Godzilla (2014, 2 hrs 3 mins)
As a kid, I was a diehard fan of that giant, nubbly-hided, spiny lizard, the one with the pseudo-elephant roar, yes, Godzilla. Saturdays were made better if I found a channel with a grainy old school Godzilla movie, forfeiting any outdoor adventures for an hour or two. Because of the nostalgia and all the remake frenzy going on these days, I have become somewhat immovable in my stance of the loveable, kitschy icon with the bouncy stomping action. Godzilla of the 50’s to the 80’s was all I knew and that was fine with me. When the 1998 version came out, I didn’t bother seeing it since the reviews skewered it. I happened to catch it on T.V. one day, and agreed. It was not the best representation of Godzilla, and I smugly held my stance.
After seeing a trailer for the 2014 version a few months ago, I was dubious. There seemed to be a touch of cheese to the melodrama unfolding, making both my sister and I giggle. I wasn’t sure if I would see it because I thought they would screw it up again. Well, I am happy to say that I was wrong. Gareth Edwards, who directed the intriguing indie film Monsters, manages to encapsulate all the important elements of an old-fashioned Godzilla movie and make the story current, relevant and bloody entertaining!
In 1991, scientists at an enormous excavation find gigantic fossils and some weird activity. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is physicist working at a nuclear plant in a city just outside of Tokyo, Japan. He finds some unusual seismic activity and insists that it is not an earthquake. His wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche), works there as well, and perishes during a seismic event and subsequent nuclear disaster that leaves Joe to raise their son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) on his own. Ford grows up to be a soldier and somewhat estranged from his father, who is bent on finding out the source of the disaster that ruined his family. When Ford goes to Japan to bail his father out for trespassing in their quarantined hometown, Joe reveals to him that there is something going on, something that will put a lot of lives in danger. Add some officials that aren’t telling the whole truth, some radioactive hungry monsters and epic disaster scenes, and you have yourself a sensational monster movie.
I loved this movie! Edwards added the classic elements from all the Godzilla films such as the cute little Japanese boy with a baseball cap rescued from peril, a tsunami, countless destroyed buildings, and the feverish workings of scientists and the military, to continue the legend and mythology. The story stayed true to the veiled environmental and political commentaries of past Godzilla movies, without any distracting subplots. Some of the details were well thought out too, like the opening credits, which showed clever vintage footage of military nuclear “testing” and grainy, Loch Ness type reels, as well as the redacted credits themselves. I admit, I wasn’t there for the acting, but Cranston was solid as the obsessed grieving father and husband, and Johnson was nice to look at. I was there for the monsters, and I wasn’t disappointed. The monster fights were spectacular, bringing this pixie more massive creatures than I could ever dream of. The scoring was also key for me. It was overwhelming, ominous and grandiose, giving you the gut wrenching feeling of being tiny and helpless, which is more than fitting for the subject matter.
And I must take a moment to comment on Godzilla and the beautiful creature design. I read that Edwards wanted to pay homage and respect the “Gojira” designs from the past, and his design team did just that, gaining approval from the original Toho production company that was responsible for Godzilla’s movie fame. The majestic 2014 Godzilla is awe-inspiring, terrifying and somehow elicits sympathy with its expressive face. This incarnation is also the biggest in Godzilla’s history. From that fabulous roar to the blue fire spit balls, this lizard fits the bill of his past brethren. I found myself cheering for it in the theatre, even finding it kind of adorable at some points during the film. I especially liked it when Godzilla stomped on things and we got a close up of the giant clawed foot. I giggled as I remembered the old school, latex foot bouncing as it decimated miniature houses and cars. I would also donate to Godzilla’s epic vet bills. It would be worth it to me, just to see that gorgeous lizard face again.
My only critique, as a monster movie fiend, is that the M.U.T.O. monster villains looked a touch like the Cloverfield monster. I wanted them to have a separate identity instead of an actual (probably not intended) reference. Also, I saw the 3-D version which I normally wouldn’t do, but I wanted to go the V.I.P. theatre and that was the only option, so I have no idea if those effects were any good as I have an eye issue that prevents me from experiencing this particular effect.
There has been announcements that a Godzilla sequel is in the works, and I couldn’t be happier. With Edwards at the helm, I have no doubt that he will respect the O.G. Godzilla legend, this “King of the Monsters”, and will hopefully bring on more daikaiju (I vouch for Gamera, Rodan or Mothra) and more epic battles. Go see Godzilla if you want to see a legend respected and represented the way a remake should!