Godzilla is a movie that everyone has heard about, even if they have never seen it. There have been so many manifestations of Godzilla in cinema, from the original 1954 version, to his battles with Mothra, Mechagodzilla and Hedorah, to the terrible 1998 Roland Emmerich version, to this one, 2014’s Godzilla, directed by “Monsters” director Gareth Edwards.
I was excited about this film since first hearing about it last year, and have been following its progression over the past few months as casting and further details were announced. When the first trailer arrived on the scene a few months ago I was further intrigued, and by the time the film was released on May 15th 2014, I was thoroughly anticipating the re-emergence of one of cinemas most famous monsters.
Gareth Edwards, a young director whose only previous feature film was 2010’s “Monsters” was in the scope of critics from the get-go with ponderings from many about whether or not this somewhat unproven director would be able to handle a gigantic budget and create a Godzilla film that fans could be proud of. After seeing the film I would personally say that the concern was wasted because Edwards did a marvellous job at crafting a monster movie that felt epic, in the true sense of the word.
The casting of the film is what initially pleased me, with fantastic talent such as Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and Juliette Binoche all being integral parts of the film. Cranston, hot off the heels of the critically and commercially successful Breaking Bad, did a wonderful job here and his performance was as good as I hoped, bringing passion and anger to the role in a way that only Cranston could. It’s Taylor-Johnson and Olsen though, both young and talented performers, who carry the majority of the film on their youthful shoulders, and I felt like they did a very good job. Taylor-Johnson, at times, felt like he could have tried to show more emotion in scenes that really needed it, but he still did a commendable job and his scenes with Olsen, who plays his wife, Elle, were relaxed and convincing. Olsen, an actress who I really like from her excellent performances in films like Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene, was a standout in the film for me, and brought a warmth and emotional depth to the screen that was essential, showing an absolute fear of what was occurring in the streets.
The cast as a whole did a great job and I was shocked at times regarding the amount of time certain members of the cast were on screen.
The story begins with tragedy involving Joe (Cranston), a power plant engineer stationed in Japan, as the plant crumbles and people are buried in the debris, with the area being taped off as a toxic zone. We shoot forward fifteen years and the son of Joe, Ford (Taylor-Johnson) is returning from military service as a bomb disposal expert for the Navy. Ford reunited with his wife Elle (Olsen) and his son, and we see the family dynamic and their love for one another. Ford then received a call from Japan informing him that his father was arrested after being caught in the quarantine area that suffered the plant meltdown fifteen years prior and so Ford goes to Japan to assist his Dad. Ford, who has rarely seen his father in recent years, sees that his Dad is obsessed with finding out what caused the accident fifteen years earlier.
We meet Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Hawkins), a pair of scientists who have been studying Godzilla since the 1950’s. The action begins when a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) hatches, a giant winged monster (not unlike a mecha-mothra), and Dr. Serizawa finds that Joe’s obsessive concerns are valid and something is about to occur that, well, isn’t very healthy for the residents of Earth.
There are lots of small nods and hints at other Godzilla films, which is nice, and Edwards does a grand job of staying true to the b-movie monster while updating it and shrouding it in a more modern and atmospheric way. It’s like comparing Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins to the Adam West fronted show. The movie feels dark and the looming fear of attack adds to the tension. We follow the scientists and military personnel as they attempt to figure out what to do with this MUTO, and we then meet further monsters, including Godzilla himself. The scale of these monsters, and feeling of immense power they possess is brought to the screen. They feel huge, and they look huge, and the CGI looks top notch.
It would be easy, in a film like this, for subtlety to be ignored entirely, but it isn’t. The sound design is not merely screams, explosions and roars, but rather echoes, vibrations and distant howls that bring a very unnerving feel to the experience. The music by Alexandre Desplat is wonderful and creates a booming soundtrack to the monster war that is escalating on screen. The CGI is subtle too. We rarely see full on cartoon-like shots of the monsters, but rather a tail swooping past a skyscraper, the side of a massive leg, or the reptile gaze staring through a misty sky. It looks beautiful and works really well at adding further tension, allowing us as viewers to wonder just when and where the monsters will show up next.
It is a slow building film, and in many ways it needs to be, but there were moments, specifically a couple of scenes involving military conversation, where I felt like the editing could have been tightened up and a little bit of the conversation cut, but this is a small gripe that didn’t bother me enough to take me out of the film. The performances, for the most-part, were great and the cinematography was spot-on, with some scenes looking over a valley, or across an ocean, being inspiring to watch. It felt like more than just a blockbuster popcorn flick but rather a disaster film with some very emotional and serious concerns under the hood.
60 years after the original film was unleashed upon the World by Ishiro Honda, this incarnation of Godzilla was a pleasing thing to see. With great pacing, brilliant performances and stunning imagery and character design, this was a treat and one I will look forward to revisiting in the near future.