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“The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control… and not the other way around.”
It’s been sixteen years since Hollywood tried to bring Godzilla to the big screen, in the 1998 Roland Emmerich film, Godzilla, starring Matthew Broderick. For many, the film was everything that was wrong with the Americanization of films from other countries, and everything wrong with giving a popular property to someone who has no understanding or care about what makes the property work. But a lot of time has passed, and the dust has settled, with many letting the film drift quietly out of their memory. Enough time has passed that Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures decided to bring back the King of the Monsters in the biggest way they possibly could, and this time, they had help from director Gareth Edwards, someone who really set out to make a movie that fans, and audiences, could rally behind, while paying homage to what has come before. Gone are the cheesy stock characters and one liners, and the over excessive CGI, and in its place, we find a a story of man vs. nature, family, and redemption, all against the backdrop of the emergence of something that has been hidden from humanity, and the fallout it can cause.
When a series of different seismic activity readings begin to register in Tokyo, Japan, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) begins to worry about the safety of his nuclear power plant, and the people in surrounding areas. But as the quakes get worse, it destroys the power plant, killing many. Consumed by guilt, Joe begins to research the event, determined to discover the real cause behind the plant’s destruction, which he believes has been covered up. The years pass, and Joe has lost contact with his now adult son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who sees him as crazy. But when Joe is arrested in Japan, Ford is forced to reconnect with his father to bail him out of prison, and is thrust into the middle of his father’s delusions. As events begin to unfold, Ford realizes that his father may not be as crazy as he thought, as a monster begins to emerge that threatens the safety of those around the world. With the help of Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Ford, as well as the the US military, set out to stop the new MUTO that has emerged, but there are bigger forces at play, and they may need to stay out of the path of Godzilla, as nature sets its own actions in motion.
There’s so much to love about this new film, it’s hard not to admire the ambitions and goals it has. For a film of this scale, it’s actually surprising that so much time is spent on the buildup of the world, and the characters that inhabit it. It’s very reminiscent of films like Jurassic Park, Jaws, Alien, and King Kong (2005), that are all about creating atmosphere, tone, characters, and a slow build up before unleashing the creatures inside. In a time when cinema has been more about the quick reveal, without the build up, it was actually refreshing to have slow boil film that sets the stage. Director Gareth Edwards wanted to make sure that the film had characters audiences would care and connect with, and he uses the opening forty five minutes wisely for that reason. Thankfully, he has a cast that is up to the challenge. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, best known for his role in the Kick-Ass film series leads the cast, and he’s quite good as Ford. He’s been through a lot in his life, but he still cares and wants to help people, and he really does have a heard of gold, something that his wife, Elle, played by Elizabeth Olsen, makes sure he never loses sight of. Olsen and Johnson have great chemistry together, and it’s hard not to love their small family. They’re really the emotional core of the film, and without them, it wouldn’t work nearly as well. But it’s really Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe who steal the film. Cranston is so good as Joe, a good man who was forced to make a horrible decision, and one that has taken its toll on him over the years. Cranston plays the roll with earnestness, and he commands the camera when ever he’s in the film. There’s so much talent in this man, and it’s amazing to think it’s only recently really been tapped into. Watanabe is fun as well as Ishiro, a man who knows that man has gotten full of themselves, and that they just need to let nature take is course. He tries to be the voice of reason to a world, and a group of people, who just don’t want to listen, and he’s faced with the horrifying notion that man may destroy itself, or destroy nature, all under his watch.
Edwards himself has really put a strong film together. While at times the dialogue may be a bit cheesy, and the story may seem a bit cliche, it’s the love for the material that really gives the film its strength. Instead of making a film that was all about the CGI and destruction, he doesn’t overload it, letting it progress naturally, so audiences don’t feel fatigued by the time the third act begins. In fact, that third act alone stands as a strong reminder to filmmakers that sometimes less is more, and taking your time to meet the ultimate endgame is completely worth it. While we get spurts of action throughout the film featuring Godzilla and the MUTO, it’s really the third act that takes the film to the next level. The way that Edwards handles the Kaiju action is incredible, and he brings the King of the Monsters back in a way that we’ve only ever dreamed of. Godzilla is a shear force of nature here, fearsome and tough, and the most intense he’s ever been. There’s a real sense of danger when he’s around, and not necessarily because he means to harm anyone, but because he’s literally an animal who is on the hunt, and he won’t let anything stand in his way. The film also features a pretty good score by Alexandre Desplat, that effectively sets the mood of the tone, but it’s nothing that will stand out and be remembered down the line. The only thing that really felt off about the film, overall, was that as the monsters descend onto San Francisco, and the battle has more than well begun, we still see people in office buildings and in other places, while the city has already begun evacuating. With all the chaos happening, you’d have to think someone had alerted people by now, what is happening, or they’d at least hear the commotion.
What could have been nothing more than a cash grab attempt with a highly recognizable name character, Godzilla proves to be one of the best summer offerings in a long time. It’s got a throwback feel, with a slow boil buildup until chaos is unleashed, while giving us time to make sure we care about the people in the film. Bolstered by some excellent performances across the board, and an incredible third act that keeps you on the edge of your seat, director Gareth Edwards has brought Godzilla back in the biggest, meanest, and most impressive way he possibly could. The time of the monster movie is beginning to return, and Edwards, with Guillermo del Toro, who directed last year’s Pacific Rim, may be leading the charge. This isn’t your grandfather’s Godzilla, this is even better.