Film Review: Godzilla (2014)

Release Date: May 8th, 2014 (Los Angeles Premiere)
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Written by: Max Borenstein, David Callaham
Based on: Gojira by Toho Co. Ltd.
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston

Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Toho, 123 Minutes

godzilla_2014Review:

It has been 60 years! Yes, 60 years since Godzilla first appeared on-screen. In that time we have seen a few different incarnations over dozens of films. There are some things that change from era-to-era and some timeless parts that remain consistent. Well, the new Godzilla follows suit, in that it was a reinvention that took some liberties yet also stayed true to the general nature of the franchise.

Godzilla, as a monster, was pretty damn accurate overall. Some people have complained that he’s too bulky, he is – but he just looks like more of a beast. Others have complained about his face and the fact that it looks human-like, I get that and noticed it but it didn’t bother me. We’re no longer limited by the technology of the rubber suit and truth be told, I haven’t liked most Godzilla faces since the original era came to an end in the mid-70s. At least the monster didn’t have the Jay Leno chin of the 1998 Godzilla monster from that atrocious Roland Emmerich film.

The other monsters in the film, there are two, are variations of one another, as one is the male and has wings, while the other is a much larger female without wings. I wasn’t too keen on these monsters, called M.U.T.O. for “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.” Their design was kind of cool, their backstory and biology was even cooler but they didn’t have that classic Godzilla monster feel. They kind of came across as more streamlined versions of a couple of generic kaiju from Pacific Rim. Maybe their design is just how filmmakers envision contemporary monsters to be. I thought it was pretty unimaginative and they had more resemblances to that shitty Cloverfield monster than anything from the vast Godzilla mythos. I just didn’t like them, I never felt that threatened by them and was kind of just waiting for King Ghidorah to fly on-screen and really tear shit up.

That leads me to one of the beefs I have with the film. With such a deep pool of characters and monsters to pull from, if you really needed Godzilla to battle a threat, why not reinvent some of those iconic monsters and really give fans a fight they want to see instead of this film that could have been titled Godzilla vs. The Unimaginative Insect-Dragon and His Big Angry Wife? I don’t think Hollywood understands that the Godzilla brand isn’t just Godzilla, there is an entire sea of monsters waiting to be exploited. In fact, in the trailer when I saw the flying monster for a split second, I thought Rodan was going to be in this. Nope, no Rodan, just some slightly modified Cloverfield creature with wings – opportunity completely missed.

But then there is the issue with licensing. Apparently, Legendary Pictures didn’t have the rights to any other creatures. I feel like this could have been resolved before this film was made, as they have since acquired the right to several more monsters for the upcoming sequel.

Another beef with the film is that it is called Godzilla but it barely has any Godzilla in it. He doesn’t show up for like an hour and when he makes his first appearance to fight the flying M.U.T.O. at the Honolulu Airport, they cut away just after he roars and right when your fanboy boner goes to full attention. Thank you, Gareth Edwards and Legendary Pictures for giving millions of moviegoers cinematic blue balls.

The lack of Godzilla carried over into the big finale. Godzilla would engage the two monsters, they’d do a power move or two and then the film would cut to the human characters running around trying to complete a nuisance of a mission that didn’t matter all that much considering the state of San Francisco by that point. Godzilla punch, M.U.T.O. bite, cut to overly dramatic white Army dude torching eggs. Godzilla kick, M.U.T.O. jump, cut to overly dramatic white Army dude starting a boat. Screw the humans, show the monster fight, that’s what we paid to see. In fact, scrap the whole plot and just put Godzilla in a cage match with a dozen monsters. Preferably classic kaiju and not some half-assed Level 3 bosses from a 1987 Konami game.

Now getting to the human element of the film, it was pretty good. Bryan Cranston  and Ken Watanabe were fantastic but lacked screen time compared to Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who was better than decent, and Elizabeth Olsen, who felt completely wasted and unnecessary in the film.

Now it probably sounds like I am griping about this a lot but I did really enjoy the movie. There was much more good than bad and it is worth your time if giant monsters engaged in combat is your thing. Tonally, the film felt like it belonged in the same world as the original 1954 Gojira – the original Godzilla film that was darker and a lot more serious and frightening than it’s comedic and campy successors. The tone was perfect, in my opinion, and that is what really makes this movie.

I hope that if this becomes the franchise it is destined to be, the filmmakers going forward tap the well and bring back our favorite kaiju from past films. Because comparatively, no one wants to see Superman fight some scrubs that just walked out of the gym.

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