Monday, May 19, 2014

King of Monsters - Godzilla Review [Spoilers]

Via Etsy
GODZILLA
Directed by GARETH EDWARDS
Starring BRYAN CRANSTON, AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON, ELIZABETH OLSEN,
JULIETTE BINOCHE, and KEN WATANABE

If you are a 'Godzilla' fan, then this is film you have been waiting for. Director Gareth Edwards has returned 'Godzilla' to its rightful place. 'Godzilla' isn't just a big lizard climbing buildings in New York City. Godzilla is a force of nature--a primordial beast that can quite literally shake mountains, cause earthquakes, and bring on tsunamis. The 2014 film has effectively eradicated the bad taste in my mouth from Roland Emmerich's 1998 film. The film starts on a slow burn, which is something that Edward's excels at. Edward's last film, 'Monsters' had a similar buildup. Unlike 'Godzilla,' 'Monsters' was made on a shoestring budget. Now Edwards has $160 million to work with.

Edwards makes use of the film's credits. During the credits, we see that all of those atomic bomb tests in the pacific ocean in the 1950s weren't actually just tests. The bomb drops were man's attempt to kill monsters, or more specifically, MUTOS (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms). In the wake of this "testing," the "MONARCH" organization was born. MONARCH alone knows the true nature of these massive creatures.


In the modern era, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Wantanbe) and his research assistant Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are investigating a mine cave-in in the Philippines. They find ancient bones with two large pods attached. The pods are a parasite that likely killed the gigantic beast. One of the pods has hatched and made its way to the ocean--not good. This is what likely caused the cave-in. Meanwhile elsewhere in the world...


The film appropriately gives an homage to where 'Godzilla' originally began, Japan. Whilst Dr. Serizawa is knee deep in lizard bones in the Philippines, Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche) are jittery nuclear engineers working off of the Japanese coast. Joe is investigating a series of earthquakes that are wreaking havoc at the nuclear plant where they work at. The earthquakes are increasing in magnitude, but they cannot locate the epicenter. The nuclear plant is going critical. Joe sends his wife to take a team to investigate. Sandra doesn't make it out when the plant fails. Their young son (Ford Brody) watches the plant crumble to the ground from his school window, knowing his parents are likely inside.

Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody)

Fifteen years later, Joe has still not quite recovered from his wife's death and he never figures out what happened. Similar to real-life meltdowns in Fukushima and Chernobyl, the plant and the surrounding areas have been quarantined due to excessive radiation. Trespassers are arrested and jailed. Ford Brody is all growed up in the form of Aaron Taylor-Johnson (soon to be Quicksilver in 'Avengers 2'). Ford is a Lieutenant in the United States Navy and an explosives expert. Ford is returning home to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their son. Is it a little weird that Olsen will also be playing Johnson's sister the Scarlet Witch in the 'Avengers' sequel?

Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody)
Before Ford can even enjoy being with his family he receives a disturbing phone call. His father has been arrested in Japan for trespassing in the restricted zone. Ford reluctantly goes to his father's aid. The earthquakes are happening again and Joe needs to retrieve data from old zip disks to verify it. Zip disks--y'all remember those? They were the predecessor to the USB drive.

Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody)
Joe and Ford are captured and taken to the semi-abandoned plant where MONARCH has set up shop. Joe confronts them. He knows they're hiding something. Prior to his arrest, Joe's obsession has led him to rent a fishing boat near the meltdown site, where he's heard strange creature chatter.


The island is now home to a massive cocoon that MONARCH has been monitoring. The cocoon is causing electrical disturbances and earthquakes in the area. It's not long after Joe and Ford's arrival that the cocoon hatches. What emerges is a hideous creature (likely the podded parasite from the cave-in in the Philippines). The creature has wings similar to Mothra from the original 'Godzilla' films.

Ken Watanabe (Dr. Serizawa)
Once the creature hatches the American military takes over MONARCH. Captain Hampton (Richard T. Jones) orders Dr. Serizawa and Vivienne to report to their aircraft carrier. Dr. Serizawa asks for Joe and Ford to be brought along. After sustaining one too many injuries, Joe doesn't survive the helicopter trip to the carrier. It's on the carrier that Dr. Serizawa explains to the audience exactly what these monsters are. We get to hear 'Godzilla's name for the first time, pronounced in the traditional Japanese way ("Gojira"by Watanabe, a Japanese actor. It's a nice nod to the Japanese people.

Godzilla is a primordial beast, perhaps millions of years old. Likewise, the creature that has just hatched is some form of ancient parasite. These creatures feed on radioactive materials as they were formed when the earth's surface naturally contained more radiation. In modern times the creatures live deep beneath the earth, closer to active radioactive sources. But now with nuclear power plants these creatures can pop up to the surface for a snack anytime they want.

The recently hatched Mothra is headed towards the American west, Yucca Mountain to be precise. Yucca Mountain is a repository for nuclear waste...and something else. MONARCH has hidden another sleeping radioactive beastie there. When the military arrives they find that it has escaped and is making a path of destruction to the ocean.


It is determined that this creature is twice the size of the Mothra and likely female. Thankfully it doesn't have wings. Clearly these two creatures have been communicating with each other and are making their way towards each other in order to mate. Godzilla is also making his way towards the beasties. It's Dr. Serizawa's theory that Godzilla's motives are different. Serizawa believes that Godzilla wants to kick butt and chew bubblegum and he is all out of bubblegum. Godzilla seeks to kill these creatures, before they kill him. Serizawa believes that Godzilla is the natural balance to this monstrous species.

Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody)
If you're wondering where the heck Elizabeth Olsen is in the film, then you're not alone. Olsen has no substantive scenes. A character actor could have played this role and would have been just as effective. In fact, my main complaint about the film is the lack of female characters. The female characters have little if any screen time. The majority of the screen belongs to Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who does an ok job leading the film. He's not the most charismatic actor I've seen, but he doesn't overdo it. In the hands of another actor, it could have easily gone over the top. Thankfully Taylor-Johnson is somewhat reserved.

Ken Watanabe (Dr. Serizawa) and David Strathairn (Admiral Stenz)
Against Dr. Serizawa's recommendations, Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn) sends soldiers to lure the monsters out to sea with hopes of feasting on a mega-kiloton nuclear weapon. There he hopes to detonate the weapon and destroy them. Dr. Serizawa reminds the Admiral that such an action is futile as these beasts eat nuclear radiation, but old habits die hard.


Ford volunteers his services with an attachment of soldiers tasked to take the nuclear weapon to the monsters. Ford is an explosives expert and his expertise is desperately needed. They have a few hiccups along the way. These monsters are a handful and they have built-in electromangnetic pulses. Needless to say the "fit hits the shan" and the nuclear device (which has been manually set  due to electrical interference) cannot be disarmed even after the monsters take it into the heart of San Francisco.


One of the best scenes in the film is when the soldiers HALO jump (High Altitude Low Jumping) into San Francisco from 30,000 feet. The jump leader tells them that if by chance they survive and don't hit a skyscraper on the way down, their mission is to disarm the nuclear device and lure the Mothra beasts out to sea.

Godzilla finally makes an appearance toward the end of the film. Some people have complained about this, but I personally agree with Edward's decision to show Godzilla as little as possible. According to Edwards, Godzilla's screentime should be awe-inspiring and it is. When I finally saw Godzilla roar in all of his glory, I have to admit I got a slight chill. What I liked most about the film was that Edwards maintained a sense of mystery with his monsters. That sense of mystery makes the monsters more interesting.


'Godzilla' is a good film, but it's not without its flaws (as most films are). Aaron Taylor-Johnson's character was not nearly enough to carry the film. The film needed a little more. Also, Edwards seriously underutilized both Cranston and Olsen to the detriment of the film. The ending itself was also somewhat predictable and even slightly cheesy. It had a typical Hollywood ending, which leaves much to be desired.


However, "A" for effort to Edwards. 'Godzilla' may not be a masterpiece, but it's a solid film and an enjoyable experience. Sometimes when directors go from low budget to big budget the results are somewhat iffy--think Neill Blomkamp. Blomkamp made the low budget masterpiece 'District 9' then went on to make the big budget/ "just ok" 'Elysium.' Sometimes less money (in filmmaking) makes people more creative. Fortunately, more money caused Edwards to step up his game...and we thank him.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE STARS

18 comments:

  1. Not a masterpiece but a solid film - that sums it up for me. No, it wasn't perfect, but Edwards brought just the right tone to the film and brought us an awe-inspiring Godzilla again.

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    1. Alex-- You summed it up for me nicely! Thaks.

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  2. Hi Mariah, I think I'd enjoy this more if it had more humor in it. Too bad Cranston & Binoche were gone too soon and Taylor-Johnson + Olsen were so underused, their characters are so cookie-cutter and bland. The SFX of the monsters are really the only reason to see this really. I'm not a huge fan of big monster genre, but I did enjoy Pac Rim which was far more enjoyable for me than this one.

    – ruth

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    1. Ruth-- I think you make some great points. Cranston and Binoche were gone far too soon. I think Binoche only had 2 scenes? What the heck? You're right about Taylor-Johnson and Olsen. Their roles could have been so much better. I too enjoyed 'Pacific Rim.' I'm a big monster movie fan. Overall I thought this movie was enjoyable, but flawed.

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  3. Great review for a great movie!
    I was disappointed in the time that Cranston had, but what he did with the time he had carried the weight of Godzilla himself. I had only seen Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the Kick A** movies, so naturally he had a better role in this. I liked the slow showing of Godzilla, it did as you said make it awe-inspiring. Predictable was every time Ford was in trouble Godzilla was there. I felt for Olsens character, but she got put in a box literally. I wonder if she had more time in the movie that fell on the cutting room floor.

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    1. You know David, I wondered the same thing. I really hope there is a director's cut to this film! Great comment. Thanks!

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  4. Great review! This film was seriously a good time. I'm glad you singled out the HALO jumping scene. That truly was amazing to watch.

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    1. Thanks Brittani! yes, I really enjoyed the Halo scene. I wish it had been longer or more happened during it.

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  5. Awesome review! I'm really looking forward to Godzilla, though I may not catch it in theaters. It's good to hear that there is more story and mystery around the legendary monster rather than being a flash-in-the-pan flick. :)

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    1. Hi Katy-- yes, it's true. that's what I really liked most about the film. You may want to see it at the dollar theater instead of waiting on video. It's definitely meant to be seen on the big screen.

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  6. Great review! I agree that monsters shouldn't be shown all the time - Cloverfield barely showed the monster and it was so effective. I hope I'll get a chance to check it out soon.

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    1. I agree! It almost makes it more frightening! I really enjoyed Cloverfield. I thought it was a great little scifi film.

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  7. Hopefully if we do get a sequel it can live up to this film and improve upon it to extend Godzilla's cinematic life a little longer. Good review Marlah.

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    1. Hi Dan, thanks so much! I really enjoyed it, but I am so skeptical of sequels. But it's Godzilla. The franchise has lasted for 60 years! So I will likely see the sequel.

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  8. It's a great film Ms. Mariah and the one we've been waiting years for! Edwards positioned himself perfectly as an up and coming director. It worked and now he's directing a Star Wars film!

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    1. I agree. I think he might be a better option than Abrams! I like Abrams but he would not be my first choice to direct after watching 'Star Trek Into the Darkness.' I think Edwards would do a great job. He's fantastic.

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  9. Overall, I really enjoyed the film and I liked Edwards' restraint in showing the massive beast. And I totally agree that Cranston and Olsen were underutilized.

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    1. Hi Zach, thanks for your comment. Thank you. Yes, overall I enjoyed the film, but I felt it needed a few minor tweaks!

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