Friday, May 23, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Before I start this post, I’d like to say that I am not a big Godzilla fan, only familiar with the monster from some of the movies I caught on television in my youth.  I really can’t remember which ones I saw—I’m not even sure if I’ve seen the first one introduced to America with Raymond Burr placed in the mix of things—but I do realize the iconic status the character has with a lot of fans.  However, for me, that creature was exactly what it was in real life: a dude in some rubber suit stomping around miniature cars and buildings. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love monster movies and enjoy watching a good giant-creature flick.  I still admire the 1933 version of King Kong, as well as the 1976 and 2005 versions, Jurassic Park was definitely a milestone in dinosaur films, Cloverfield was excellent, Pacific Rim was kick-ass, and I totally loved Super 8 (from what little I’d seen of the creature in that one).  But what most of those latter films had in common is that they used CGI to render the monster/monsters featured.  Take the 1976 and 2005 King Kong films and compare them.  Both films have their problems, but you’ve got to admit that the 2005 film’s representation of the giant ape takes the cake.  Why?  When it comes to giant monsters on film, the CGI’d creatures will always look better than the ones featuring the man-in-a-costume variety.

With that reason alone, I understood why the 1998 version of Godzilla went the way they did, with a completely CGI’d creature resembling what a giant reptile would look like.  I personally liked the Godzilla design of the dreaded Emmerich film, fascinated by the giant iguana/kangaroo hybrid look of it.  I was excited by the teaser they showed in the first trailer, with Godzilla stomping on the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in the dinosaur exhibit.  But, alas, it all died down after watching the film and hearing the consensus by fans and critics on how bad it was.  I still like it for what it is, but the human situations didn’t jibe with the fact that there was a gigantic lizard on the loose in the city.

Also, even though I wasn’t very familiar with the character creature, I’m pretty sure I remembered Godzilla being a hero and protecting humans from other monsters.  In the Matthew Broderick starrer, the creature was running amok and had no regard for human life.  Basically, Godzilla was a giant dinosaur on a rampage and the story could’ve been another chapter in the Jurassic Park series of movies.  So if Hollywood were to try again at that point in time, they needed to get the mythological creature right.

Now, with 2008’s Cloverfield and last year’s Pacific Rim, it was proof positive that Hollywood needed to try again with an American version of the iconic Japanese monster.  According to the fan backlash of the 1998 version, the design had to be similar to the traditional look of the creature, yet keeping it from looking like a guy in a monster costume.  So, fifteen years or so after the Roland Emmerich debacle, director Gareth Edwards gave us…Godzilla.

The film opens with a lot of old atom bomb footage mixed with vintage films of researchers conducting studies on an elusive monster that occasionally surfaces from the depths of the ocean.  Cut to 1999, at a discovered cavern in the Phillipines, and a Japanese researcher, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), finds a cocoon that may have hatched a giant creature, later called a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), found to feed on radiation and able to blast EMPs.  It ends up at a Japanese power plant, causing a nuclear meltdown that destroys the facility.  Fifteen years later, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), former lead of the nuclear plant, is still trying to find out what instigated the destruction that caused the death of his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche).  Joe’s son, Ford (AaronTaylor-Johnson), now a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, comes to his father’s aid in Japan, thinking he’s paranoid with unfounded conspiracies.  But he soon realizes his father was right as two MUTOs emerge and Ford, along with the military, engages in an all-out battle to try and stop the monsters.  However, the military isn’t enough, but a monster rises from the depths of the ocean to help mankind deal with this threat.

Man, this just conjures up memories of watching monster movies when I was a kid and it turned it up one-hundred-fold.  Godzilla is far from the 50s era of monster movies, this is the beginning of an epic tome that will reverberate around the world.  Seeing the creature effects with the scope of land- and cityscapes makes me regret not seeing this in IMAX.  I sat in my seat when the end credits started rolling and just wanted more of everything I had just witnessed on screen, making a mental note to myself to make sure that I pick this up on Blu-Ray four to five months from now. 

The story is well-told, basically a human-driven narrative of a man who lost his wife because of something behind the nuclear plant disaster and spends years to prove the subversion that’s been done and how he comes to find out—as well as the world—that monsters were behind it.  So the whole movie isn’t about Godzilla rising up to cast destruction upon the city or fighting the threatening monsters while humans simply stand by and watch.  No, it has a lot to do with humanity and how we persevere—or try to anyway—against a threat no matter how impossible the odds are.  But, the bottom line, it’s a human interest story first with Godzilla coming in to be the protector of humankind.

See, this time around, and unlike the Emmerich version, Godzilla is a hero, just like how the old Japanese films represented the character.  Although not always identified throughout the film, there were a few evident intimations that Godzilla was there to defend the humans.  From purposely  taking the hits of missiles that were heading towards the Golden gate bridge in error to dropping a beat-down on the MUTOs, Godzilla was there as the guardian of the human race.

As for the performances throughout the film, Bryan Cranston shined as the lead with such an array of emotions.  He truly is a great thespian as most of us had seen during the “Breaking Bad” television series (if you haven’t seen that show, you need to jump on Netflix and watch it!).  I was a little surprised by Aaron Kick-Ass films, but he truly has quite a career in front of him.  He has the looks and acting chops for a leading man—I’m looking forward to his role as Quicksilver in the Avengers sequel.  Overall, you won’t see any ridiculous scenes like you had in the Emmerich version—no “Singing in the Rain” performance, no look-a-like movie critics, and definitely no French guys imitating Elvis Presley.
Taylor-Johnson’s appearance, being used to his thinner frame in the

The monster designs of the MUTOs and Godzilla are remarkable.  The MUTOs kind of reminded me of the Cloverfield monster, being unable to distinguish where the orifices are or how many legs they have as they kind of resemble giant mantises or locusts.  Whatever the case, they’re truly terrifying.  Now, with Godzilla’s design, I had my reservations that going with the look of the old Japanese appearance would work, thinking it would just look like a guy in a suit.  But I was wrong in having any doubts whatsoever, because it worked so well.  Godzilla looks so bad-ass and fearsome, the filmmakers made the right choice to appease the fans and stay with the traditional look of the monster.  I won’t give anything away, but I’ll just say that he does expel his fire breath a few times that sent chills up my spine with the way they revealed it in the movie.  It wasn’t fire, but a blue-white beam of irradiated energy that just looked perfect as it was used during a climactic battle.

If there’s one complaint I can make about this film is the screen time Godzilla gets in this film.  After watching this movie last weekend, I’d noticed that was the one criticism everyone had made and I agree.  It doesn’t take anything away from the story; in fact, in a funny way it helps the human side of the story.  To just show the people of Earth being threatened by these monsters, only to have Godzilla come in to save the day, would make man look helpless, so it works to have the two sides of this film’s exposition.  Godzilla is certainly a movie about what mankind would do against a monstrous threat like the MUTOs, but at the same time it’s a film about an ancient creature that rises from the depths of the ocean to help civilization when called for.  Even though that’s what I had gathered from the story, I still wanted more Godzilla!

So, my final “bit” on Godzilla?

The film is a great human story that you can stand by and enjoy and, of course, seeing the monsters going at it—the battles between them are pretty breathtaking.  Godzilla finally has a great American adaptation made and we can finally stop complaining about Emmerich’s 1998 version…or maybe not.  While Godzilla is still out in theaters, you should go watch it.  Heck, I might go again, just to see it in IMAX.

That’s it for now…I just got back from watching X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Be on the look-out for a post from me regarding that one.

Thanks for reading!

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