Beyond Fright Review: GODZILLA (2014)
In this day and age, we’ve grown accustomed to the notion that big budget Hollywood movies are almost always disappointing. We’re over-fed merchandise tie-ins that spoil the mystique of a film and subjected to over-hyped promises that almost never come into fruition. Which is why I couldn’t be more ecstatic to say that Gareth Edward’s GODZILLA
reboot manages to achieve the unthinkable–actually get it all right. After an utterly disappointing attempt in 1998, the “King of the Monsters” is back in a tremendous and unique way that maintains respect to its original without dumbing it down.
Regardless of what you thought of his 2010 debut, MONSTERS, there is one thing that is certain about Gareth Edwards, he understands the balance between overkill and minimalism. The first 40 minutes of GODZILLA is essentially a build up to the monster’s unveiling. While we already know what he looks like ..well, because he’s the most famous monster in the world, his first appearance is handled as a momentous occasion. It’s not just instant gratification, Edwards primes our emotional palette with a backstory that follows Bryan Cranston as a nuclear technician in Japan who (spoiler alert) loses his wife in a tragic nuclear meltdown from the result of something “unknown”. Cranston, as always, is amazing and his emotional depth gives the film the seriousness that brings the story an emotional aspect. *It’s important to note that the major difference between this reboot and the 1998 one is the amount of care and respect that is given instead of the kitschysaturday morning cartoon gloves that Roland Emmerich used. By the time the film reaches modern day, it already has an effective dramatic strain running through it.
There’s no doubt that comparisons will be made between GODZILLA and Guillermo Del Torro’s 2013 kaiju epic, PACIFIC RIM. Both effectively blend big budget sentimentality with dramatic elements within the construct of the summer-movie-blockbuster. Are they Macbeth? Of course not. However, they also aren’t littered with racist undertones or the “Fuck yeah, America!” attitude that summer films like TRANSFORMERS or THE EXPENDABLES pollute the box office with. It’s understandable to a certain degree; post 9/11 action films are very careful to never portray America as a vulnerable country that can’t bounce back. Pacific Rim wavered to hold onto this same idea, which ultimately made it feel like less of a Kaiju movie, while Godzilla leaves our fate up to a creature of nature. The monster is, after all, born out of an allegory for the horrors of nuclear war and even though it isn’t anti-military, it definitely isn’t attempting to make anyone but him the hero. It’s a breath of fresh air really, to see an American blockbuster where man doesn’t solve everything–by blowing a rocket into it.
Besides a solid cast, the other real star of Godzilla is (Academy Award Nominated) Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography. Fans of the astounding 2011 thriller WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN may recognize his name since he shot that as well and the two films share some of his haunting minimalism. He understands the balance of creating epic scale shots without overloading your eyes. The best example is in one sequence in particular, where Aaron Taylor-Johnson witnesses a closer view of the monster’s face before it disappears in a cloud of debris smoke and it’s so breathtaking and poignant, that it reminds us of the power these summer films used to hold over us. That, overall, is essentially what this reboot does best–recapture the magic of cinema, as well as the Godzilla legacy. It’s a summer blockbuster that feels less like a guilty pleasure and more like the Amblin Entertainmant films of yesteryear– where, as a child, you didn’t just “see” them but you experienced them as well.
There’s a need to discuss expectations though. If you’re a personal fan of the franchise, but not sure of the idea of a reboot, the film manages to instill enough nods and easter eggs to still bring a smile to the most die-hard fans; if you’ve never been interested in Godzilla, the film is still a hell of a lot of fun. (I was lucky enough to see the film among a theater packed with Godzilla fans who relished and cheered every moment he smashed across the screen). I encourage those die-hards out there not to look at this film as a remake, but more as a translation of the original film, for I understand that the fanboy in all of us that will find issues with a reboot no matter what because it’s just “not the original”. For example, would I personally love another HALLOWEEN film that captures the force of John Carpenter’s? Most definitely. However, until one does, the original is still there for me to view, just as GOJIRA is still there on your shelf for you to revisit anytime you want. So take note Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich, this is how you faithfully update a classic without pissing the entire fan base off.