably doesn’t match that of a nice, state of the art theater.
With that said, what makes the movie so compelling are the multiple father-son stories woven into the fabric of events. While there are some moments that may slow the pace down a bit too much for people because of it, Edwards and company are attempting to get the audience to invest in the characters and for the most part it works. Taylor-Johnson has come a long way from his days as Kick-Ass (almost more so physically than anything else) and casting Elizabeth Olsen as his wife was a smart choice and turns a throwaway role into something just a bit more. Bryan Cranston’s frantic energy plays well as Taylor-Johnson’s dad and I’m always a fan of David Strathairn in films so seeing him play the big shot Admiral was a welcome departure from the typical blowhard tough guy movies tend to cast in that role.
Some of the stuff Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins have to do as part of their somewhat vague scientist roles comes off as caricature-ish but considering the nature of the old Toho films that this is attempting to pay homage to, I can get past most of it. Sure, there are a few plot clichés that seem paint by number but most of that is kept to a minimum. Perhaps the hardest thing to forgive and pretty much my only major gripe is the convenience of weaving Taylor-Johnson’s character into the global events. This was somewhat reminiscent of the recent Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Both films are so hell bent on having this central character involved that they give them skills and access to opportunities that are so outside the range of realistic that it sticks out like a sore thumb.
However, that’s really about all I have to complain about when it comes to the movie. Sure, I could have used a bit more monster on monster action, but not a lot more as it would then throw off the balance of human drama that is truly the driving engine here. So while I will reiterate that anyone out there wondering what to expect should not be surprised that most of the monster stuff is towards the back end of things, there are so many ways a movie like this could go wrong that getting most of it right really should be commended. Godzilla is back, and as long as the helm of this franchise is kept in the right hands, I’d be intrigued at seeing some sequels. I love watching things go boom, and all those years playing Rampage in the arcades do nothing but increase my appreciation of movies like this.
Godzilla opens in theaters on May 16, 2014 and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence.
– Reviewed by Ian Forbes
– Also of Interest: Top 10 Godzilla Movies
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