Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla Review

(dir. Gareth Edwards)

Warner Bros./Toho

“The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around.”

I grew up on Godzilla. Those films were one of my early ventures into science-fiction and the character was instrumental in my exploration of film. Gareth Edwards understands what makes the character and world he inhabits so special and enduring and it’s clear that movie is being directed by a fan. He successfully captures the realistic threat and fear of nuclear power alongside the inherent absurdities of giant monsters that were present in the original Toho series. Edwards manages to do this without the cynicism evident in post 9/11 blockbusters and his previous film Monsters, and creates a summer movie that has echoes of Spielberg’s work in the 70s and 80s.

The marketing for this film has been pitch perfect and the trailers withheld a number of story surprises that are best left to be experienced in the theatre. So with that being said there are significant plot details that I will leave out of this review. Much of story centers on human characters, specifically Ford Brody (Aaron-Taylor Johnson), an explosive ordinance disposal technician, who is pulled into a secret government project by his father Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston). Joe is conspiracy theorist, who for the past 15 years has been collecting evidence that the power plant explosion that killed his wife was not a natural disaster. Ford and Joe are enlisted by scientists Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) to deal with the threat of an escaped research project. Ford is faced with serving his country while trying to make it back home to his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and his son.

From the story description you would be correct to assume the film focuses more on the human characters than the titular Godzilla. But the human characters are well-written for the most part and though their stories are not entirely original they work well within the scope of the film. The acting from the leads is solid across the board, with Cranston and Watanabe getting the best lines. Aaron-Taylor Johnson isn’t a traditional leading action hero which added an interesting layer of realism to his character. Elizabeth Olsen does well capturing Elle’s panic, though she (along with Sally Hawkins) could have used more to do. The only other quibble about the script was that it followed in the tradition of having a few poorly written, over-expository lines for the military personnel to say unconvincingly.

Though some critics have complained about how long it takes for Godzilla to show up, I believe the pacing and focus on the human characters works extremely well. Beyond naming his main character Brody, Gareth Edwards influence from Jaws is evident. He withholds a full shot of the monster for as long as possible in order to create a truly earned finale. Because of this, Edwards avoids the issue of last summer’s Pacific Rim, where the best battle happens too early in the film, leaving the finale to feel like more of the same. The film pulls back just enough to ensure that the climax really was worth wanting for.

Beyond story and pacing, the film is truly a technical marvel. The atmosphere of the film is mesmerizing and haunting. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is simply beautiful and the shots of ruined cities, quarantined homes, and abandoned vehicles on the highway are likely to be some of the best shot settings you’ll see this year. The score from Alexandre Desplat is striking without becoming distracting or heavy-handed in its emotional cues. There are shades John Williams as well as touches of 2001: Space Odyssey within the soundtrack that are effectively chilling and capture the sense of adventure and massive scope of what’s unfolding. And finally the creature effects and motion capture are stunning. Godzilla looks like Godzilla should and is fully expressive. We’ve come a long way from men in rubber suits. I’d suggest you see the film on as large a screen as possible to catch all the details that were put into this.

In terms of its overall quality, Godzilla feels like a direct result of the blockbuster era that Christopher Nolan helped usher in: a big budget studio production that allowed for the artists to truly go after their goal with minimal interference. It’s a film that pays off and one that begs for a sequel but stands on its own as well. By the time the film reached its well-earned finale there was clapping and cheering from the audience, evidence that Godzilla is back and remains King of the Monsters.

Grade: A+

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