It’s not Godzilla but we should run like it is
by Kevin J. Johnson
GODZILLA is the newest reboot of the 1954 Toho Studios classic, featuring the return of The King of The Monsters on his 60th anniversary. Gareth Edwards, whose 2010 debut Monsters brought him to the attention of Legendary Pictures, directs this latest version that hearkens back to the grave, doomsday tone of the original. The ensemble includes Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), Elizabeth Olsen, and Ken Watanabe as the world-weary Dr. Serizawa, a nice nod to the ’54 movie.
After a tragic prologue, Joe Brody (Cranston) takes it upon himself to uncover the conspiracy behind what happened at the power plant in Japan he was stationed at fifteen years ago. Ford, his now grown son (Taylor-Johnson), joins the US military’s efforts to thwart the emergence of a new mega-species that threatens to upend the balance of nature. The entire cast is in fine form, Cranston especially, making dire proclamations and cryptic musings. However, after the first half, they become a very passive cast; the most they can do is bear witness to these colossal beasts in hushed awe.
This new Godzilla is effectively a big-budget mood piece, evoking a mild sense of dread and terror amidst a large scale of destruction. This isn’t gleeful or reckless; just as in the original Gojira, families and communities are split apart and devastated. Edwards shows an audacious amount of restraint throughout the movie as most of the big battles are alluded to, showcasing only the damage and chaos afterward. The depiction of these ruined cityscapes fits the theme of nature’s brutality, continued from the very first film.
If Gojira was a parable for the atomic bomb, using science fiction to allow for a dialogue censored in Japanese theaters at the time, then this remake is a parable for our looming stockpile of nuclear weapons and our buried wastelands of toxic refuse. It’s about a great potential evil beneath our feet, laying in wait. The tense set pieces are more of a nightmare than a roller coaster, avoiding the cheesiness of the later films and spin-offs. That being said, this Godzilla creature borrows more than a bit of the brawler aspects of those sequels; it’s the best of both worlds.
Edwards avoids the camp that Roland Emmerich’s remake dove straight into. The thrills don’t outweigh the somberness of the preceding material, and aren’t meant to. The conspiracy cover-up portions build the mood, punctuated with bursts of panic. The reveal of Godzilla is worthy of the title “King of the Monsters.”
Sound Designers Ethan van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl are billed in the opening credits, and they earn their placement. Godzilla’s roar is expertly modernized, classic yet more threatening and deafening than ever before. This was exceptionally loud in IMAX, one of the loudest films I’ve ever sat through (just like Man of Steel and Pacific Rim, also produced by Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros.).
DP Seamus McGarvey (Marvel’s The Avengers) shoots the first two-thirds of the film naturalistically, with the monsters wreaking havoc in the harsh light of day and the moonlight, until the very end, where hellfire seems to swallow up all of San Francisco as these titans do battle. It’s an effective and unsettling contrast. Composer Alexandre Desplat gives us a fantastic score, utilizing a massive orchestra befitting the size of the titular creature.
I recommend this in IMAX, and although this doesn’t earn its IMAX rating until the very end, it is earned nonetheless. The 3D could have been deeper, but Edwards uses it solidly throughout. And for all the tropes that Godzilla indulges in (and let’s face it, this franchise created most of those tropes), the film deftly avoids just as many clichés. This new iteration undoes the clumsy wreckage of the ’98 remake, and gives us a Godzilla in gargantuan fighting form.
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