Friday, 30 May 2014

New Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)

That's our monster...

That’s our monster…

Godzilla (2014) ★★★½

Directed by Gareth Edwards

I must confess that I am a Godzilla movie fan. For some reason I can’t explain, I am just drawn to his movies even though the hugely-vast majority of them are utter, utter crap. Nonetheless, much like the entire James Bond oeuvre, I really enjoy them. Started by the original Gojira, a very serious and scary film, the series devolved over the decades into cheesy, B-movie, Saturday-morning kiddie affairs (I mean, Jet Jaguar—come on). The series tried to right this starting with Godzilla 1985 and going through a couple of iterations in the 90s and the 00s, but with the quirkiness of Japanese pop-culture of the times, these movies were bright, colorful, cartoony spectacles.

That is one of the main reasons why I really enjoyed Gareth Edwards’ new Godzilla movie. This is by far the most realistic Godzilla movie to date. And though there are a couple of fun nods to previous Godzilla and Kaiju movies, this one really treats its source material with great respect and much-due gravitas. This isn’t a tongue-in-cheek, ironic “re-imagining” of Godzilla. This is a distillation of what makes Godzilla the King of the Monsters. Gareth Edwards brings Godzilla back to his roots.

A huge shout-out must be given to director Edwards and his cinematographer Seamus McGarvey for keeping the film as grounded in reality as possible. Gone are the bright, cheerful, cartoony colors of the last 30 years of Godzilla movies. This Godzilla is steeped in dusty grays, dark greens, and a slate-colored ocean that recall more the moody black-and-white original movie than any other iteration of Godzilla. As much as is possible for a movie about 100-meter-tall monsters, the filmmakers tried to keep this movie as much in the real world as possible.

And although there are some sciency things in the movie, this is very much a cross between horror movie and natural disaster movie rather than a sci-fi or fantasy movie. Other than the monsters themselves, there are no extraneous elements in this movie that don’t exist in the real world (other than an entire Japanese city that the filmmakers made up, but at least it is realistic). And the horror in this movie is all about unstoppable forces that you know are coming but you can’t do anything about.

Because of this approach, it is really a film about the humans surrounding this Godzilla crisis. Thankfully this is probably the best batch of human-interest stories I’ve ever seen in a Godzilla movie. Gareth Edwards proved with his indie film Monsters that he knows how to make a movie with compelling human characters that orbit around the strange and disastrous, and he does a pretty good job of that here, too. The military is also rather realistically portrayed, and thankfully isn’t a fictitious branch like you too-often see in the other Godzilla movies. These are all real people in an outlandish situation who are trying their best to survive and thrive.

The characterization of Godzilla is very interesting, in that the film is not from his point of view at all. A friend of mine was worried about this film because she feared that Godzilla would be portrayed as just a gigantic, unthinking animal on a rampage. Thankfully there is more to this Godzilla than just that. Godzilla in this movie is literally a force of nature. He only appears in this movie to fight other giant monsters. There is no logical motivation for Godzilla to suddenly appear and travel thousands of miles just to fight. But this movie, in distilling Godzilla down to his essence, realizes that this is what Godzilla does; this is why Godzilla exists. Godzilla acts as nature’s reckoning, destroying any other giant monster that might do untold harm to the planet. He appears, destroys, and disappears, like the mighty hand of a Shinto god of destruction (one of the characters says at one point that Godzilla is “practically a god” and Ken Watanabe’s character repeatedly talks about Godzilla being essentially Mother Nature’s wetwork agent). The “villain” monsters in the movie have an animal-like motivation: they want to survive to propagate their species. Godzilla seems to exists solely to destroy them. But far from being the “good guy” in the film, Godzilla’s single-mindedness causes as much destruction as the monsters he’s fighting. Though he does ultimately “save” humanity from being overrun by giant monsters, it comes at the cost of two major cities and untold thousands of human lives, all because they just accidentally got in Godzilla’s way. By the end of the movie all of the human cast seem to realize that Godzilla is simply above judgment. Like a Lovecraftian Old One, Godzilla simply does what he does, and the needs and consideration of humanity are as the whimpering of ants before him. Still, there are a couple of times where you see Godzilla emote and think that are very effective and portray him as somehow more than just a monster.

There are some great sequences in the film, especially two involving trains. And the teasing way that Godzilla keeps almost being front-and-center in the film works cleverly to make you hungry for him by the time his final, climactic battle begins, rather than weary at having already been watching the giant lug smash around for the past two hours. And it is really an excellent fight sequence, watching Godzilla having to fight two giant monsters at once. When he is finally able to unleash himself it is shockingly satisfying, and the ending of the fight was quite a “holy s*@t” moment for me.

So far, for as much as I like them, I only actually own one Godzilla movie (Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack). I am definitely planning on adding this movie to my collection when it becomes available.

Categories: Movie Reviews.

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