Gojira. Everyone's favorite King of the Monsters has starred in over 20 movies and is one of the most iconic movie characters to ever grace the screen. I was more than curious when I found out the Godzilla franchise was getting a reboot and downright psyched when I saw the trailers for the new film. What's the verdict for 2014's reboot Godzilla? Read on and find out.
It's 1999 near the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant by Tokyo and plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is tracking a weird anomaly that his supervisors aren't nearly as worried about. In a violent, destructive explosion, the plant is destroyed, Joe's wife killed in the accident. The incident is identified as an earthquake, but Joe suspects something else. Some 15 years later, Joe's son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is now an explosive ordinance disposal technician with a wife and son...who's still dealing with his Dad. Joe has been arrested near the quarantined Janjira plant, Ford flying to Japan to bail him out. There's more though. Looking for answers, father and son head back into the quarantined plant looking for answers only to get caught again. What waits inside? More than they were counting on including a creature unlike any the world has ever seen before. It is a creature that threatens to tear the world apart, leaving waste and destruction wherever it goes. There's more though, another creature that's the stuff of myth and legend. It could save us or kill us.
If a studio wants to do a reboot, do it right and with a franchise that needs and/or deserves one. The Godzilla franchise certainly deserves one. This is the 30th Godzilla movie and first for American audiences since the awful 1998 version which was too goofy and campy for its own good. For starters, the 2014 reboot gets points for taking things seriously. The trailers were exceptionally good, setting the tone for what was to come. Director Gareth Edwards (who directed the somewhat similar Monsters) has done an admirable job with a story that tries to tackle a whole lot. That plot description was difficult to write because, well, you can write it without actually mentioning that Godzilla fella. Still, it reboots the franchise while creating its own identity, especially Godzilla's backstory, one of the best things to come out of the script in a very cool, unique twist. The original has Godzilla forged out of nuclear testing in the 1940s and 1950s, but that ain't the case here. No spoilers here though. Go see the movie!
Here's somewhat of a warning. Don't go into this movie expecting two hours of Godzilla fighting and tearing apart cities. Nope, instead Edwards goes for the more subtle, even artsy attack similar to what Steven Spielberg did with his 1975 classic Jaws where the shark wasn't shown in full until the final act. It's not so extreme here thankfully! That said, Godzilla isn't front and center for long stretches of a 123-minute movie. What's there is excellent, by far the strongest parts of the movie. We see the King of the Monsters out of focus, in shadows and hidden away, building up the mystery and the tension so when we actually see him....yeah, it's epic and awesome and perfect, exactly what you're looking for. On other levels, the look of the creature is perfect and back to basics. It's the immense reptilian character with the long tail and razor-sharp back plates that looks like a gigantic sea creature/dinosaur. Oh, and that Godzilla yell (Listen HERE). Yes, it's there and it's great.
Semi-SPOILERS ahead. Semi-SPOILERS. So where does the story go? Godzilla treads that fine line between King of the Monsters who destroys the world and King of Monsters who's the lesser of two evils and somewhat unintentionally becomes a protector of Earth and mankind. Who does he go up against? Two creatures dubbed MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) who have been separated and trying to reunite. Yes, this movie isn't just about Godzilla. It starts off in Japan and heads across the Pacific to San Francisco and into the Nevada desert and Las Vegas and then back again. The fights between the MUTOs and Godzilla are epic, the movie's strongest points and what most people/fans/audiences want to see when they go see a Godzilla movie. The action sequences are remarkable, CGI that doesn't look like CGI as these monsters do battle. They're everything that the Transformers often missed out on, even last year's Pacific Rim. It's CGI, but it doesn't get bogged down. These are just COOOOOOOOOOOL sequences. END OF SPOILERS
Oh yeah, those pesky people in the movie. No huge names here, and that's a positive. There's good and bad among the human cast. I liked Cranston a lot, bringing the right of drama without overdoing it, especially his scenes with his wife (Juliette Binoche). Johnson becomes the more prototypical action hero, the E.O.D. technician seemingly everywhere as Godzilla and Co. traverse the globe. His Ford is given a worrying wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and cute kid. As for the military personnel, look for the always reliable David Straithairn as the Admiral in charge of the operation while Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins are the two scientists who may know more than they're letting on. Nothing crazy good or crazy bad, just necessary parts. Cranston stands out for the positive, and Johnson holds his own without calling too much attention to himself.
What the trailers seemed to hint at and Edwards came through on was the "smart" aspect of the movie. This isn't a dumb, shoot 'em up action movie with prehistoric monsters tearing apart the world. The build-up is a little slow for the first hour, but it does a heck of a job building the tension to almost unbearable levels. When we do see Godzilla and his prehistoric rivals, it's almost like a release/relief to finally see them. It's a great-looking, stylistic, even artsy visual look for 'Godzilla.' Some sequences especially stood out for me, including our first real look at Godzilla as we get landfall in Hawaii, tsunamis, explosions, airports blowing up, and all sorts of shenanigans going on. It's big and sweeping like you'd hope to see. The coolest sequence though is a HALO jump into an on-fire, apocalyptic San Francisco, SEAL teams and specialists dropping into the city in a last ditch effort to save thousands of lives. Set to music from 2001: A Space Odyssey (listen HERE), this is a remarkable sequence, beautifully haunting and proof that action can have an art quality to it.
Well, here I sit. I didn't love the movie, but I did like it a lot. I'll be curious to see where this rebooted franchise heads in coming years -- should sequels be in the works. For now, this is an excellent attempt to reboot one of the most iconic, infamous characters/creatures in film history. An easy flick to recommend, and a hopefully excellent start to the summer blockbuster season. Also check out THIS excellent teaser trailer.
Godzilla (2014): ***/****