Sunday, May 18, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Directed by Gareth Edwards
Written by Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham

     While it's been years since I've seen the Matthew Broderick-starring Godzilla, its legacy is well known: it was awful. A stain on the franchise, so bad that Godzilla's creator declared the creature to be called “Zilla” in canon because they took the God out of it. The dust seems to have settled enough for them to attempt it again with the new (also subtitle-less) Godzilla, and while there's some flaws here, this is a definite step in the right direction.
     Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a soldier who's just gotten back home when he gets a call that his dad, Joe (Bryan Cranston), has been arrested in Japan. When Ford goes to get him out, Joe convinces him to go into a quarantine zone, where they find that the organization Monarch is watching a larva that hatches into a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). Now, it's wrecking havoc on its way across Japan and the US, and the world's only hope may be Godzilla.
     The movie's story alone shows how there's a closer adherence to the classic Godzilla formula. Instead of a bunch of humans running around while Godzilla wrecks stuff, Godzilla is the hero here, fighting another monster. This doesn't stop humans from trying to interfere, leading to the main theme of man vs. nature. The military wants to use bombs to take out all the creatures, while Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) urges them to just let Godzilla take them out, and then Godzilla will leave again. And indeed, Godzilla is generally shown to be less destructive than the MUTO. But you can't help but feel that it's a struggle mankind will not win throughout. It's explained that the MUTO resembles prehistoric life, feeding off radioactivity, and constantly, there are scenes of wild animals either running away or just not caring about the monsters. Like even if mankind were to get wiped out by everything, it was our playing with nuclear power and weapons that caused it. This may not touch as hard on the themes as the 1954 original, but the themes are still there in a sense.
     The movie's major stylistic decision is to show Godzilla and the MUTO as little as possible. This may seem disappointing at first, and indeed, it leaves you wanting more. Fights will cut off to only be seen on TV or through closing doors. You're trying to get your best glimpse of what's going on. But it's not until the very end that you get to see it in full. Even then, the movie is almost shot like a found footage. Not from shaky cams with battery indicators on-screen, but from street level or through a dirty office window. Wide shots are only used to establish. It puts you right in the middle of the destruction, and indeed, as much as it holds off on showing the battles, the aftermath where everything is destroyed is always shown in full. You think it's awesome to see them destroying stuff, and then it cuts right to the many people evacuating.
     Sadly, for the human perspective the movie wants, the one big misstep is likely with Ford Brody. He's just not a very interesting character, and he's barely distinguishable from every other white soldier in the movie. Dr. Serizawa and Joe Brody would have been more interesting characters, or even ditching a viewpoint character entirely and simply showing how people in general have to deal with it. And for how effective holding off on showing Godzilla is, I do hope that the inevitable sequel won't shy away from giving us more battles full-on.

     Still, if you want to reboot a franchise, this is how to do it. With smart direction and dark themes, Godzilla is exciting and full of great special effects.

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