18 May 2014

Review: Godzilla


Toho's greatest creation came to the U.S. in 1998 and promptly crashed and burned with the assistance of Roland Emmerich. The film did poorly for the reason most of Roland Emmerich's recent films haven't done well; Emmerich has an eye for the explosions, but not of the stakes. Making matters worse was Godzilla really wasn't Godzilla, just an over-sized dinosaur scurrying about New York City.

The story has to be grounded in the eyes of character like Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). In one of several nods to Steven Spielberg, Gareth Edwards introduces the Brody family through an instance of tragedy which sets the course for everything that follows. It is table-setting sure, but it allows for characters as thinly written as blockbuster characters usually are to feel real. The focus for 2014's Godzilla is on Navy EOD tech (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) fighting to reunite with his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son.

Patience is required before the heavy duty battles begin. Gareth Edwards ratchets up the tension with displays of just how small we all are in the face of natural disasters and violent convergences between colossal beasts. There are huge stakes in adding such monstrous creatures—referred to here as MUTOs: mobile, unidentified, terrestrial objects—to a world inhabited by humans. Further adding to the smallness of man are the armed forces who, in their rush to cease this new threat, potentially endanger millions more.

Similar to 1954's Gojira a layer of social commentary is present beneath the populist fare. Ken Watanabe features as one of the two scientists, Bryan Cranston is the other, who serve as the moral conscience of the film amidst the destruction. Dr. Ichiro Serizawa cautions that perhaps we are dealing with a disaster we couldn't understand. "The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control…" and when pressed against disaster, man resorts to nuclear weapons. The point isn't as relevant as it was sixty years ago, but given man's inherent need for mutual destruction, it shouldn't go unsaid.

Choosing to reveal Godzilla in bits over the course of two acts won't be a popular choice for all audiences, but it is the right call. Audiences want Godzilla, yes, but not the risk of over-saturation. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, Jaws in Jaws and the Joker in The Dark Knight are all magnetic characters, but none of them take central focus of their respective films. Keeping the appearances limited allows for a rightful amount of awe to take place when the King of Monsters is fully revealed during one of several brawls. The creature design and visual effects are truly something to behold. Each monster is larger than the last and when the titular beast is revealed it sends a shiver through the collective spines of moviegoers.

With ticket prices rising over the last decade, it isn't always easy to recommend upgrading viewing experiences, but to fully appreciate the sheer scale of Godzilla, IMAX is well worth the extra surcharge. Quite simply this is one of those instances where blockbusters justify the hype.