Director – Gareth Edwards
Cast – Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Carson Bolde, Richard T. Jones, Victor Rasuk, Patrick Sabongui, Juliette Binoche, CJ Adams
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
One of my earliest childhood memories is watching Godzilla films on VHS with my younger brother. It was the early 90s when we would wake up early on Saturdays (now a rarity at my current age of 28) and pop in one of our many video tapes, from the original Gojira to Terror of Mechagodzilla, we watched the Showa series of Godzilla flicks, never getting into the Heisei series nor the Millennium series. The last Godzilla film I saw chronologically before this 2014 release was the comic 1998 Roland Emmerich effort. While I did not hate the film and found it still appealing to my love for the series, we needed a widely released entry to bring the series back from the rubble caused by Emmerich’s film. When I first heard of Godzilla being remade I was quite skeptical. “Who is going to direct it?” and “How will they screw it up this time?” were questions I constantly asked when discussing the film with friends, and then I learned Gareth Edwards would direct the film. In 2010 I watched a film titled Monsters that left me in awe. Shot on a very low budget and entirely on locations the filmmakers did not have permission to film at, the film was and still is one of the better monster films of this decade, and it was written/directed by Gareth Edwards. When I learned that he would be directing the new Godzilla flick I was ecstatic and finally felt the hope I was longing for. Edwards brought a heavy human element to the film Monsters, and I was hoping he would do the same with Godzilla…and he did. While the story may have some flaws and questionable decisions to some viewers, Godzilla returns as the king of all monsters and the end result is the film the series needed, and one the fans should enjoy.
When a mining company accidentally uncovers the greatest paleontological find of all time, they also unknowingly unleash mankind’s greatest threat. When every human method fails to kill the malevolent foe, the world places its hope on the oldest living creature to ever walk the Earth. Deemed Nature’s greatest weapon, Godzilla awakens to return balance and save us from our scientific arrogance.
The story comes written by Dave Callaham (The Expendables, Tell Tale, Horsemen, Doom) and the screenplay is penned by Max Borenstein and serves as his sophomore effort. I was glad to see that the story did not follow the original Gojira film of 1954 but instead was served to us as its own film – making this more of a re-imaging than a remake. The film begins in 1999 and follows Joe Brody, an American scientist working and living in Japan with his family. Now the head engineer at a large nuclear facility, Joe has caught on to irregular seismic readings that leave him troubled over the security of his facility, and trouble comes knocking. Actually, it kicks the freakin’ door down. Fast forward 15 years later and Joe is still living in Japan, however his life is far from what it used to be. The man lost nearly everything in the disaster, and the home he and his family lived in, which contains all of his memories as well as some very important data, has been closed off in a quarantine zone. An effort to retrieve his long-lost data lands him in the slammer, and that brings his son, Ford, to Japan to bail his father out of jail. Ford has just returned to his family after a 14 month deployment overseas where he serves as a member of the esteemed Explosive Ordnance Demolition (EOD) division of the United States Navy. He was young when tragedy struck and changed his life forever, but he moved on from the ordeal, unlike his once-esteemed father. Eager to get his father out of prison and get back to his own life, Ford instead finds himself realizing that his father’s suspicions that the blast was not an accident nor an environmental disaster are correct. Joe has always believed that the true reason behind the reactor blast has been hidden from the public, but Joe, Ford, and countless others witness the truth first hand when it lays havoc on the island of Japan.
This story is heavy on its characters, and while the Brodys steal the show there is an equally pressing sub-plot involving another scientist with an investment in the creature, Dr. Ichiro Seriz (Ken Watanabe; The Last Samurai, Batman Begins, Inception). Dr. Serizawa was around when the disaster occurred 15 years ago, and his quest to quell the creature is still ongoing. Now working with the US military on stopping the creature, Dr. Serizawa constantly remains one step ahead of his cohorts and uses this advantage for his own reasoning. A man of science, he knows that the arrogance of man will do nothing to stop the threat to their survival. However, he does know of a certain beast that has been lying dormant for as long as the Earth has existed, and it can be used as our greatest weapon.
With his father’s knowledge and his family living on the West Coast, Ford travels back to the states to reach his family, but not before joining the fight to save humanity. The monster has traveled from Japan to America’s western coast, and conventional military weapons fail to stop the invasion. It is then that Godzilla arrives and takes matters into his own hands, as Mother Nature would intend. Of course, the twists and turns are bountiful, and the struggle for both the humans and Godzilla will result in a true fight for their lives.
I really enjoyed this story and found it just the way I expected it to be. Because I had seen director Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, I knew that the film would have a heavy dramatic element that would prevail over the horror overall. While Edwards did not write the film, it really seems like it was written for him and the style he employs. This is a character-driven effort and it relies heavily on several leading and supporting characters to move the story and (hopefully) keep us interested. I had no problems with the character emphasis, but I did find some of the character play to be “off”. Because of this, many of these characters were unlikable and subsequently uninteresting. This slightly unfulfilling writing execution plagued the film a bit for me, especially when you consider how much we are bombarded with this. Thankfully, the use of the monsters was so downright awesome that it made up for the story’s faults that I believe are worthy of forgiveness. We do get lots of monster play throughout the first and second acts, but this action comes via the antagonist and not so much from Godzilla. These scenes were enjoyable though and we watch man’s futility as they try to defend themselves from a creature unleashed because of their scientific arrogance. Eventually Godzilla does arrive, but for the most part we see in him small doses. I heard a lot of complaints about this, but when I thought about it I found them to be unfounded when you take a look into the past. Films like Jaws, Gojira, Friday the 13th, and Halloween all contained monsters of their own right that were hardly seen for the extreme majority of the film, and then finally come to light in an epic battle during the final act. Well that is somewhat the same case with Godzilla, and it should not come as a surprise to you when you consider what I just said. I did, however, feel that the use of Godzilla in this effort left him in somewhat of a supporting role, even during the final act. This is not necessarily a bad thing given we do eventually see what we came for, but with a film titled Godzilla you would assume he is the main character, and that he is not. If you go into this experience expecting monster fights like those seen in the amazing Pacific Rim you will also most definitely be disappointed. I enjoyed the fights, but they were a bit simplistic and did not contain over-the-top antics. The film is a dramatic one, and entertainment takes a back seat because of that. Nonetheless, we see great horror, plenty of creature action, and Godzilla is used in such an awesome fashion that I will say this is one of the better films of the series. I was a bit disappointed to not see much action in the ocean, but of course that would have drawn many to reference Pacific Rim.
Director Gareth Edwards did a great job executing this film, and it “feels” like his work throughout the 2 hour runtime. He expertly uses actor Bryan Cranston to sell the film early on and get us worked up along with his character, Joe Brody. When tension arose early on I noticed that Edwards was solid in keeping the stakes high and getting our hearts racing, and that was for scenes that did not even involve the creatures. When the story moves locations to the west coast we get to see more of the disastrous effects caused by the antagonist, and Edwards managed to execute both the creature carnage and the emotional impact of our characters to expert levels. The writing may not have been perfect, but this director managed to bring the story to life and make up for any faults with his execution. I know this because he had me so engaged that I did not even take notice to the faults until after the movie. I loved the look of his antagonist creatures, and while they were referred to as MUTO in the film I am pretty darn sure they were his version of Godzilla’s classic nemesis, Rodan. These creatures were gigantic in size and took full advantage of that. In a way they resembled something Guillermo del Toro would dream up, but no; these are Edwards’ creatures and they exhibited his style – as seen in his previous film, Monsters. He also did well in executing the military action, especially the use of the ground troops. I did not pay much attention to uniform code (and neither should you), but he kept the tension at the utmost during the scenes where US soldiers were facing insurmountable odds in valiant efforts to stop the invasion with the least amount of civilian collateral damage. Keep your eyes peeled for the HALO scene, where paratroopers on a suicide mission give us one of the film’s best sequences. With our hearts racing and deadly chaos erupting all over the screen, Edwards delivered the highlight of his career when Godzilla arrived and gave us that titanic roar known all over the world for 60 years and counting. When this scene hit I knew that I was watching excellence, and was part of an experience that I can relive again and again. Godzilla is back to his true form – a slightly obese reptile with a heavy bottom and almost sluggish appearance on land. Gone is that giant iguana we saw in Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, we now have the real thing. When I thought about it, I realized he is much like an Anaconda. He is sluggish on land due to his extreme size, but very nimble while underwater where his weight is not such an overbearing factor. Even so, watching Godzilla settle an old score with his new enemies was downright epic. Unsurprisingly, Edwards’ human element was present even during these chaotic scenes. At times myself and those around me sighed in disbelief over the events occurring before us, where Godzilla was taking a beating that we did not expect. For a director to achieve such emotions from the viewer, and all for a grotesque creature that cannot speak its emotions to us, shows the talent this man has and proves that the decision to bring him on board was the right one. Godzilla is not just the king of all monsters. Godzilla has a soul, a conscience, and he is a hero to mankind.
Overall, Godzilla is an incredible movie-going experience that I highly suggest to you. Yes, the film is flawed and at times it may even feel unfulfilling, but these are story-related flaws and they can be overlooked if you allow it. Director Gareth Edwards does such a damn good job executing every element of the film that you won’t even notice any negatives until it is too late and you catch yourself smiling. With amazing action, creatures, tension, drama, horror, and despair, Godzilla is the total package – literally and figuratively.