Godzilla

Godzilla photo starrating-4stars.jpgGodzilla takes its time. It’s a slow burn, deliberate set up to a climax that truly delivers. Let’s face it. In this day and age special effects are the one constant that we can almost always assume will be done correctly. Godzilla most assuredly delivers in this area, but it goes further. The exhibition deeply delights so that we have a reason to care. Its well calculated build is emotionally designed to captivate the senses on a noticeable level. Much in the same way a roller coaster can provide a perceptible high, Godzilla delivers a release not unlike an amusement park ride. It’s a superficial thrill, but still no less substantial.

Director Gareth Edwards understands that sometimes, just the sight of a giant winged beast taking off into the night sky creates a feeling of wonder and awe that is exciting. Indeed it is just as necessary to the foundation as a full on creature assault. If one viewed the overall chronicle as a banquet, these massive unidentified terrestrial organisms (MUTOs) are an appetizer to the main course. While scores of onlookers watch aghast, we the audience share their terror. It is the visual exposition for us to appreciate the climatic battle later. Like a master card player, Edwards bides his time giving us brief glimpses of the lizard. Just the way Godzilla glides through the water as battleships follow tracking his progress. The image is impressive because it has scope. There is a regard in just existing.  Yes he could’ve had Godzilla attack 15 minutes into the film, but then he would’ve played his hand too quickly and diminished the exhilaration of what is to come. He builds to a rousing climax like a conductor manipulating an orchestra as it rises to a crescendo. It must gradually intensify with well placed sonic bursts. A symphony cannot be all highs. If it was, then nothing would be.

I hesitate to even mention the human actors in Godzilla because they really aren’t that important. Gareth Edwards uses well built Aaron Taylor-Johnson and emotionally devoted wife Elizabeth Olsen to put a face on the human devastation. Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche are his nuclear physicist parents. Cranston is that guy, you know the one. The conspiracy theorist that warns about a cover-up when no one will listen. Hmmm wonder if he’ll be proven correct? Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins are scientists who have been studying MUTOs. David Strathairn is a U.S. general in charge of fighting the creature. All of their presence is rather perfunctory yet they are essential constructs through which to push the story forward. We need SOMEONE to follow so we can appreciate what’s happening on a human level, but they are merely a microcosm of a much larger picture. They provide an intimacy to the grand scale.  Like Spielberg did with Jaws, Jurassic Park and War of the Worlds before, Edwards recognizes that we need the drama of human involvement. One could argue these characters could’ve been more engaging and I wouldn’t disagree with that point. The fact that, when studied closely, the humans are rather dull, isn’t actually a problem. The real show aren’t the humans at all, it’s the freakin’ monster we do battle with.

Godzilla originates in Japan, then visits Honolulu, Las Vegas and San Francisco on his itinerary. Godzilla had a definite awareness for time and place. The script is aware of the past. But it’s also cognizant of the current world and our place in it. What happened at Hiroshima for example is mentioned but is treated with a reverence that doesn’t feel glib. There’s a gravitas here that the much more campy Pacific Rim never had. While that film was silly fun, there’s undoubtedly a thrilling excitement to be found in Godzilla’s movie realism. Yet there’s also a refreshing simplicity to the proceedings. There’s a little cautionary tale stuff thrown in, but none of it makes much of an impression to be a buzzkill. Thankfully, the story’s main objective is to entertain not educate.

If nothing else, Godzilla is a spectacle of the highest caliber. There are some stunning set pieces. Watching paratroopers dive from a plane into ground zero has a poetic beauty. The billowing red smoke released as they fall may distract the creature in purpose but it also looks very cool on film. Godzilla’s special effects are extraordinary. Not because we get a non-stop litany of explosions and pyrotechnics but because there’s a physicality to him. Godzilla genuinely seems like an organic living breathing thing because he moves like a giant mutant of that size would if it existed. When Godzilla lets out his first ear splitting, theater shaking roar, I felt the earth move. Sound effects editing takes a giant leap forward. The excitement in that auditorium was palpable as if we were collectively witnessing rebirth of sound in cinema. Gareth Edwards makes us believe that a giant lizard really did destroy San Francisco.

05-15-14

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46 Responses to “Godzilla”

  1. Godzilla has been a childhood hero of mine for quite some time now. This movie made him a hero again. I loved that. Your review said it all. The slow build up made every scene with Godzilla so exciting. I was like a child again, cheering every time he appeared. Amazing sound quality too. I loved this!!! 4 1/2 stars

    • Growing up, I saw Godzilla, King of the Monsters! on TV. It included scenes of actor Raymond Burr spliced into the original Japanese footage. This was the main version available in the U.S. for years and was my introduction into the Godzilla franchise. It’s still pure nostalgia, but this version beats that one hands down.

  2. Haha, awesome to see a really high rating on this one. I was in awe of the spectacle here. I will admit to some moments of me fidgeting around a lot in the middle or towards the end of that extended expository opening, but like you said the human drama only helped add to the effect of contrasting us against the size of these kaiju. Seeing Godzilla for the first time is going to be a top moment of my moviegoing this year. And possibly of several years.

    • The drama didn’t have depth but I was never bored. The spectacle kept me captivated. This was a much needed summer blockbuster after that disaster known as The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

  3. garylee828 Says:

    I was on the fence about this all week deliberating whether to see it and your tweet confirming it was good was the deciding factor for me to go today and see it. The effects were pretty awesome and I loved how subtle the glimpses of Godzilla were; the aerial shots of him standing over the city skyscrapers were especially cool to look at. I thought Cranston was great, as always, and I liked his storyline and felt it offered the film depth. I think Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a decent actor, but I felt like he gave a bit of a lackluster performance here; there were times I just thought he should show more emotion – like Cranston and Olsen did (she always gives strong performances). I wish the fighting sequence at the end was a bit longer, but no big deal; it wasn’t that the action wasn’t long enough, but more that I just wanted to see more Godzilla b/c he was fascinating to look at. I loved the moment where Godzilla locked eyes with Ford. That was probably the best part of the movie to me.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it after seeing it based on my recommendation. I would’ve felt a bit responsible if you didn’t like it. 😉

      I agree with everything you said about Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He was kind of a non-entity here. I liked seeing Juliette Binoche but was disappointed she had to leave just as I was getting to appreciate her character.

      • garylee828 Says:

        I wouldn’t have blamed you at all if I didn’t like it b/c I had been reading lots of comments on the IMBD board about it all week, and basically learned it was slow for the first 2 acts and then Godzilla starred in the last act; some liked that and others complained b/c it was boring. I don’t mind slow as long as it’s well-executed and that’s what I needed to know from you was it well-done which was going to be the deciding factor for me to go or not. If you had said it was cheesy I would have avoided it. A lot of people didn’t like the ending, but I did. I liked this Godzilla much better than the 1998. It reminded me of the 2005 King Kong, which I thought was really good.

  4. THE GODZILLA scenes were great but really were only about maybe 30 minutes of screen time…the human factor was horrible & that was the other 90 mins…there never should have been a son, his wife & kid factor it was very zzzzzz…this should have focused on Ken Watanabe with Cranston getting answers in order to deal with the loss of his wife (the only real good human scene) …with the son there for an emotional reunion at the end…Cranston deals with the wife loss and embraces his son at the end looking towards a better future…this script was never clever…never interesting…never compelling…its was BAD & not the good BAD like the old Godzilla movies but just plain old BAD…2 stars

    • If Godzilla does indeed take up 30 minutes of screen time, then I’d say that is quite a bit. The aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind are onscreen for like 10 minutes. Ditto the creature in Ridley Scott’s original Alien.

      Director Gareth Edwards has cited Steven Spielberg as an inspiration. Movie like Jaws and Jurassic Park aren’t about script either but about building suspense and I think Edwards did a great job at doing that.

      • YES the GODZILLA stuff was great…you cannot compare this to Close Encounters or Jaws those had compelling human stories…this turd killed off the best characters & kept the ever “i’m gazing at the monster” dull son…Jaws & Close had Oscar nominations…this might for CGI Monsters…the script & puny human factor was zzzzzzzzzz

      • I love Jaws but try watching it with all the shark stuff taken out. Zzzzzzzzzzz

      • let’s agree to disagree…the monster stuff is great the puny humans bad and not the good bad like in the old Godzilla…at least you liked RUSH and FRUITVALE STATION…2 over looked 2013 movies

  5. Nice review. Godzilla was the best blockbuster I’ve seen in quite some time and a lot of fun. This is what the 1998 version should have been.

  6. Good review Mark. Here, it’s all about the building-up to Godzilla and, for the most part, it worked for me. I never really got bored. Except for maybe when the human-characters were on screen, but that’s only because most of them were so thin, I almost didn’t give a crap about them.

    • True, the human characters are not strong. However I knew whenever they were on screen it was in service to what was going to happen with Godzilla later. It built anticipation for what was to come.

  7. We have an accord Mark! The best final act of 2014 for my money.

    • It’ll be hard to top this. Only X-Men: Days of Future Past, How to Train Your Dragon 2 or Transformers: Age of Extinction could possibly be a bigger Summer blockbuster.

  8. Great review, Mark! While I do love that scen where the soldiers dive out of the plane, this movie failed to excite me. I was bored throughout and I felt like it was just build-up, basically.

  9. Hi Mark!
    As ever, as I’ve grown to expect of your reviews – expertly & eloquently written. I watched this late on friday night with Beast. We’d both had horrible & exhausting days at work and we sat down in a virtually empty screen armed with ice-cream & popcorn having filled ourselves prior to that with inexplicably large burgers from that evil American chain “Five Guys”. In other words…we were primed for an entertaining blockbuster. Sadly, we walked out of the screen feeling let-down.

    I guess it depends where your inclination lies. Growing up, I watched Godzilla and its various spin-offs, but I wouldn’t say I loved it. I was a more into the mechs vs monsters genre….hence my love of Pacific Rim (PR) , which has an appalling script and hammy performances in equal measure to Godzilla. However, PR gave me what I came to see in truck-loads – i.e. Robots hitting monsters. More importantly, it was FUN throughout! I found Godzilla dull, the human tragedies were significant but felt forced, Brian Cranston was devouring each scene with his slightly over-egged performance that it almost became comical. The monster action itself….well, I guess its a matter of preference, I wasn’t impressed, even the finale didn’t get my pulse racing. I couldn’t care less about Godzilla because I hadn’t seen enough of him. Which brings me to my other main gripe….

    This movie teased so much!! There were several moments when Wade and I both threw our hands up in dismay when the film would set-up an action sequence then suddenly cut away only to reveal the aftermath via news report/footage or back to the humans. The most criminal of these was the first face off on Honolulu.

    Gareth Edwards has made 2 films I really enjoyed, “Shadow of the Moon” and “Monsters”. I raved about Monsters to anyone who would listen. When I found out he was directing Godzilla, I was immediately filled with hope because of how he managed to make both the human story and the creatures equally enjoyable in that film. I was quite surprised that Godzilla’s characters were written no differently to those found in Battle LA & PR.

    Don’t get me wrong – there were some spectacular moments of direction in this film (the HALO jump). In the end however, the human story was shoddy and overly long, I would have forgiven it if the action and set-pieces were spectacular…but the film was soooooo sloooooooww and the pay-off was not worth the wait.

    Anyway, enough of a rant from me – this is not my forum!!

    Talk soon Amigo!

    • It’s funny because I agree with everything you say and that’s exactly the reason why I liked Godzilla. I enjoyed the build up or the “tease” as you called it. Remember that shot of the ripples in the glass of water in Jurassic Park? To me that image is just as important as a scene of a T-Rex killing people. Gareth Edwards gets that. Godzilla was definitely more serious than Pacific Rim but I never found it dull. I enjoyed PR but that was just silly fun. This took the human drama to a level that engaged me more. By the end I was primed and ready for a climax that delivered more than I could have even hoped.

      The crowd laughed and cheered at various points throughout. That moment when Godzilla vomited fire into the winged MUTO’s mouth, some people literally stood up and applauded. It was an experience unlike any I’ve had since The Dark Knight. Granted, it was the first Thursday night showing and it was at the historical Chinese theater in Hollywood. That contributed to the intensity of the crowd but needless to say I loved it.

      Thanks for the really detailed comment. This was fun to read. I appreciate the thoughtful response.

    • Edwards did not write the characters/script! Max Borenstein did! Just in case you are wondering why the characters are not up to his usual standards:)

  10. You hit on everything that made this a great movie. This is the true start to the blockbuster season. I was hooked from the opening credits, which I didn’t touch upon in my write up but it was exquisite. Great review sir.

  11. Honestly….this delivered on every single expectation that I had going in! Folks can complain about the script and the development of characters with great merit….but the true film craftsmanship of Edwards cannot be disputed. From the grainy footage in the intro to the subtle and slow teasing throughout, Godzilla was a spectacle to behold. He went for Jaws and Alien with his monster and that is what we got. We also got other monsters to make up for it throughout the film…I missed the point where I was supposed to be bored….

  12. You already know how I feel about the film, but there are some places we agree. I definitely appreciate the slow burn approach to revealing the monster, something that’s a rarity for the genre. Like you, I also dig the reverence for Hiroshima and Godzilla’s atomic backstory. And although I thought it was silly the soldiers were skydiving into the city, I can’t deny that the sequence was both thrilling and beautiful.

  13. Great review. I liked the film and thought the majority of the film was good, which is a nice change from the 98 version which was mostly bad.

    The visuals and tone worked really well but the characters where lifeless, except Cranston.

    Still bring on MechaGodzilla! 😀

    • I didn’t think the cast was all bad. There was an audible gasp in the theater regarding what happens with Juliette Binoche’s character. She got our emotion. And no one pronounces Godzilla’s name better than Ken Watanabe.

      Glad you enjoyed the film overall.

  14. Excellent analysis of the film. I especially agree with your phrase, “a feeling of wonder and awe.” That’s what sets Godzilla apart from other big budget films, e.g. Transformers. I wrote an essay on Godzilla, if you would like to check it out. It’s called “When all your options are bad.” http://21stcenturyfilms.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/godzilla-2014/

    • Of course your Transformers example is particularly apropos since Age of Extinction will be released in one month. I will keep an open mind but, like you, I prefer Godzilla to any of the films in that series thus far.

  15. I finally saw this as well. Oddly, I don’t disagree with any of your arguments, even made many of the same myself. But I like it less than you. I think the first fifty minutes set it up as being something borderline masterful, something impacting and memorable, because they are genius. The rest disappoints.

    • It was crafted very much in the vein of something like Alien – a thriller underscored by slowly building drama for maximum tension. The suspense was palpable. When Godzilla started doing his thing, well, I was captivated.

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