PLEASE NOTE: This writer has not seen either Roland Emmerich’s 1998 adaptation or its vast Japanese movie sources. The review of this film is thus for the film alone, with a few bits of knowledge of the movie’s mythological line used for connectivity.
What to Expect?
Monster movies have been around for quite some time in Hollywood. The more popular ones have definitely been Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park into a progressive franchise that continues even today (the fourth film will make its entry to the World somewhere around mid-2015), Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim of late, which borrows strands from from the Japanese Kaiju universe’s mythology (in which Godzilla exists), and the J. J. Abrams produced Cloverfield, which released somewhere around the middle of these film. Of course, these haven’t been all the storytellers have been restricted to – there have been zombies (Night of the living Dead), extraterrestrials (Alien), machines (The Terminator) and many more forms that have been either well-explored or thoroughly ravaged through the different forms of fiction that can be put out there. This shows that there has been a certain fascination with humans to explore the what-ifs of the existence of monsters on Earth through either cinema or written fiction.
Director Gareth Edwards is no outsider to the world of big, scary badassery. His last film – also his debut – Monsters was quite a well-received blend of of science-fiction, action-adventure and subtle horror. It’s no small wonder, thus, that Edwards was landed the role of director for the reboot of Godzilla, which is to be almost out in theatres.
But considering a reputable director couldn’t do half of what he had the potential to, why would one really want to watch a reboot that focusses on the origins of the giant lizard again? The writer of this article can think of at least three reasons why:
- The movie promotes the faces of the likes of terrific performers like Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Argo), Juliette Binoche (Dan in Real Life, Chocolat), Ken Watanabe (Inception) and Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene);
- From what the promotional material wishes to reveal there is a high level of curiosity involved (and that is a good job done); and of course
- The ominous feel and the cinematic drama that seems to be a part of the movie doesn’t look jaded or exaggerated. It’s definitely bang on!
One question that would be on every potential viewer’s mind though is if they’d really want to risk watching the movie on the big screen. After all, while the previous Godzilla still has its ardent fans, the film in itself is not known to be the best of Emmerich, much less in the creature-feature genre.
What’s it About?
A major risk-taking experiment is what goes really wrong, however. Since 1954 (clever, you guys!), unknown experiments have been carried out to bring a classified force to an end. As time passes by – and with simultaneous research on the side – unusual fossils are found in the ground somewhere in Philippines in the year 1999. Around the same time in Janjira nuclear plant, Japan, an experiment goes horribly wrong, and an entire family is destroyed. One of the survivors – now an explosive ordnance disposal technician – Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass), has moved on; both from the incident and his near-insane, adamant father Joe (Bryan Cranston). However, as he later finds out, running away from the past may never be an option. A storm is coming; a storm that may wipe out the entire human race off Earth. And the only solution to end the storm is one the humankind may never be able to digest.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
While David Callaham’s (The Expendables) story is an interesting one that lays down an intricate foundation that may exhaust some, it’s the consistent adaptation into screenwritten structure by newbie Max Borenstein that actually makes a lot of sense here. Major characters go through a gradual build-up, which is a refresher in comparison to a lot of other deadpan larger-than-life cash-guzzlers having the same genre. One of the best things about the movie is that it’s not crowded by action set-pieces throughout. This, in itself, is also a weakness, mainly because there’s not a lot going on through the movie until it picks up pace in its last half. Edwards seems quite in form with the brilliant action set pieces and the ominous dramatic overtones surrounding the whole movie. Where he falters – oh so slightly – though, is definitely the emotion of the characters, and the abrupt shift in time in the first 20 minutes of the film. The very emotional core of Cranston’s Joe seems flat – and for more reason – somewhat derivative of other characters. Also, his presence through the film’s process doesn’t warrant the kind of promotion they had through the movie – featuring him as a selling point. Other relationship strands that needed enough meat-on-bones to turn realistic were the ones featuring Aaron-Taylor Johnson’s family. The result would definitely a heightened sense of excitement and fear, as the viewers would definitely have invested in the respective characters enough to care and fear for them.
Technically, the movie is definitely strong enough to warrant a viewing or two. Cinematography by Seamus McGarvey (Atonement, High Fidelity) definitely gives the film a highly dramatic flair, as in each frame there seems to be a a mixture of exciting build-up and cinematic drama combined. Definite usage of steady movement and steadicam/handheld at appropriate places gives the film a definite marriage of looks, what with polished and the gritty being consistently placed, with lesser over-indulgences. Of course, some of the raw-moving camera operations may simply be for the viewers of Edward’s last Monsters to remember that he still likes the style. Production design throughout the film combines many moods – the futuristic, the ancient and the present – together to form a lot of superlative art direction and its combining elements, making for a very satisfying look to the film. Editing by Bob Ducsay (Looper, G. I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra) is spaced out and artful, making way for beautiful continuity of shots. This, despite long takes and the act of ending a few shots with sudden background movement in its last few seconds, is no mean feat. The film also boasts of stunning VFX work, especially in the field of creature modelling, bequeathing upon the titular creature a sense of surrealist realism. The music by Alexandre Desplat largely expands upon the uncomfortable ominousness, specially in night-time scenes set in the Hawaii airport and the train-tracks.
This, obviously brings me to the things that drop the movie a notch or two. For a movie that was – in writing at least – a meditative exercise on karma and cause-and-effect in the fields of science and technology, it needed a lot of human connect for the audience to be a part of the proceedings rather than a spectator. This – in part, or more – was genuinely missing in chunks. Also, powerhouse performers like Sally Hawkins, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston, may have been given characters to play that didn’t acknowledge the kind of presence they may have had on screen before this. Additionally, the movie may well have been shorter by half-an-hour, for it’s two hour length may not have warranted itself an exhaustive first hour – at least for the section of viewers that may have had different expectations in mind.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Ken Watanabe is quite simply excellent at restraint. This characteristic has been seen with his performances in Nolan blockbusters Batman Begins and Inception, and continues its winning streak here. his portrayal of Dr. Serizawa isn’t stilted by any means. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) gives ample support to Watanabe, although for her repertoire, she should have gotten something more notable to warrant her performance here. The same goes for Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston. Olsen, on the other hand, seems to have gotten a wider role, although her character seems more like an abstract prop than anything else. Aaron Taylor-Johnson does a pretty efficient job. Others are good.
In all honesty, for the spectacular second hour that makes up for most of the first hour’s possibly exhausting (albeit smart and well referenced) origin story, the movie is a consistently watchable and fairly entertaining summer blockbuster movie. Consisting of gripping action set-pieces and an atmosphere that complements the look and feel of the film well, Godzilla is – quite simply put – good fun that doesn’t have to be dumb.
Worth the watch.
Star Rating: 3.5 / 5