MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Godzilla’


Film: Godzilla
Starring: Aaron Taylor Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen
Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Four years after bursting onto the national film scene with the release of Monsters, filmmaker Gareth Edwards has added his unique cinematic vision to the legend of Godzilla in a fitting and thrilling way. The results, while mixed, prove Edwards has a long and digitally created career ahead.

Starting as all modern reboots do, Godzilla begins with something akin to an origin story. Images and archive footage of bomb tests flash across the screen during the opening credits, some with the addition of Godzilla’s silhouette ever-so-slightly hidden behind mushroom clouds. It’s clear the world has encountered Godzilla before we arrive, but thanks to government cover-ups and the general passing of time, very few know of his existence when the story begins.

Godzilla spans 15 years and involves a handful of characters, including a father in search of the truth behind his wife’s death (Bryan Cranston), a son trying to escape the loss of his mother without dealing with the pain he felt years before (Aaron Taylor Johnson), a scientist with knowledge of the beast (Ken Watanabe), and a wife (Elizabeth Olsen) unable to help her soldier husband deal with past emotional issues, let alone the giant creature(s) that have suddenly begun roaming the Earth following years of hibernation. The son, Ford, is the centerpiece. It’s his journey we follow over the years and across the globe, and it’s his father that needs answers. Together, they seek out the scientist, discover the truth, and find themselves face to face with an alpha predator that defies logic while the wife waits halfway around the globe for a sign either one is still alive.

It takes well over an hour for the title character to make his true entrance into Gareth Edwards’ first studio film, but when he finally arrives it’s handled in such a way that you my find yourself fighting the urge to cheer in the audience. Without giving away too many reveals, the world needs Godzilla as much as it fears him, but it takes something absolutely horrifying happening before his grand entrance can occur. When it does, Edwards keeps the camera firmly at ground level. You see the world from the point of view that those inhabiting it would have as gigantic creatures tore through their streets. The camera pans up, then up further, and further, and further still. Each and every time an alpha predator enters a sequence it plays like the very first time.

It’s not just the scale that needs to be applauded in Edwards’ work, but his sense of vision for this universe as a whole. Monsters proved he was capable a building believable worlds with only a laptop at his disposal, and here that same talent is applied to a hundred million-plus budget to produce even more eye-popping imagery that pushes the entire world of film ahead. It’s much more than creature design, it’s world design. The sense of destruction and chaos in the streets, the dead bodies strewn amongst the debris that has washed up on ocean shores, the way there is always something in the fore, middle, and background – it all plays a part in making the world of Godzilla come to life. You’re not just watching something epic unfold, but you actually feel as if you are somehow involved. You have someone to root for, and you’re not even sure if they are the savior you need, but they are the only hope the human race has if it wants to survive. They may not say the world is at stake, but it is, and thanks to the brilliant vision Edwards brings to this universe you too understand the fear of the unknown rippling throughout every man, woman, and child onscreen.

As much as all of this is exciting, there are several faults within the characters and the decisions they make that threaten to tarnish some viewers’ experiences with the film. Everyone involved is a perfectly fine actor or actress, but not a single one can make the asinine decisions their characters make come across as anything less than stupid. There is a harbinger for every main character, often multiple times, and each one chooses the path with a higher likelihood of death. This is necessary to an extent in order for the film to work, but much like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 there are a handful of coincidental moments that cheapen the overall originality of how Edwards has chosen to tackle this famous character.

The original 1954 debut of Godzilla played heavily on metaphors of war and the paranoia people felt towards the nuclear arms race. Edwards’ version never touches either topic too heavily, but the impact of war on the planet and its creatures does play a major role in the build-up to Godzilla’s initial arrival. The lessons to be taken from his film feel far more grounded in hope and an embrace of the unknown. Fear definitely plays a significant role as well, but if it were fear we were supposed to walk away feeling then Ken Watanabe’s character would not have spent his life chasing after Godzilla. He’s curious, as everyone is about the unknown, and even though the destruction found in the wake of Godzilla’s appearances are terrifying, he cannot help wanting to know and understand what makes the creature tick. In a similar way, Edwards treats viewers like Watanabe’s character, teasing them with the monster’s debut until they are ready to scream. It’s a slow-burn formula akin to Jurassic Park, with a payoff that could have a similar lasting impact on young eyes that Spielberg’s classic has carried all these years.

Despite its shortcomings as far as character development is concerned, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is a fantastic journey into the heart of man’s deepest fears and an exploration into his unyielding curiosity about the world around him. More importantly, it’s the perfect change of pace in a summer destined to be filled with redundancy and familiarity. Find the biggest screen you can and see this film as soon as humanly possible. It’s not perfect, but it’s as close as a film this size has or will come for some time. If you wait for home video you will be robbing yourself of an experience people will be talking about for weeks, if not months to come.

Score: A-

Written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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