Monday, March 6, 2017

Movie Review: GODZILLA (2014)

Godzilla (2014) is the latest film featuring the King of Monsters (or the One-Kaiju-To-Rule-Them-All if you will) and kicks off the Legendary Studios MonsterVerse. The film was directed by Gareth Edwards (who went on to direct Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and tells the story of a paranoid scientist and his son who end up discovering the presence of monsters on Earth. The film stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, and David Strathairn.

I must confess I was shocked how much I enjoyed this film. I had missed its theatrical run and had heard about the mixed reception to the film before finally seeing it. I grew up loving the old Godzilla movies (and being perplexed by, though not hating, the first American attempt at Godzilla in 1998) so I admit I was prone to like a story that delivered on the promise of a more traditionally styled Kaiju film. Edwards’ Godzilla most certainly fits that bill.

What the film does most effectively is deliver a sense of epic-ness. Through stunning cinematography, great design, and the construction of a brilliant climax, this film manages to absolutely win audiences over, especially in the final act. I think all the filmmaking tricks and shots used and designed by Edwards and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey ground the film in such a way as to make it believable. Yet, at the same time, the film leans unapologetically into its own ridiculousness in a way that makes it endlessly fun to watch.

I really cannot emphasize heavily enough the effectiveness of this films climax. It was more than I could ever have hoped for in a modern Godzilla film and I was absolutely blown away. It carefully built up and ratcheted up the tension until moments of sweet release that tosses the audience into a no-nonsense conclusion. As audiences I find we’ve become so immune to third act climaxes and cool off periods in one particular way. Godzilla subverts those subconscious expectations by almost entirely removing the obligatory cool down period and driving your interest all the way until the closing credits.

The last positive I want to note is how the performances played off the gritty and real world that this story is set in to make this really feel genuine and like it could happen but at the same time knows it is patently ridiculous. This is a really hard balance to find but I think Godzilla perfected the art. You get Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Elizabeth Olsen dealing with lots of human problems and feeling like people and at the same time you get the amazingly cheesy and dramatic introduction of Godzilla by the great Ken Watanabe. It’s truly unbelievable that they found this line and rode it so cleverly to the films ultimate success.

Godzilla is not a perfect movie by any means. It certainly delivered the fundamentals better than I had ever dreamed but it really dips in quality in some of the in-between periods. Though Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the other normal human characters bring a realness to the film they’re also not very interesting and, further, ATJ in particular did not bring a lot to the table here. The moments between the cool setup and epic monster fighting action definitely do drag.

Another big thing is that this film does not show the big Kaiju on campus nearly enough. When Godzilla is on screen he slays and it was wonderful. The problem with this film is that we spend very little time with any of the monsters and we spend lots of time with the M.U.T.O.s which were cool, but not Godzilla cool. I enjoyed the central conceit that the film established with Godzilla being natures intervening force, but I think the film could have used a second act sequence with the King to establish Godzilla a little more and to pick up the pacing of that portion of the film.

Overall, Godzilla is a film with some real problems but one I also absolutely adore. It accomplished what it needed to accomplish and brought a realized Godzilla to the screen once again. Edwards made a statement that these monster movies can work today and started up one of the most exciting cinematic universes we have today. It is definitely worth a watch!

Ryan’s Score: 8/10

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