Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Jim's Movie Reviews: Godzilla (2014)

Lemme see...there are 29 feature films produced by Toho Studios through 2004, 30 if you count the US Raymond Burr re-hash of the first classic Japanese film, I think...and maybe if you count Godzilla vs. King Kong, with its 2 endings as 2 films, it's 31...then the 1998 abortion...meaning this Godzilla is the 30th (or so) film with the giant lizard headlining. As items of distinction, it features the direction of Gareth Edwards on a script by Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham.  Contributing acting talent for this go-round are Aaron Taylor-Johnson, CJ Adams, Ken Watanabe, and Bryan Cranston.

The original Godzilla, who hit Japanese theaters in 1954, was a work of science fiction horror.  The monster was born out of the collective consciousness of a nation whose identity was forever changed on August 6th, 1945, and it shows:  He is portrayed as the incalculable response of nature to a humanity toying with destructive forces simply too large to be safely handled.  In subsequent features, he is most often portrayed as a (unwitting?) guardian and protector of humanity against other such nemeses, resulting in a more kid-friendly (and definitely less horrifying) set of movies.

This effort proves an attempt to do both:  Depict the horror and fascination of humanity with a creature beyond their ken AND get audiences rooting for the creature as a hero. It's quite the balancing act they've elected, as they could have had an easier time simply trying to re-capture the horror aspect of the original.

The Good:  This movie understands pacing.  We spend some time exploring the human drama, predictably, the exposition peppered with glimpses of the creature and its trail of destruction before the big reveal. Cranston was the stand-out performer here, bringing just enough skill to the job to carry us over.  The human element, after all, plays second-fiddle in a story destined to reveal their efforts as largely ineffectual. The payoff is huge for the investment in teasing:  The first time the creature is exposed in all his horrible glory, the audience I was with erupted into applause, and it wasn't for the last time during the feature. Godzilla in action is a breathtaking statement of the progress of CG art in the 21st century, giving audiences the creature most likely to stir up memories of what many felt as children, watching much older and less technologically adept efforts.  There are more cues to 'real' biology in the design of the monster than in the original rubber suit.  Nevertheless, the artists give us a creature that just drips the kind of 'King Of The Monsters' badassery that gets audiences motivated.  In 3D Imax, the reveal was awe-inspiring, and may be worth the price of admission, for some, all by itself.  The movie quickly ramps up in the third act, giving us periodic, crowd-pleasing...let's call them 'money shots' designed to tickle the fancy of both long-time fans and newcomers alike.  These moments are doled out with just the right amount of flair to maximize the visceral payoff, and although I could see a few critics jumping off due to obvious audience pandering, count me among those who got into the spirit of it.  A few of these moments are in homage to earlier work with the character, and longtime-fans will be happy to see that elements lost in the 1998 attempt are back in place.

The Bad:  The earlier parts of the film are necessary, to be sure, to give us some human connection to the story.  But the engineered nature of these scenes comes through at times, with questions such as, "How can this be all over the news and I just get a tease?" occurring just a little too often.  The end, so far as the human protagonist is concerned, featured some pretty disbelief-inducing plot elements (maybe another character death is called for?).  It's also a little dry at the beginning, where emotionally charged scenes seem to be filmed and edited in a very controlled manner, lending an almost clinical, "True Stories Of The ER" feel to what should be gut-wrenching fear or pain of loss.  The final act eschews almost all the periphery elements of human drama...once the action starts, the film delivers dose after dose of crowd-pleasing scenes of destruction visited by the monster, with very few cuts to the effects of the embattled Godzilla on the human populace.  Massive, crumbling skyscrapers, etc. are set-pieces in the final act, as opposed to places where people live and work.  There are plenty of scenes of fleeing people and reaction shots early on, but when things really start crumbling, it's all about the rock-em'-sock-em' action, for better or worse.  That, and the "he's our friend, really" element is laid on a little too thick.  It's tough to be critical with so many cheer-inducing moments coming out of the third act, but it might have been nicer to give the horror aspect its due a little more often.

The Bottom Line:  Godzilla is a fine effort, and worth seeing (especially in 3D Imax) for those who aren't there to critique it on plot structure and human dramatic elements alone.  Although not a perfect movie, fans of the monster as well as casual fans of visceral summer popcorn entertainment will want to check it out.  8 out of 10, if for nothing other than the "HOLY SHIT"s frequently uttered in theaters everywhere.

Fun fact:  In 1984, North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung decided he wanted North Korea to make a Godzilla movie.  In true batshit-crazy fashion, the North Koreans kidnapped South Korean film-maker Shin Sang-Ok, then forced him to make Pulgasari, no doubt the strangest Godzilla rip-off, ever.


  1. Nice review James. 100x better than the garbage that came out in 1998. Thankfully, Godzilla is back!

  2. Wanted to see this in spite of poor reviews, for nostalgic reasons. Your review convinced me to make it so!