Saturday, May 17, 2014

Let Them Fight!: Our Review of "Godzilla" (2014)

Director: Gareth Edwards (Monsters

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen

Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhew and creature violence

Run Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

Synopsis: In 1999, a Japanese nuclear power plant run by Joe Brody (Cranston) is destroyed by an unseen force of nature, killing his wife in the process. 15 years later, Brody's son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) returns from his deployment in the Navy to his wife (Olsen) and son in San Francisco only to be called to Japan when his father is arrested in Japan for investigating the meltdown. The pair discover scientists led by Dr. Serizawa (Watanabe) covering up a giant monster that breaks free and heads across the Pacific, waking up another long-dormant monster called Godzilla in the process. Giant monster battles ensue!


Andrew: Hello dear readers! Last night Sarah and I were able to catch an early showing of this weekend's new blockbuster release, Godzilla. It's just the 2nd directorial effort of Gareth Edwards, a director that I for one am very excited to watch from this point forward, and it stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy) and Ken Watanabe (Inception). Oh, and it's stars a giant freaking monster or two (or three).

Sarah, this was our #5 most anticipated movie of the year. Did it live up to our levels of anticipation?

Sarah: Ok, first of all I want to say that when the trailer for this movie came out, I thought it was just going to be another giant-lizard-destroys-city movie. Then the international trailer came out and we got our first look at a couple of other giant creatures. Then things got interesting because I realized it was a kaiju movie. So now let me say...I LOVED this movie!!! It was everything I hoped for and more. It was epic and beautifully realized. 

But I have to say, while I loved all the action and adventure, I really didn't care for the actual actors in this movie. What did you think?

A: Ok, we can get this out of the way. By far the weakest aspect of the film were the human characters. For the most part they were all relatively two-dimensional, if not one-dimensional in the case of Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, Elizabeth Olsen and David Strathairn's characters. But I actually liked how Cranston performed here, and Watanabe isn't really given a whole lot to do here except give expositional dialogue (which includes the best line in the movie "The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in their control…and not the other way around. Let them fight."), but it's Taylor-Johnson that felt really flat to me, and I think that's really who you mean.

To be fair, Taylor-Johnson isn't given a whole lot to do as Ford Brody, the son of Cranston's Joe Brody who was the head of a nuclear power plant in Japan that meltdowns at the beginning of the movie and becomes obsessed with proving that it wasn't just an accident that happened. Ford is a bomb expert in the military now, which comes in handy later in the film naturally, but more than anything him being a soldier just allows for Edwards to use him as a first-person point-of-view for the audience as he keeps volunteering to help the military as they follow Godzilla and a pair of other monsters called MUTOs, or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms. (Hey, that was a fun run-on sentence.) And because he's really just the POV for the audience, he's kind of a blank slate, no?

S: I agree, Cranston was really the best character, and is the most developed of all the characters, bad he's really not in it for that long. And Watanabe has the absolute BEST lines in the entire thing, but in the end that's really all he's there for. 

But this movie was ALL about the monsters. And they. Were. Amazing. The creativity and precision in which these characters were developed were so impressive. All these monsters did, really, was stomp around and roar at each other, but it was so much more than that. These were characters that have been in movie history for so many generations, that they had really become icons. So doing them just right was very important. They, and especially Godzilla, were icons to so many Asian cultures. They had to be done just right. I think they succeeded beautifully.

A: There are plenty of neat things in this film, and one of them to me is that the MUTOs themselves are actually a new creation for this film but they fit perfectly for the story that Edwards, screenwriter Max Borenstein and story creator Dave Callahan wanted to tell. Godzilla is a monster, yes, but in the grand tradition of his film history where his allegiance is always kinda gray, he's not necessarily the villain here but is instead a somewhat reluctant hero. Godzilla is most definitely NOT interested in saving the humans from the MUTOs, he's just pissed off that they woke him up and he's gonna shut that down. If he also happens to "balance the scales" or however Watanabe's scientist, Dr. Serizawa explains it, it's totally incidental to the fact that Godzilla just doesn't care for these MUTOs.

Godzilla, by far, is the best character in the film. I love what they've done with him here. Like I said, he's not really concerned with the humans and in fact he accidentally kills a few hundred when he comes ashore in Hawaii at one point. Other than that though for a portion of the film he's just swimming across the Pacific alongside the U.S. military like it ain't no thing. It's a cool sight, really. And then when the film gets to the final act/final battle we actually see Godzilla become tired and hurt during the fight. He becomes exhausted and the filmmakers show that very clearly and in fantastic ways. I loved it.

But let's tackle the big thing people will either love or hate about this movie: the fact that Godzilla himself is only slowly revealed through the movie until the final act. How did you feel about that tactic and its execution?

S: I loved the fact that we actually didn't see much of Godzilla during much of the movie. It had a very Jaws like feel to it. That, Jurassic Park and Alien played a huge part in how this movie was designed. It had the ominous feel to it and then when we are finally shown the beast, it is all sorts of epic. And can we just point out the fact that these giant computer generated characters emote?! I mean, they really show emotions throughout this movie, showing that they are actually more than just killing machines. 

Theres a scene where Taylor-Johnson comes face-to-face with Godzilla and you actually see pain and exhaustion cross the monster's face. It brought an emotional aspect to the movie that I was not expecting. That's why we are so insistent that the monsters were really the main characters. The slow reveal was the perfect way to revel Godzilla. It built the anticipation and then when we finally do see him, it's in such a satisfying way, that you almost forget that you haven't seen him much at all. You just know he's there.

A: Exactly. I loved seeing Godzilla be exhausted from the fighting, I loved seeing the MUTOs nuzzling up against each other once they've been reunited like real animals do, and I loved that Godzilla's roars come both from announcing he's about to kick some ass as well as from announcing he's fricking tired as all hell and REALLY glad it's over with.

Regarding the slow reveal, I thought it was the best aspect of the movie. Edwards clearly got his inspiration from Stephen Spielberg as you alluded to, and there's definitely some Alien in there, too. We see glimpses of Godzilla to begin with, then even when we finally start to see more than just a glimpse it's not for very long and Edwards cuts to footage of a battle on a TV so that we're still a bit removed from the action. It's not until the final act where we get Godzilla in all his glory, and once we do Edwards gives us these wide action shots where we can clearly see what's going on. He builds up to that final battle with such restraint that I can see how some people might get upset at the teasing, but I for one loved it.

I also loved how Edwards gave us a sense of scale of Godzilla's and the MUTOs' size. We see their feet compared to the humans running around on the ground, we see how big they are compared to a submarine and battleships and bridges. And because most of this is from a human's perspective on the ground they just look MASSIVE. And on the big screen it's amazing. I can't tell you how many times I got chills or just involuntarily grinned because of the awesomeness happening on the screen. There were even a few times where I had tears of joy start to build up because of the movie magic we were seeing on the screen. Edwards knocked it out of the park with this one. I can't wait to see what he has in store the rest of his career.

S: Ok, the sheer magnitude and scale in which this movie looks is so freaking impressive. The size of the MUTOs and Godzilla and how easily they just knock over buildings like they're made out of sand. It's all pretty sweet. The cinematography for Godzilla was actually pretty complex for it mainly being a CG film. There is a lot implied in the movie, things that happen off camera. This happens more than once and I really liked it. It gave the movie the action it was looking for but didn't bombard the audience with just action shot after action shot. That being said, this movie is pretty much non-stop from the get-go. And I appreciated that. With the slow reveal, it could have easily been dragging in  some spots. There was none of that in this movie. 

Now let's talk for a bit about the music. We got a taste of it with the trailers, but with the full score was another character addition to the film. Much like The Dark Knight trilogy, it added an agitation to the movie that was grating and gave a sense of foreboding. I thought it was genius.

A: Alexandre Desplat's score added so much to this movie. There was certainly the bombastic, almost classic Godzilla type music during fight scenes, but it also added tension to the build-up scenes in a perfect way. The best example I can think of is the HALO jump that was shown in one of the original teaser trailers. The haunting voices that slowly gain steam as the soldiers descend on a ravaged San Francisco, coupled with multiple amazing shots in that sequence, just heightening the tension and really put you as the viewer in the mindset of Taylor-Johnson's character. It was chilling.

The music was just one of many, many things I loved about this movie. I could really go on and on, like I haven't even mentioned how great the use of debris and dust was to cover up the monsters juuuuust a little bit more. So let's give our final thoughts on Godzilla, shall we?

S: I loved this movie. It ended and I thought to myself, "Ok, let's play it again." Godzilla was everything I had hoped for; action, suspense, a little humor. It had the epic look that I have come to expect with movies of this scale. I have said before that I really need to be impressed in movies these days. This one hit that mark. I'm going to give it a 4.5 out of 5. It's simply missing the human factor (could've used more Cranston) but that's pretty minor. 

A: Yeah, for what I was hoping this movie to be, it was nearly perfect. The only knock I'm going to give it is the human characters and how flat they were. And granted, in Godzilla movies the humans have always come second fiddle, but it would've been nice to actually care more about some of them. Other than that, Godzilla is a perfect summer movie that demands to be seen on the biggest screen you can see it on. I know we're going back to see it and then own it some day, and those are the two best praises we can give a movie.

FINAL VERDICT: A must-see in theatres, and one we'll own one day!

(Individual Scores - S: 4.5/5  A: 4.5/5)

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