When director Gareth Edwards made his movie Monsters back in 2010, he approached things from a bot of a different angle. With a lower budget, he focused more on the human drama instead of filling the screen with a ton of special effects shots. When the titular monsters were shown, however, they proved to be unique and worth the wait. That less is more philosophy worked back in 1975 for Steven Spielberg in Jaws as well. Now, in 2014, Edwards has been given a bigger budget for a bigger project- to bring back Godzilla, the King of Monsters, to the big screen for his 60th anniversary. Does he succeed?
Quite simply- Yes, he does. The King is back, and in a big way.
The story gives us glimpses of Godzilla’s origins in 1954, where he was thought to be destroyed. Flash forward to 1999, where strange quakes plague the Phillipines. A mining company makes a unique discovery, one that brings in Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) to investigate. Meanwhile, the strange tremors have caught the notice of someone else. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) work at a nuclear power plant in Kanjira, Japan. Brody has noticed the increasing tremors and warns that the plant’s reactors may have to be shut down. A tragic incident occurs, and we moved forward fifteen years, where we meet the Brody’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) coming home from a tour of duty overseas in the military to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam (Carson Bolde). Ford doesn’t get to stay home long, as he gets called to Japan where his father Joe has been arrested for trespassing into the contaminated zone that was once Kanjira. There another incident reveals the truth, as creatures called M.U.T.O. s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) are let loose. The appearance of these creatures brings Godzilla forth for an inevitable showdown.
I won’t reveal much more of the plot, as it’s better to experience it yourself. Edwards again does here what he did so well with Monsters, and that’s present us with a solid human drama and characters to care about against the backdrop of horrific destruction caused by the gigantic beasts. With the bigger budget, we get to see a bit more of the beasties this time around, and the creature designs are very well done. Godzilla looks fantastic, with nods to the many designs over his sixty year existence. The MUTOs make for worthy adversaries, with one being nearly the size of Godzilla and the other being able to fly. The scenes of destruction are well staged, and the monsters do display a bit of personality and emotion. Add to that the classic Godzilla roar, modified ever so slightly, to fit a Godzilla for the 21st century. The mistakes made by the Roland Emmerich 1998 film are erased, and fans should be quite pleased.
The cast was all very good. Watanabe (Inception) is perfectly grave as Dr. Serizawa (a nice touch paying homage to the character from the 1954 movie Gojira). He knows the creatures must be contained, and yet isn’t so arrogant that he thinks he can truly control Nature. Cranston (Breaking Bad) is very good here, and shows a nice range of emotion. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass) does well as his son Ford, dealing with his father’s tenacity in not letting go the incident in the past to dealing with the existence of giant monsters and trying to do what he can to help, all while trying to get back to his wife and son. Every one seems to have just the right amount of screen time, including the monsters. It provides a nice balance, and there are a few nods here and there to older Godzilla movies. The music by Alexandre Desplat fits well, with just the hint of Akira Ifukube’s theme being used during the opening credits without using the familiar Godzilla anthem outright. The screenplay by Max Borenstein (written from a story by Dave Callaham) doesn’t hit a sour note throughout the movie’s 123 minute running time.
Godzilla has gone through many stages since he first appeared on the big screen in 1954. The transition from man in a rubber suit to CGI has been a long time coming. This time, unlike the 1998 Godzilla, the spirit of the creature wasn’t lost. 2014’s Godzilla is an anti-hero, a force of nature that can lay cities to waste and yet he is entirely necessary to provide a balance in the natural world. Over the years we’ve seen Godzilla go from outright villain to being more heroic, and Edwards relays that in this film as well. He is a creature in part created by man’s arrogance in the use of atomic weapons, and yet he may very well be mankind’s only hope against other horrors that could be unleashed. This Godzilla is definitely the one fans have been waiting for over the past 60 years, paying homage to the past and proving he can stand tall in the 21st century. Having been disappointed a bit before (though I did enjoy the 1998 film as a good monster movie, just not a good Godzilla movie) I was happy to see this film exceed my expectations. Edwards proved to be an inspired choice to bring Godzilla to the big screen again, and has given us one of the most entertaining and thrilling movies of the year so far.
The King is back. Get to the theater to see him in all his glory. You won’t be disappointed.
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