The most famous monster in the history of cinema has had 31 previous films about him with the most recent incarnation making it the 32. It has spanned 6 decades with Japan producing 28 films nearly every decade starting with 1954 ending 50 years later in 2004. The 3 American versions released have been far less successful with the box office, critics and audiences. It seemed highly unlikely that a version would resonate with American audiences until very recently. An unknown director has taken the monstrous reigns of an icon and all the doubts along with it. Luckily he has conceived a thrilling vision recreating Godzilla for the 21st century while not forgetting what made Godzilla such a force in the first place.
Clearly the star happens to be the titular god of the monsters which always wasn’t the case. His last outing was plagued by too many characters and the tired relationships between them. Godzilla felt like a third wheel that didn’t matter in the proceedings. But he is front and center here even if he doesn’t show up until later in the film. Which I didn’t really mind that much. It helps build anticipation by delaying his inevitable return. I likened it to how Jaws was used in the movie Jaws where bits and pieces were revealed only to finally show him in a thrilling introduction. The great white wasn’t showed until the final act cause the machine kept breaking down and had to be put off until later in the shooting of the film. That made his introduction an instant classic, aided with Roy Schieders epic ad lib line. The same happens here when he appears and you know he is going to kick some serious ass. He makes a huge stomp as the camera pans up and you see him let out his one of a kind roar. This is also similar to the Tyrannosaurus rex introduction in Jurassic Park, which ironically Steven Spielberg directed as well as Jaws.
He has looked better than he ever has as the special effects were down right spectacular. It felt right to release a new film now that the technology is top of the line and motion capture has reached new heights of artistry and creativity. You can do so much without it looking fake and have it be a natural part of the scenery. The way his face look was awesome; a composite of regal animals like bears, eagles and dogs. Godzilla looked just as good as if he was in a rubber suit, some people may be purist for the old style but its hard disagree that he looked down right badass. He is at heart a warrior battling for what’s right while you have that feeling from him that he’ll put everything on the line to protect anybody. He wasn’t painted as a straight up villain like Godzilla (1998) but a fierce protector as well as a tragic figure like most movie monsters. His backstory is one of the most iconic in film and a direct answer to nuclear tests that were tested in the 50s. The theme of nature fighting back against a world that created him and intent on destroying him still has resonance today. But instead of terrorizing an unjust world, he rushes to restore balance against a force hell bent on destroying all life.
The other monsters called MUTOs looked equally amazing and just as destructive, even more than Godzilla. You could see similarities in style to the monsters in Pacific Rim and Cloverfield though that doesn’t mean that they are directly influenced by them. Suppose after a while, all movie monsters look alike. But there was a distinct effort to make them their own, while combining looks from previous monsters. I love the slow burn on how they introduced the monsters, explaining everything along the way while peppering in a few surprises.
The amazing and creative looks of the monsters didn’t cascade to the human cast as much. For the most part, the acting was subpar. The only stand out among a brilliant and diverse cast was Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody, which should not be surprising at all to anyone who owns a television. Long before Breaking Bad, all I could see was Hal. Now all I could see is Heisenberg. For someone who isn’t the main attraction in a monster movie, he makes sure you remember him. He says so much without saying anything and has the most expressive face that’s on the screens, TV or theatre. But when he does say something, especially when yelling, you immediately pay attention. A bit like Walter White, he plays a scientist who know one pays attention to when he sees something catastrophic about to happen. An explosive opening to the movie says everything that needs to be said while showing Cranston’s impeccable acting ability. He switches from visceral to morose so quickly, providing the dramatic anchor a monster movie sorely needed.
The rest of the cast while exceptionally talented didn’t offer that much compared to Cranston. Aaron Taylor-Johnson played Ford Brody the son of Joe, was a bit stereotypical as an explosive ordnance disposal officer in the US Navy. There wasn’t a big standout scene from him and felt paint by numbers. Nothing we haven’t seen from other monster movies and a starring military role. But he was far more tolerable than Shia Labeouf as Sam Witwicky in the Transformers series. Elizabeth Olsen as his wife Elle was a bit more facially expressive but was also did not do much of anything notable. Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Seriwaza was the standard scientist who spent years studying Godzilla and the MUTOs as well as his assistant Sally Hawkins as Dr. Vivienne Graham. David Strathairn as Rear Admiral William Stenz was the leading military officer in charge and gave nothing else. While the normalcy of these characters would make any movie a dud, it didn’t really matter here since the essence of a Godzilla movie was in fact Godzilla itself. Did any of the countless Japanese sequels offer any brilliant acting or character development? No, but it’s that we expect to see more than that even though you’re seeing a kick ass looking monster punch another in the face in the middle of San Francisco. It’s just easier to let it go and watch some destruction. There was enough character and story to move it along smoothly. The themes and elements are things we have all seen before but that goes for nearly every movie, especially blockbusters. There was enough of the human element to ground it but nowhere close to overtake it.
The fight scenes were amazing and choreographed very well. It wasn’t as fluid as the battles in Pacific Rim since Godzilla is a more lumbering creature, but I always loved the fighting style of [Godzilla](movie:45291). One scene in particular has Godzilla about to fight a MUTO just when a shelter closes the door in front of the screen. It would have been cool to see them fight but I liked seeing it from the people’s perspective and was a great tease for the climactic battle to come. When he does fight, it is a cheer worthy moment that deserves mass applause. It was really awe inspiring when he lets his roar go that seemed like a solid minute and establishes dominance. I rank the roar as the most iconic character sound effect in cinema along with Darth Vader breathing, Tarzans call, Preadators clicking sound and the Alien hiss. The powers that everybody loves are here with atomic breath aplenty and his massive tail used as a bat. Seeing his atomic breath used in such a breathtaking way really gets you to jump in your seat.
It looked exceptionally gorgeous and the cinematography had a great moody feeling to it. At times it looked black and white with the minimalist color style and grey skies covering the landscape. It looked even better when Godzilla fought the MUTOs at night with hardly any lighting and the city backdrop used as a silhouette for the action. The darkness did nothing to impede the visuals of the monsters fighting. The score was very moody and dark but ramps up the action when it needs to. It comes off as a bit formulaic at times, like a cue for the hero to arrive but this is at its heart a formulaic story.
The success of Godzilla isn’t that bizarre but it gets odd when the director Gareth Edwards has only directed one full length movie, Monsters and that wasn’t seen by many even though it was received well. I haven’t seen it but it has some of the same elements as Godzilla. Invasion of an alien force and it taking over, survival, human struggle and the potential end of life on earth being a few that I found. Even if I saw it and loved it, I probably still wouldn’t have chosen him for a blockbuster remake of an icon. Sad it say I probably would have gone more commercial even though it clearly worked out better this way. Edwards did very well for such a high profile project with high expectations. Despite some arbitrary complaints that don’t really take anything away from the movie, he made the focus on Godzilla and his status in the world that’s filled with other monsters intent on destruction. He has a great eye for bigger than life action and knows where to put the attention on the human cast while going back to the monsters exactly when needed. It wasn’t bogged down with senseless plot or tired characters, but made rather simply like a true monster movie.
For a decade since the last Godzilla movie came out, he was an afterthought in the minds of audiences all over the world. No one ever thought when they would see him stomp on screen ever again. Today people have seen countless sequels and remakes without offering anything new or have the same semblance of the originals. I myself had my doubts of a remake as I am an ardent hater of most remakes and sequels, not to mention I have been stung by a Godzilla remake before. But he comes back with a vengeance laying claim as to why he is the biggest, baddest dinosaur on the block. The long wait made his eventual return that much more welcomed and the respect shown to him made it a big deal. The throne has become dormant for too long with too many imitators laying their stake for the crown. But there can be only one and that is the original king of the monsters. Four and a half atomic breaths out of five.