Thoughts on Godzilla (2014)

Firstly, I apologize for the month-long break in blog posts. The end of college has preoccupied me. Now, on to Godzilla.

               I have always been a fan of Toho Studio’s most famous creation. The alpha-predator class, ancient reptile has just celebrated his 60year anniversary. In his long career, Godzilla has fought a number of Kaiju, facing off against a rogues’ gallery composed of characters such as a giant moth, a three-headed alien dragon, and King Kong himself. Despite a fervent fan-base, the nearly annual installments of Godzilla in the 90s and onward seemed to have led to some Godzilla fatigue, further hamstrung by the dismal reception of the 1998 American version starring what some may say was a bastardization of the King of Monsters. After 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, Toho Studios decided to shelve the Godzilla franchise, stating that they would wait at least ten years before they allowed anyone to produce a Godzilla film. Now, in 2014, director Gareth Edwards has brought Godzilla back in spectacular fashion.

Godzilla is a slow-burn that teases the audience while building dramatic tension and anticipation for the full reveal of Godzilla’s awesome power. Though this is a Godzilla film, its structure is more closely formatted to the original 1954 Gojira rather than plethora of films that followed, meaning that it is centered on the human drama that takes place on the ground level while Kaiju bowl their way through the story. The King himself is not heavily featured until the last act of the film, but I did not find this detrimental, rather it served as intended, teasing with hints of the creature’s enormity and giving glimpses of the insane amount of detail put into his creation. The same goes for the M.U.T.O.s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), Godzilla’s adversaries in the film. They are appropriately alien, yet possess an organic quality that make them believable and genuinely frightening. The technical prowess of this film is truly impressive, with every aspect of Godzilla melding into one believable, titanic creation. From the sharp CG to the earth-shaking audio (Godzilla’s roar has never sounded better), Godzilla is a technical marvel. With its assured direction, one would not think this to be Gareth Edwards sophomore effort, though his previous 2010 film, Monsters, makes it obvious why he was chosen to breathe (atomic) life back into this franchise. That film, like this one, is an exercise in delayed gratification, a film that leaves much to the imagination while at the same time delivering on the action when necessary. Edwards direction of Godzilla, coupled with the spectacular cinematography of Seamus McGarvey (The Avengers, Anna Karenina, Atonement), make for a beautiful, noteworthy film.

The human side of the story works in two acts, the first of which centered on Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody, a nuclear plant supervisor whose past trauma is intrinsically linked with the rise of one of Godzilla’s Kaiju adversaries in the film. Cranston, hot off his career-defining run as Walter White in Breaking Bad, does not disappoint with the few scenes that he’s given; delivering in what I consider to be the most heartbreaking and heartfelt scene in the entire film. The second part of the human story follows Joe’s son, Ford, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kickass, Nowhere Boy), a former soldier and bomb disposal technician who must find a way back to his family through the chaos caused by the appearance of Godzilla and his adversaries. Taylor-Johnson plays it straight, but I found him compelling as the protagonist of the piece; his serious, level-headed nature makes sense for a soldier. Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) once again proves her immense talent, making the most of the scenes she gets as Ford’s wife. Her distress is clear, but there is a strength in her performance of Elle; she never comes off as helpless.

Some may complain that Godzilla does not feature enough of its titular monster, but I disagree. This film pays homage to those that have come before it, giving the audience every facet of Godzilla that fans have come to love: Godzilla the savior, the force of nature, the anti-hero. He is a beast driven by instinct, but there are glimpses of sentience in his demeanor, which make his complex nature that much more fascinating. And when we come to the end of the film and it’s time to finally see Godzilla face off against his adversaries, he does not disappoint. The knock-down, drag-out final brawl ends with a finishing move so spectacular, it’s nearly impossible to not applaud. In all, Godzilla is a fine return for the alpha predator and it gave me everything I could ever want in a Godzilla film. The King of Monsters is back and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

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