By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Godzilla 2014, is a hybrid of sorts. The filmmakers behind this modern, Americanized remake have attempted to make a monster movie that combines the dramatic and emotional gravity of the 1954 original, Gojira, and the fun and action of the beloved daikaiju’s (giant monster) later films where he battles other giant creatures. This combination works for the most part, thanks to the competent direction of Gareth Edwards and the satisfactory writing of Max Borenstein of Dave Callaham. Thankfully, the brains behind this update have toned down the cheese factor somewhat, and have learned from the mistakes made in the 1998 remake of Godzilla. Still, in their attempt to create a straight-faced Godzilla movie, they may have taken their work a tad too seriously.
As with all of the Godzilla movies that preceded this one, this version targets nuclear energy as the cause of his creation and the creation of other giant, destructive monsters. In 1999, a catastrophe at a nuclear facility not only destroys an entire community, but also brings back to life immense creatures who have remained dormant for some time. Fifteen years later, the aftermath of the disaster has left behind bad memories and regrets for scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), who has become obsessed with a possible cover-up of the truth behind the tragic event by his former employers. After Joe gets arrested for trespassing in the quarantined site of the meltdown, his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) travels to Japan to help. Father and son soon discover the facts behind the 1999 incident and soon witness some new incredible developments as monsters threaten the Japanese city.
The intention of some filmmakers to present potentially cartoonish material with a more serious tone can have various results. For example, about twelve years ago director Ang Lee made a more psychological and artsy version of the not so jolly green monster in Hulk. Ang Lee and his writers forgot that films based on Marvel comic characters need to include a certain amount of fun and excitement. Though Hulk has its moments, it also features some odd and bizarre choices made in the vein of artistic integrity.
Gareth Edwards and his writers don’t quite forget to have fun with their creatures, but they sure do take their time in setting up the monster throw down. Granted, the introductory nuclear disaster does make for a nail-biting and moving sequence, but the aftermath and buildup to the scenes with our lead monster and his foes get a bit long-winded and tedious. I understand that Borenstein, Callaham, and Edwards wanted to build the tension for the more explosive scenes, but too much time gets wasted in the process. I actually felt teased in moments as monsters would appear and we the audience would get a taste of the fighting, but then the movie would cut away to the actions of the human characters. It’s not that these characters are dull and uninteresting, but the reason people want to see this movie is to see Godzilla in battle.
When he finally gets to flex his reptilian muscles and duke it out with other daikaiju, it looks glorious and amazing. The crew assembled for the CGI, practical effects, and sound truly out did themselves. The editing by Bob Ducsay is impressive and the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey looks gorgeous. This summer blockbuster does deliver the eye candy (of the technical variety) and does it in a tremendous way. I wish I could say that I’m impressed with the 3D effects of the film, but these, as has been the case with so many recent 3D movies, greatly disappointed. If filmmakers can’t offer 3D effects that work, why even bother? If I had paid the extra money to watch the film in 3D, I would have felt cheated.
I know that the majority of the people attending this film are mainly going to see giant monsters in action and the destruction they leave behind, but I do know that the human cast of talented actors will draw the more reluctant moviegoers. For those solely going to see Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson act their hearts out, these people may feel slightly cheated. In all honesty, it should go without saying that no matter who performs in the role of the humans, they will play second fiddle to the spectacle of giant monsters. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say it does not matter at all who performs in these roles, but they’re probably not the main reason that people fill up the seats. Cranston, Olsen and Taylor-Johnson all perform superbly; however, Cranston and Olsen’s screen time is limited and Taylor-Johnson doesn’t get to show a whole lot of his range.
It’s possible that I wasted some time acknowledging the talent of actors in a monster flick, but I do like to give credit where it is deserved. Had Edwards and his writers had not wasted so much time in building up to their monster melee, I’d have given this film a slightly more favorable review. Make no mistake, Godzilla does have its merits and does eventually deliver monsters in intense battles, it just seems to take half an epoch to get there.