The New Godzilla Film Erases The Storied Monster Franchise's Past Errors Beautifully.
Gareth Edwards' Godzilla ignites a new, fierce and exciting fire in the popular Japanese franchise of the same name. It really, really does.
Still, you'd be forgiven if you had some worries about the potential here.
Let's not forget: This marks Hollywood's second attempt to reboot Godzilla. 1998's Godzilla stands, rather memorably, as an especially epic disaster — and not the kind that you want to see in a Godzilla film, either.
Fortunately, this newer version doesn't suffer the same pitfalls. For one thing, it's actually coherent! For another, it's just a blast to watch.
And, hey, maybe the lessons learned from the failings of director Roland Emmerich's pre-millennium take on the franchise helped Edwards' bid this time around. They honestly might've. Thanks in part to Emmerich's errors, here's what we now know: Buildings being smashed and/or destroyed is what people really want to see, sure, but a good Godzilla movie still needs a fully fleshed-out storyline rather than a frayed shoestring of a plot. There has to be at least a little substance. And this one has that.
In turn, we have to ask: Should it have taken 16 years before the series was given another shot? Probably not, no. Not when Hollywood's thrown five different Spider-man movies our way in an even shorter stretch. But, fortunately for everyone, Edwards' take is worth the wait.
To make sure audience's appreciate that, the 2014 Godzilla starts off with a bang. As the credits roll, footage from the 1950s shows a large and mysterious reptilian creature being atomic-bombed in the ocean. Cut to 1999, and something — we're not supposed to be sure what, but c'mon now — has been woken up from a long nap. A large nuclear plant in Japan collapses, important people die and a whole city is evacuated.
Fade to black and the year is now 2013. Nuclear scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston, whose piercing scream almost matches Godzilla's intense roar) is still devastated by the tragedy that took place 15 years ago. He was in the heart of that event and saw a lot of tragic things. He was affected.
Meanwhile, his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is now an explosive ordnance lieutenant for the Navy. But before coming home from a tour of duty to see his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son, Ford has to travel to Japan to bail his father out of jail. Seems the old man has been sneaking around the evacuation zone to find evidence to prove his theory that what happened years back wasn't natural.
And no surprise here: While there, the two discover that something bigger than they could ever imagine is about to go bump into, well, whenever the hell it wants.
This is probably as much of the plot that you should know heading into the film. The rest needs to be experience, not spoiled.
Still, plot aside, here's more of what you should know: Godzilla (2014) stays very faithful to monster's nuclear radiation origins, which is a pretty great thing.
Kaiju, which means “strange creature” in Japanese, were created by the atomic bomb and come with characteristics of nuclear waste. These monsters live and breathe the stuff. Of course, this is a not-at-all subtle reminder of the horrors and pain caused caused when America dropped Little Boy and Fat Man on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, at the tail-end of World War II. But it's not meant to be subtle. Godzilla, make no mistake, is a metaphor. He is here to ensure that humans pay for their sins in tampering with mother nature and things we don't understand. In that regard, Godzilla is quite literally a brute force of nature.
Edwards, the director here, is a force of another kind. With this film he, proves that there are at least two things he knows passionately well: romance and monsters. Lucky him, that's just what Godzilla needs! Ishiro Honda’s original version had both, after all. So, it stands to reason, a solid reboot needs it, too. And it does: Lieutenant Ford is determined to get home and save his wife and child, and Joe will stop at nothing to prove that his wife did not die in vain so many years back.
The new version is also traditional in the sense that things line up like they should. Sure, the audience is spoon-fed a little, but that's OK because, in other instances, the viewers' thoughts are provoked some. To keep the adrenaline thumping between monster smash scenes, Edwards and writer Max Borenstein give the characters enough to do and talk about to keep our attention. We learn as Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) do about Godzilla and his plans here on Earth. One interesting talking point in the film: Yeah, it's in human nature (and perhaps common sense) to be terrified by a creature taller than skyscrapers, but what if this particular monster is our savior? What if, this one time, it isn't here to hurt us but to show us a better path? It's a stretch, yeah. But it's not implausible. And these two are desperate to find out if they're right.
It's a good side plot to a strong main story.
Really, if there's anything to gripe about here, it's the lack of scenes given to the titular character. While his scenes are beyond satisfying, he's only got about 20 to 30 minutes of screen time in the two-hour film. A lot of it is story building — the what, the how, the why and so forth.
The good news is that when audiences do get all of Godzilla — and not just a foot or a glimpse of his head — and the monster makes his dramatic entrances, we really get to size him up and down. In earlier attempts, these kinds of effects have been borderline laughable. But Edwards' completely CGI Godzilla looks and feels so real. Same for the CGI buildings he destroys.
Ultimately, that's what's cool about CGI when it's used right. It makes possible the impossible. It makes real the imaginary.
And, on the whole, that's what Edwards has been able to do with this film. His Godzilla stands as a testament to how far filmmakers have come as storytellers over the years — and how far they will go with their imagination.
It's staggering to think about, but 1954's Godzilla was played by a man in a suit who crushed set-built miniature towns that had been constructed to make him look bigger. No one's dressed up as Godzilla this time around, of course. But Edwards and his team have given the monster a life far greater than what those earlier filmmakers ever could have.
It's impressive. And, really, it should be enough to pull even non-fans of the Godzilla franchise into theaters.
Forget any Godzilla reboot, rehash, and remake you've seen before. Because this one is the film against which all other ones will now be judged.
Godzilla opens in theaters everywhere on May 16.