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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review: GODZILLA (2014)

In July, my son and I made a list of kaiju and other monster movies to watch before Godzilla.  Now we're at the end of our big list, all ninety movies of it.  You can see the list and read our many reviews HERE.

The final film is, of course, Godzilla (2014).

Spoiler-free review?  We both loved it.

Get the details in the JUMP ...

I'll let my eleven-year-old son, James, go first:
Well, this one is the Big One! The movie was great, Godzilla was a Good guy, The MUTOs were Bad guys, the fire breath from Godzilla was more than perfect. The similarities between Godzilla 1954 and the 2014 one is that Godzilla doesn't get much screen time in either movie. 
The only thing that wasn't as perfect was that mostly Godzilla was seen at the end and not the beginning. And the MUTOs got more screen time. 
For the sequel, I'd like to see Mothra since they had a couple of Mothra easter eggs in this movie.  (On the chart in the classroom and on the old aquarium.)  But I still don't like the Mothra song.   
I liked watching the all the documentaries and they helped me understand the movie better even though only the first few minutes of the movie was related to the 2011 nuclear accident. 
So, rating wise, i'll say 5.2 out of 5 Atomic Breaths of Awesomeness!
My turn:
Seeing this movie after more than three years of build up was an exhilarating experience.  My son and I have watched Godzilla movies for several years now and I remember turning my laptop around so he could see that piece of art from the 2011 Comic-Con.  He lost his mind.  And he still hasn't gotten it back. 
I'm not embellishing the truth when I say that 80% of any James-initiated conversations over the last two-plus months have featured Godzilla to some degree.  Whether about the forthcoming movie itself or "what if?" scenarios about the monsters, it's been a constant in our home and in our cars. 
At the theater while waiting to be seated, he couldn't be still.  He paced and looked at the giant "GODZILLA" cardboard standee in the lobby.  Once in the theater, he sighed at the start of every trailer because that meant the movie was still another two minutes away.  Then the lights went down. 
I grabbed his arm and shook it.  He shook back and smiled.  We had a discussion beforehand about how he couldn't talk in the theater and he said he understood.  Well, he didn't talk.  He did, however, giggle and cackle maniacally throughout the film.  Not just at the monster parts, either.  He was just so thrilled to be finally seeing the movie that he couldn't contain it. 
I totally get it. 
Let's face it.  Watching and reviewing ninety films before a new release is risky.  It builds up expectations and provides very stark rulers in your mind with which to measure the new movie.  If the new one stank, whew, brother.  It could really stink.  But it does not stink. 
I won't rehash plot points as we've all seen the movie, but I will be dealing with spoilers.  Just so you know. 
Godzilla himself.  Looks great.  Looks even better in action.  He sounds right, moves right, blows radioactive plasma right, goes out to sea at the end ...  Nailed it all around.   
Is he not in the movie enough?  That's a big criticism leveled at the film and it's one I totally get.  I love the teases and big reveals, but to say Big G is used sparingly would be an understatement.  I've thought about it and I truly think his screentime is just right.  Very measured and thought-out and enough to make you clamor "more!" with no chance of overstaying his welcome.  Cutting away from the action made sense, most of the time.  The battles we "missed" were inconclusive.  Take the Honolulu Airport scene.  G and the MUTO fight for a bit and then the MUTO flies away.  Same thing happens in San Francisco (you know, when the doors closed).  Seeing inconclusive battles would have been frustrating on a different level and it would have contributed to action fatigue (something I have to wrestle with now that I'm older).  The cat's out of the bag, though.  The sequel can't afford to take the Jaws approach when it comes to the titular beast. 
What about Godzilla as mankind's savior?  Another criticism I understand.  Godzilla is usually one of three things: punisher, savior, friendly brawler.  Obviously, the latter couldn't work.  Given the marketing, I think many were expecting the former.  And given Godzilla's role in the first film, the stated inspiration for this movie, "punisher" is a logical prediction.  Instead we get "savior."  That role has the possibility for a "happier" movie while still leaving the "punisher" role to his opponents.  As "savior," though, I feel it is imperative that Godzilla never acknowledge or interact with humanity.  (Rocket attacks notwithstanding.)  If he starts communing with psychics or becomes a friend to children, we could be in trouble (quality wise).   By being a "punisher" or "savior," Godzilla can be that force of nature everyone talks about, restoring balance to the world.  Whether that imbalance is caused by nuclear devices or climate change, Godzilla will be there.  It's an intriguing idea. 
The EMP MUTOs.  I love these guys.  I had next to no opinion going in, but coming out, I thought they were some of the best-handled kaiju of any film on our list.  Their look, their relationship with each other, the sound design ... just so well done.  It makes me hope that the sequel will give us another heretofore unknown MUTO, just to see what the designers can do when they have the freedom. 
The humans.  First, Bryan Cranston.  I enjoyed having a conspiracy nut in the film.  It's odd to think that we haven't really had that perspective before (not to my recollection, at any rate).  It works very well and Cranston does, too, of course.  His death was a surprise, to say the least, but I'm not sure the movie would have been any better if he stuck around.  Many kaiju films suffer from having people in the thick of the action when they don't need to be there.  Usually, these people are reporters or kids.  Getting rid of Cranston once he got his vindication was simultaneously cruel, surprising and smart. 
Next, Ken Watanabe.  A great actor, of course, and his role is that of Dr. Ichiro Serizawa.  An important thing to note as the character in the original Gojira was Dr. Daisuke Serizawa.  Watanabe's character is, I believe, more akin to that film's Dr. Yamane than to Serizawa.  Yamane was reticent to help the government and devastated at plans to kill Godzilla.  He expressed spiritual viewpoints as easily as he did scientific ones.  Maybe in future films he can earn that eyepatch and maybe study up on oxygen, but for now, he's a scientific exposition machine and it works just fine.  I hope he (and David Straithairn) return. 
Lastly, Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  Boy, this guy's taken some lumps.  "Wooden," they say.  They couldn't be more wrong.  When dealing with his father, his emotions are barely contained.  He's disappointed, frustrated, saddened, angry, etc.  He can't express this to his wife, whom he just came home to.  He doesn't blow up in his dad's face, largely because he feels guilty and knows that he's lost in his own world.  The "wooden" criticism, I'm sure, comes later once the monsters start attacking.  But guess what?  His character is an EOD; explosive ordinance disposal.  They have to be chill in the highest-stress and highest-stakes moments.  At all times and every time.  That he plays it cool is a testimony to his capability as a soldier and to Taylor-Johnson as an actor and Gareth Edwards as a director.  It would have been easy to have him constantly on the verge of tears or frothing mad, but they both showed restraint.  Realistic restraint.  The character (and the movie) is better for it.
Favorite scene.  While the end battle in the city has some of my favorite moments (Godzilla in the mist, his atomic breath charging, ...) my favorite scene overall has to be the Golden Gate Bridge attack.  It's a masterpiece of tension and action filmmaking and, funnily enough, it's mostly a homage to Jurassic Park
Remember the scene when the cars stop by the Tyrannosaur paddock at night?  The darkness and rain obscures everything.  The goat bleats between the thunder claps.  And then it comes. 
Fog.  The bus driver wipes away condensation from his window ... like the lawyer, Gennaro, wipes it away from his.  The startling smack of a seagull against the bus window ... like the goat leg on the roof window above Lex's head.  Then he comes.  There's staggering action and Godzilla grabs the suspension cable of the bridge ... not unlike a certain dinosaur did with a deactivated electric fence. 
We get to see the military have it out with Godzilla while both he and the soldiers wreak havoc.  Meanwhile, that wingéd MUTO is going after the nuke and planes fall from the sky.  It's just a great scene.  I adore it. 
Plus, that panicky bus driver?  Hero.  His was the only bus I saw make it over the bridge.  Looked like Godzilla took out most of them when he barreled through. 
Behind-the-scenes kudos.  Gareth Edwards, obviously.  Great job on so many fronts.  I know his visual effects background was an invaluable asset and informed some of the best looking effects I've seen.  And his eye for a good shot was evident in those first trailers with the HALO jumpers. 
Beyond that, Edwards made some very sound choices.  Most effective was the grounding of all cameras.  Everytime we see a monster, we're seeing it from the perspective of a lowly human.  Through goggles, behind windshield wipers, in the school bus.  Hell, there's even a line of dialogue saying there's snipers on the roofs, just so we can see the monsters fight from higher up!  It's makes everything feel utterly humongous and it works in spades.  We saw tastes of it in Gamera 3 and got a full course of it in Cloverfield.  Even Pacific Rim (which we both love) lost this perspective.  But not Godzilla
Alexandre Desplat's music.  Driving and, overall, very good.  The score in concert with the sound design make the MUTOs particularly memorable, but I would have liked to hear a stronger cue for Big G himself.  Akira Ifukube's theme may not have been right for this movie, but maybe Desplat can work it in for the next one.   
I could go on and on.  (Too late.)  But I won't. 
Godzilla ... he might have only had three blasts in him before he passed out, but I can burp another one.  4.5 out of five atomic breath blasts. 
Up next ... hmm.  I don't know yet.  We'll keep watching movies and reviewing them, too.  But maybe James and I will consider the possibilities of Godzilla 2.

(GIFs by justfetterhoff, pteropus, no-productivity, )

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