When this film was announced by Legendary and Warner Brothers I thought that it could have been one of two films: the Godzilla movie that Hollywood believed people wanted, and the movie that die hard fans wanted.
When Gareth Edwards was announced as it’s director, I watched his debut indie film ‘Monsters:’ a film that was beautifully shot, had no more than two actors and several extras, and was produced for $500,000 dollars. I observed Edward’s vision for cinema, and his humble demeanor in panels and press junkets. I had thought to myself, “This guy is a fan. He wants this movie to be what we all want it to be, and he has the vision to do it.”
Gareth Edwards: my god, you absolutely did it.
In the time that Godzilla has remained dormant in cinema, about 10 years, the monster film genre rested along with him, aside from a few cult favorites like ‘Cloverfield’ and ‘Pacific Rim.’ While these films drew inspiration from Godzilla as a blueprint for the genre, even the king’s own series of films drastically shifted in tone over 60 years: from classic effects horror to kid friendly action films. Edwards himself has mentioned, in regards to Godzilla and monster films in general, that the genre is “an infinite canvas.” These movies can be about anything in their story roots, and Godzilla can be there to support it either as a terror or a savior. This film brings it back to basics, to the 1956 classic ‘Godzilla, King of the Monsters’ (or the original ‘Gojira’ in Japan.)
This film, now the 29th in the beloved monster’s franchise, is a reboot in a sense, but also spiritual successor to the original story, linked by Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa, related to the doctor of the same name who destroyed the monster in 1954. The film opens in the 1990’s with an unknown force waking in the Philippines that made it’s way to Japan, causing a devastating earthquake and the destruction of a nuclear plant, thus destroying the life and family of thousands; namely Joseph Brody (Bryan Cranston) who loses the love of his life and the entirety of his work to the incident.
The perspective of the Brody family, among other humans, is crucial to this film, to allow a means for the audience to be drawn into the film’s destruction. Edward’s style of filming is to put the camera, and it’s viewer, up close to a select few people being affected by a natural disaster that draw the proper amount of emotional resonance for the story. The film slowly builds to a point where it’s perspective pulls back a little to effectively illustrate the role of the military throughout the film’s events, as Joseph’s son, Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnson) grows up to join the United States Navy as a nuclear weapons diffuser. From this point, the camera, and the film’s perspective, can fluidly move back and forth between victims on the street level, the tactical workings of the military, and Godzilla himself. While the actual plot of the film has its pacing issues, it is overshadowed by its ease in changing perspective between a soldier, his wife (Elizabeth Olson) and son, and a 355 foot lizard.
The reason the fluidity of these perspective shifts are crucial to ‘Godzilla’ is that a lot of what happens in the film is reminiscent of tragic events in our recent world that is now easily seen by the world on broadcast news. From tsunami and hurricane flooding to September 11th 2001, it is equal, arguably, to the original films thematically being about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Scenes like this can be disturbing in cinema, and people undoubtedly die, but if the perspective is of a family that just barely makes it into a building with billowing smoke, or a dog that manages to run away from a flood, the tragic thoughts don’t linger because of those moments of relief, the briskly paced sequences, and awe inspiring creature design. Last summer’s ‘Man of Steel’ featured an exorbitant amount of highly detailed destruction that was cold and brutal, but had no emotional reprieve. ‘Godzilla’ has perhaps twice the amount of destruction as that film, and keeps it entertaining instead of unsettling.
That being said, every shot, big and small, is absolutely stunning. Edward’s vision is realized in the beautiful cinematography work done by Seamus McGarvey, responsible for wonderful photography in films ranging from ‘Avengers’ to ‘Atonement.’ Every frame of ‘Godzilla,’ no matter the amount of smoke, rubble, ash, or scales and teeth, is an absolute beauty to behold, particularly on an IMAX screen.
With Edward’s application of his love for classic creature features like ‘Jaws,’ ‘Alien’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ added the technically marvelous effects of today, ‘Godzilla’ is the first summer blockbuster in a long time that knows the technical aspects of building suspense, awe and excitement so seamlessly that watching a monster rip through a building looks like a fork cutting through a piece of red velvet cake.
Godzilla himself has a minimal amount of screen time, and the fight sequences between monsters doesn’t necessarily have the run time of Monday Night Raw, but that is the application of a less-is-more mentality, and as a result, the effects look much better. Every second of monster sighting is more meaningful, and audiences will roar back at the screen cheering all the same.
In regards to whether it’s a Hollywood film or a fan film, Edwards gives us both. Its a summer blockbuster film and a ‘classic Godzilla film’ in every sense of what those three words can mean. Its chock full of fun battling, it expresses visceral human tragedy, and it depicts the sheer ferocious power of Earth’s circle of life, perfectly described by Watanabe as Serizawa in the film “The arrogance of man is that we think nature is under our control, and not the other way around.”
It’s the Godzilla movie that everyone wanted, even if you didn’t know you wanted it in the first place. If you weren’t a person who called yourself a “fan” of Godzilla before, you will be after seeing this.
Evan’s rating: 7/10