Godzilla: An Honest Review

Directed By: Gareth Edwards

Written By: Max Borenstein.

Starring: Aaron Taylor Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Bryan Cranston.

Godzilla is back! It has been a decade after the Japanese release of Toho’s Godzilla: Final Wars, and it has been 16 years since the last, god awful, American release, Godzilla by director Roland Emmerich.

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Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Godzilla franchise, I’m going to run you through the basics. Godzilla, or “Gojira” in Japanese, is a giant dinosaur which rises from the ocean to fight other monsters. Within the Japanese films, Godzilla’s exact origins vary, but he is generally depicted as an enormous, violent, prehistoric sea monster, awakened and empowered by nuclear radiation.

His size (which changes from film to film for the sake of artistic license) is generally around, oh let’s say, 500 feet tall. Believable? Not really. But who cares! It’s giant monsters fighting each other!

Godzilla’s signature weapon is its “atomic breath,” which is a nuclear blast that it generates inside its body and unleashes from its jaws in the form of a blue radioactive heat ray.

After Legendary Pictures formally announced this project in March 2010, after the acquisition of the rights from Toho Studios, this legendary monster was put back in action; directed by Gareth Edward and is a co-production with Warner Bros.

This film had a lot of hype. I was very excited for Godzilla’s return to the big screen, definitely listing it as 1 of my top 10 most anticipated films this year. I wanted to see the king of monsters make an epic return and break into the mainstream for western audiences.

The trailers for the movie were awesome, they promised us action and an interesting story. So did it live up to the hype?

Yes and no.

*Spoilers ahead*

This article contains not just some spoilers, but all the spoilers. So if you haven’t seen the movie and you want to see it for yourself, stop reading here!

Opening Credits

In case you’re interested in something that’s usually so mundane and throw-away….

The film’s opening establishes the origin story of Godzilla, showing videos of the nuclear explosion that caused the radioactive exposure in the ocean and the covered-up redacted statements that wrapped around the credits.

The whole opening sequence is well made, but perhaps lost on new people who might not know or for the people, like me, who might not be paying attention THAT closely to the credits. Luckily, there is a transcription of the whole thing on Badassdigest.com.

Plot

In 1999, scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are called to a quarry in the Philippines where a colossal skeleton and two egg-shaped pods have been discovered. One of the pods was dormant and the other one, having hatched, has escaped to the sea.

The screen cuts focus to Janjira, Japan (just outside of Tokyo), the local giant nuclear plant starts experiencing seismic activity. Plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) sends his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and a team into the core to look for damage.

As the team makes its inspection deep within the facility, an explosion occurs, threatening to release radiation to the outside. Joe goes down to manually ensure that the door stays open for Sandra and her team. However, the radiation was too quick for Sandra and the team, and Joe had no choice but to close the door, leaving the team unable to escape. The plant collapses into ruin, leaving Joe and Ford, his son, mother and wife-less all within the first few minutes of the film.

Untitled

The disaster, attributed to a catastrophic earthquake, results in the evacuation and quarantine of the Janjira area and the main cause for the events to follow.

Alright! The movie starts out with a good backstory. The monster that hatched was kept a mystery, adding suspense; Bryan Cranston had an absolutely brilliant performance; and the pacing of the plot was good. Oh, I am so ready for what comes next!

Fifteen years later, we jump POV focus from Joe Brody to his son Ford Brody(Aaron Taylor-Johnson)…

Oh god dammit… A POV switch?

Anyway, he is an explosive ordnance disposal officer (we all know that he’s going to have to stop a bomb later) in the United States Navy, living in San Francisco with his wife, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and son.

His wife and son have no significance other than to add additional drama to the film. Just expressive plot props.

I can’t even remember their names without looking it up first (it’s Elle and Sam, by the way). It’s a real shame too, because Elizabeth Olsen’s talents are half-starved in this film.

Anyway, after the movie establishes that Ford has live bait for the monsters to later threaten, Ford finds out that Joe is arrested for trespassing in the quarantined area. Ford then travels to Japan to bail him out of jail. Joe, hell-bent on discovering the true cause of the catastrophe, convinces his son to accompany him to Janjira for his mother’s sake.

Once in the quarantined area, they discover no signs of radiation, despite the warning that authorities had claimed. They decide to visit their old home to retrieve floppy disks that would assist in Joe’s quest to expose the cover-up. They also notice the power plant in the distance with its lights on, believing that the plant is being rebuilt. Once they recover this information, they are promptly arrested by local security and are then taken to the facility within the power plant’s ruins, built to contain a massive chrysalis, which is being studied by Serizawa and Graham.

So let me get this straight. The first time Joe was in the quarantined area, he was arrested and put into prison. Second time…meh. It will give him a pass directly to where the next plot point will be.

The aforementioned chrysalis, which contains the monster that destroyed the plant, soon hatches and unleashes a colossal winged creature, named MUTO or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism, which devastates the facility and flies off. Joe is critically wounded in the chaos, and eventually dies from his injuries.

Yeah, I know Bryan Cranston. I'm sad too.
Yeah, I know Bryan Cranston. I’m sad too…

Serizawa, Graham and Ford join a US Navy team to track the monster, using the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CVN-88) as a base of operations. As the earth’s radiation subsided, it moved underground and put itself in a cryptobiotic state. Godzilla, a much larger animal that was awoken during a deep-sea expedition in 1954, in turn, is hunting it. Its existence has been continually covered up following numerous failures to kill it with nuclear weapons. Ford reveals that his father had tracked a form of echolocation from the Janjira area, which leads the team to believe the MUTO was communicating with something else. Something that wasn’t Godzilla.

A U.S. Army Special Forces team in Hawaii finds the wreckage of a Russian nuclear submarine in the forest northwest of Diamond Head, outside of Honolulu, and finds the MUTO feeding on its reactor. The military attacks the MUTO and a battle ensues at Honolulu International Airport. Godzilla arrives from the ocean, causing a catastrophic tsunami that devastates Waikiki. The MUTO later flees by air.

The second MUTO pod, which was brought from the Philippines to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, then hatches. The much larger, wingless female destroys Las Vegas before heading west, and Serizawa concludes that the two creatures will meet to breed. There enters Godzilla’s main purpose as Alpha Predator…

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Let them fight

A train is loaded with two warheads to take to San Francisco, but it is intercepted and destroyed by the female MUTO, which eats one of the warheads. The other warhead is taken by helicopter to San Francisco, where it is put on a boat and armed. The MUTOs, however, steal the warhead and the female MUTO constructs a nest around it in downtown San Francisco, threatening the lives of millions.

Warhead

At this time, citizens in San Francisco are being evacuated on school buses. Elle leaves Sam with a trusted friend while she stays behind to help around in the hospital. The buses then make their way out of the city through the Golden Gate Bridge, where it is blocked off and is surrounded by the military. Godzilla resurfaces near the bridge.

Speaking of which, why did he spare the ship with Ishiro and the Admiral but plow over the other two ships?

The NAVY opens fire in an attempt to prevent him from entering the city, despite the protests of the soldiers on the bridge due to the presence of civilians. The commotion caused by both the military and Godzilla results in the destruction of the bridge.

OF COURSE!
OF COURSE!

And somehow Sam’s bus escapes the carnage….

Alright, so Godzilla is making his way toward the MUTO! Finally we get to see some monster fighting monster action that the franchise is-

A cut to the soldiers… *Sigh*

Well, while the MUTOs are distracted by Godzilla, Ford and a team of soldiers enter the nest via halo jump to try to disarm the warhead.

But hey, the MUTO uses EMP to disable electronics, right? With the MUTO right there, how the hell were the soldiers able to have a digital GPS guide them to where the nuke was hiding?

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All logic aside, they find the warhead and discover it has suffered significant damage, being that there is now a nest of MUTO eggs attached to the nuke and are unable to disarm it. So they plan to take it out to sea and let it detonate.

Ford decides to use a fuel truck to incinerate the nest, which distracts the female MUTO from the fight, leaving just the male to fight Godzilla. Godzilla then impales the male MUTO into a skyscraper, killing it, though the collapsing structure engulfs Godzilla as well. Ford arrives at the docks and manages to get to the warhead boat, with the enraged female MUTO in pursuit.

As the MUTO bears down on Ford, Godzilla attacks the female by firing his atomic breath down her throat, decapitating her. Ford then gets the boat out to sea and is saved by a rescue team just before the warhead detonates. Meanwhile, Godzilla collapses from exhaustion on the shoreline.

In the aftermath, Ford is reunited with his wife and son. Godzilla unexpectedly awakens and returns to the ocean, hailed as the “King of the Monsters” and “The City’s Saviour” by the media.

Overall

Gareth Edward’s “Godzilla” (2014) is a good movie, but it has some glaring flaws in it that drags the film down.

1. CGI and Design of Monsters

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See the resemblance?

Okay, so sure, the monsters differ in color, head, there are two extra appendages and the MUTO has the power of flight. But where is the originality in this monster?

In the early to mid 1960’s Toho’s special effects team cranked out designs for Mothra (1961) , Godzilla in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Manda from Atragon (1963), Dagora (1964), Baragon (1965) from Frankenstein Conquers the World, Sanda and Gaira (1966) to name a few. And these weren’t even made on computers, rather they were rendered as pencil sketches by none other than Eiji Tsuburaya. His monsters were completely original and had character. You know, as much as a giant monster fighting other giant monsters can have character.

It just disappoints me that we have all this incredible technology that can produce and animate things quickly, and the best we can come up with is a rehash of the Cloverfield Monster. Oh please.

I mean sure, not every monster is going to have originality in design, and maybe not have original powers too. Some of Toho’s designs had outside influences.

But the difference is they created value by staying constistant and making it their own. Toho invented new and unique elements and ideas, and made it feel special throughout the entire film. In Godzilla 2014, the EMP blast could have been a unique idea if had it not have been comprised when the plot needed it to be.

Also, at times the CGI had to be in a dark backdrop in order to make the monsters seem more realistic, but this make the fight scenes a little bit hard to see.

2. Balance of Human Sentiment and Monster Action

The movie creates the just right amount of tension for their characters, but more often than not it focuses too much on details that are really not necessary to the plot of the movie. Human sentiments took up center stage, while news reports hardly ever focused on Godzilla’s massive save, even after he was proven innocent.

The whole segment with the Japanese child getting separated from his parents was unwanted and uninteresting. That time could have been devoted to better action sequences or Godzilla doing something other than swim next to the Navy. Was there not something more interesting he could do, rather than cruise with ships?

And for some very frustrating reason, the camera always cut away to some rather irrelevant human action after giving the audience a sneak peak of Godzilla. It’s understandable to introduce the monster in this way – it is senseless, however, to continue in this pattern throughout the movie.

Also, for fans of the series, we all know what Godzilla looks like. Hell, even some non-fans do. There is a bit less suspense on a monster that has already been seen, even from adaptation to adaptation.

It also sends the audience into fits of frustration. The only question on my mind after an hour and a half of the movie, was: when the hell are we going to see Godzilla? This is supposed to be an action movie, right?

Godzilla’s two moments of glory were when he bit the face off the male MUTO and later ripped the female one apart. I wanted more of a fight between the creatures, as opposed to the prolonged military action we got to witness. It was all pretty standard stuff really.

Final Thoughts

For all my bitching about the flaws of this film, I don’t deny that there are good moments in the movie and some good potential for the franchise itself.

It made an estimated $93 million in the US and $103 million internationally during its debut, towering over Universal Pictures “Neighbors” and taking its places in the No. 1 spot. And from this revenue and success in the first weekend of its release, Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures have announced a sequel.

So, the film accomplished its main goal and that was to introduce this legendary beast to western audience allowing for potential growth. I will definitely be watching the new Godzilla sequel when it comes out.

7 out of 10

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