Story by Dave Callaham
Screenplay by Max Borenstein
Directed by Gareth Edwards
We were all a little apprehensive when we learned that there would be a second American Godzilla movie. After all, once bitten, twice shy. And while the memories of Matthew Broderick battling a preggers dinosaur that loves fish while things go all Jurassic Park are scarred in memories forever, Gareth Edwards brought American Godzilla movies full circle into actually good. Godzilla is big, fights monsters, has atomic breath, isn’t taken out like a punk, and becomes a realized character despite being a CGI construct. He’s the real deal. Just saying that makes me so happy I had to recalibrate my breakdown of the film because it does have its flaws. Nothing that we haven’t seen before in major tentpole films, but I’m not above pointing them out again and again.
I had my problems with Gareth Edwards, I found Monsters interesting when it had anything to do with monsters, and not when it had anything to do with people. Edwards brings his monster affinity to full load with Godzilla, the monsters are just so huge, so out of scale, that people are just running around trying to survive beneath their feet. The sheer enormity is a stark contrast to how helpless everyone is when the creatures are around.
Edwards trades two hours of monster destruction porn for an array of different effects of the destruction, from news clips to destructive aftermaths to monsters fighting it out in the background while humans run for their lives. But there is plenty of fighting going on during the climactic scenes set in San Francisco. They play tribute to the monster fights of old, but allow at CGI Godzilla to do a few moves that wouldn’t quite work with people in suits. Overall, the fight sequences are fun, but the meat of the monster appearances are just showing them so huge and destructive, and the people struggling to survive. The sequences with the monsters on rampage become a mix of giant monster, horror, and nature run amok all rolled up into one, and pulled off perfectly.
Gareth Edwards still has problems making interesting people, but he’s compensated by using incredibly awesome actors who turn those people interesting despite what they are given. Bryan Cranston is amazing as the obsessive dad who jumbles from one tragedy to another. Aaron Taylor-Johnson had good chemistry with Elizabeth Olsen (which will be important as they’re siblings in Avengers 2!), but when by himself just became a less charming Channing Tatum. Moments like when he was suddenly guarding a shoehorned in random Japanese kid gave him more depth than all his running around while covered in dirt scenes combined.
Godzilla here is part of a large conspiracy to cover up that there are large monsters in the world, and he’s the apex predator. The problem is when the other ones start popping up, because they begin destroying cities and causing all sorts of destruction. Things can no longer be hidden away, and soon Godzilla leaves his Pacific Atoll to destroy these new idiots. No one challenges the king.
Godzilla is animalistic, but still recognizable to the original man in suit design. Slightly fatter, but built so for strength and bulk, Godzilla is immensely powerful and can still swim faster than the fastest naval vessels. When Godzilla roars, they are dramatic moments and not just Godzilla blabbing his mouth. He’s saying things, saying how he’s the king and it’s time for you to die. The atomic breath blasts are saved for when they make the most impact, and they are spectacular and elicited cheers from the crowd.
The creatures that need to be destroyed are called MUTO, standing for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (which immediately is a useless name because they call it that right after one takes off in flight!) MUTOs were parasites, eggs are found in the skeletal remains of a long dead Godzilla as the film cribs from Alien. The first seen is a flying male version, and it’s soon joined by a walking stomping female. This allows for variation of attacks while still having some monster love action going on. The MUTOs’ problem is they look too much like every other recent CGI monster/alien with weird limbs and bat faces. Their lack of distinction made it easier to want to see them get destroyed, but also took away from seeing a cool monster design that could have been. The EMP attack does help eliminate a lot of high tech weaponry that would have cost hundreds of CGI artists to draw exploding uselessly against the kaiju.
Godzilla‘s largest flaw is there is not a single female character that does anything except wait for their husband to do stuff or die. Elizabeth Olsen is completely wasted as her character Elle waits for her husband Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to finally get to San Francisco so she can leave San Francisco with him. She only sends their son out of the city because someone else tells her to do it (who was also a woman, and thus the only woman who did anything!) They don’t even do much with her being a nurse, I expected her to suddenly be in charge of triage or save her husband when he gets injured, but nope. Juliette Binoche is barely in the film, and Dr. Vivienne Graham(Sally Hawkins) has a Ph.D. in standing around while Dr. Serizawa(Ken Watanabe) dispenses all the theories. Even the female MUTO has to wait around for her loser boyfriend to get all energized and then give her radiation.
Once again, my town takes a beating in a giant monster film, and while Pacific Rim kept San Francisco being destroyed to a prologue, here the entire third act takes place in the Bay. Luckily, my house appears to have escaped destruction. It was sort of fun to be watching downtown San Francisco being destroyed while being in a theater in downtown San Francisco. And LOL at the BART stations as emergency shelters that had giant iron doors. Disclaimer that I saw this at an advanced screening where I acquired a free public ticket, so Tars has sold out once again!
Godzilla (2014) is the perfect antidote to Godzilla (1998). While no Gojira, it’s a direction that is in spirit with the bulk of the Heisei and Millennium series of films, and raises the bar for monster destruction scenes. Godzilla is a force of nature, not a spectre of mankind’s arrogance and destruction. There will be no scenes of Godzilla destroying American cities while a wise old grandfather explains how Godzilla is mad at the sins of the country. Godzilla has become a super hero, nature in a cape. Be careful in celebrating destructive forces, you never know when things might suddenly go all Katrina. Well worth the visit to the theater.
Rated 8/10 (Vegas Statue, gooey radioactive, No Big G!, fins fins fins, BOOM!, eggs, commander, Japanese kid)
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