Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Thoughts on Godzilla




Back to Boyhood
A couple of years ago Comic Con brought whispers of a new Godzilla movie. Pacific Rim unleashed excitement about Kaiju's on the big screen again, setting the stage for the King of the Monster's return. I've always loved Godzilla. I grew up watching Toho's Godzilla with my dad who also grew up loving Godzilla. The moment I heard that a new Godzilla was in production I was both excited and nervous. Excited, because Godzilla is totally awesome. Nervous, because the last time Americans attempted a Godzilla movie it was a total disaster (GODZILLA, 1998). But more than anything, I felt myself reverting back to boyhood. Boyhood, back when girls had cooties and the Dallas Cowboys were winning super bowls--good times for sure. Godzilla was a boyhood favorite and I could not wait to see him return to the big screen.

America Redeems Itself
In Godzilla, Director Gareth Edwards made an installment worthy of the name, redeeming America of the '98 mistake. Roland Emmerich's GODZILLA was a joke, having Ferris Bueller face off against a giant mutated, pregnant iguana in cliched New York City. Even though Toho's Godzilla had been reduced to predictable, cheesy, B movies, they were still much better than Emmerich's Godzilla. As a little jab at Emmerich's Godzilla, Toho took  "Godzilla" renamed it Zilla and faced it up against the real Godzilla in Godzilla:Final Wars. Their fight, lasting all of fifteen seconds, is the shortest match up in the entire Godzilla franchise.  Below, is the fight between Godzilla and Zilla from Godzilla: Final Wars.



****Spoilers Below****

THE BAD

Angelina Jolie
Wait, Angelina Jolie isn't in Godzilla! You are right. She isn't. But she did harm my long anticipated Godzilla experience. I waited for a long time to see Godzilla. I wanted nothing less than to see Godzilla in an IMAX theater. Tragically, sseeing Godzilla smack around other monsters on that huge screen didn't happen. Just two days before I made the trip down to Albuqurque to see Godzilla in IMAX glory, it was suddenly out of the theater. Angelina Jolie and her Maleficent were to blame for that. For spearing my Godzilla dreams on her pointy fairy horns, I'm boycotting Angelina Jolie for life. And I won't watch Maleficent. Ever. Because of her, I had to watch Godzilla at the Allen 8 with a significantly smaller screen than IMAX, surrounded by crying kids, slurping sodas, loud popcorn munchers and the glow of cell phones. Thanks, Angelina. 

Everyone Not Named Bryan Cranston
Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Ford Brody, a very boring character with little depth and lacking of an engaging portrayl. Elizabeth Olsen, sister of famed Olsen twins, plays his wife. She is even more forgettable than her husband and somehow survives the epic fight between Godzilla and the MUTOs. Of all the main cast not named Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanbe portrays the most believable character. The problem with Watanbe's character, however, is he is not a vital character in the movie and doesn't have all that much screen time. The movie teases us with Cranston as Joe Brody but actually focuses on his son Ford Brody and his journey home to San Francisco. 

Godzilla
Godzilla,himself, was awesome. I'll talk about him more in the "The Good" section below. Here, my complaint is that he wasn't in the film nearly as much as he deserved. I knew Godzilla wasn't a mindless action movie. I knew it was a deeply human drama in the midst of Kaiju combat chaos. I just wish I would have seen more of him. I also wish that the movie would have focused less on boring Ford Brody and more on the stomping, roaring, Godzilla. Gareth Edwards certainly did a great job building up the tension leading to Godzilla's arrival. He didn't immediately reveal all of Godzilla, we saw spikes here and a tail there. That was excellent. What wasn't excellent, however, was the inevitable cut away to Brody or his wife when the action began between Godzilla and the MUTOs. You have to wait almost the entire movie before having sustained focus on Godzilla himself. Even then, though awesome, Godzilla's final fight is far too short. 

THE GOOD

Bryan Cranston
Best known as Malcom's dad and drug king Heisenberg, Bryan Cranston is the biggest star in Godzilla. Cranston's acting is superb, the best in the entire movie. He plays Joe Brody, a supervisor of a nuclear plant in Japan. From the very beginning with Brody's wife's tragic death, Cranston delivers. His performance was so gripping, I found myself tearing up. Tears in a Godzilla movie? Possible with Cranston. Unfortunately, Cranston's screen time does not reflect his appearance in the movie's trailers. In a surprise twist, reminiscent of Ned Stark, Cranston's character dies fairly early on. Although necessary to the plot and laying the groundwork for the movie's true hero, I would have loved to have seen more Cranston in Godzilla. Maybe he'll be a major player in Better Call Saul. I can dream right?

Godzilla 
All of the movie's trailers and promotional images promised a showdown between Heisenberg and Godzilla or Godzilla and Heisenberg vs. some Kaiju.With the early death of Bryan Cranston's character, a gaping void is left.  Who will emerge as the central hero of the movie? With humanity's failure to stop the MUTOs, it becomes very clear who that hero is. Godzilla, The King of the Monsters, dramatically rises from the Pacific Ocean as the movie's hero. He majestically battles and defeats the MUTOs.

Not only is he the movie's hero, he looks and sounds amazing. Long gone are the days of a guy in a rubber suit. This Godzilla is fully CGI, some of the finest CGI I've ever seen. Designed in cooperation with Toho, Godzilla looks incredible. His roar is a slightly modified version of his iconic Toho roar. He is a far cry from the iguana mistake of '98. 

Conclusion
I had high expectations for Godzilla. Even though I wish Bryan Cranston had more time in the movie and that Godzilla's fight sequences were longer, Godzilla delivered. In my opinion, this Godzilla bypassed the cheesiness that has largely characterized the franchise. Its the fullest expression of any Godzilla movie I've seen. It's realistic (as realistic as a giant monster fighting other monsters can be), and it's a serious movie. In many ways it is a throwback to the original Godzilla or Gojira. I'm excited that this is first of a planned trilogy with Edwards as director. I may have missed Godzilla on the IMAX, but that won't happen next time. The King of the Monster's next return to the big screen deserves the big, big screen. My anticipation is already rising.

Godzilla gets four, hot Hatch Green Chilis out of five: