May 15, 2014

Review: 'Godzilla' Reborn

"Let them fight."
Godzilla 2014 Gareth Edwards

Monsters filmmaker Gareth Edwards has been tasked with reinterpreting the uniquely Japanese kaiju monster movie and re-adaptating Godzilla (aka Gojira) for American and worldwide audiences. Legendary Pictures, also responsible for last year's similarly themed Pacific Rim, has bet on the British sophomore director to craft a stunning, character-based spectacle of cinema, originally realized by the Toho Company sixty years ago. It succeeds in developing its own clever mythology and introducing trademark aspects of the character.

Edwards takes the Jaws route (the first of many Spielberg homages) by slowly developing his human characters reacting to just an unknowing, unseen, destructive force for nearly an hour before unleashing the terror and money shots of the beast for a third act that amounts to entirely an orgy of destruction. In this way, it's really two films. One exploring Bryan Cranston as a tortured, obsessive nuclear engineer central to the story, haunted by his past and estranged from his son played by an unremarkable Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who then takes over as the central figure of the film.

Ken Watanabe has one, exclaimed expression throughout the film as he and Sally Hawkins play scientists needed for exposition, moving the plot along. They do their best along with Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, and David Strathairn, who despite being underserved by their characterizations and scripting by Max Borenstein, fit their roles well. The film has a shifting point of view from characters as it reveals the drama behind the monsters. While the characters are rather standard and don't offer much in the way of substance, it fits with Godzilla.

Edwards uses his understanding of slow burn, escalating tension coupled with visual effects wizardry to  bring giant monsters to life in a compelling fashion for audiences. It's a testament to patient, moody filmmaking that the film delivers and satisfies our taste for monstrous destruction. Godzilla, the character, is framed not as a villain but a force of balance and natural protector against the MUTOs ("Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism") monsters, spider like pterodactyls with faces formed by nuclear energy in the Earth's core. Coupled with these scenes of terror is Alexandre Desplat's pulsating, melodramatic score adding to the tension throughout.

Everything is left on the screen as Legendary Pictures has spent tens of millions of dollars to fully realize the glory of monsters battling and destroying cities with a ridiculous awe factor incorporating the in-ring psychology of a professional wrestling match. Edwards' craftsmanship and monster designs are top notch, built with fluid texture and grand scale that pop on the screen. He wisely frames Godzilla with a grandiose yet intimate scope. It's big and international while remaining firmly about the passengers witnessing this journey. It's a satisfying spectacle about monsters and the nature of destruction.

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