Saturday, December 25, 2021

#2,682. Godzilla (2014) - Godzilla / Kong Mini-Marathon


I grew up watching Spielberg movies”, Gareth Edwards, director of Godzilla, told the Los Angeles Times back in April of 2014, adding “what they did so well – as well as having epic, fantastic spectacle – they made the characters feel real and human. We were trying to do the same thing here”.

The 30th film in the long-running franchise and the second produced by a Hollywood studio (after the 1998 misfire), this Godzilla puts the focus squarely on its characters, and how they deal with the sudden, unexpected appearance of giant monsters.

The story opens in 1999: Monarch scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) investigate two giant spores unearthed in the Philippines while, at the same time, a nuclear power plant in Japan, under the supervision of American Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), is completely destroyed by what at first appears to be seismic activity. This “accident” ultimately claims the life of Brody’s wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche), a technician at the plant.

Fifteen years later, Joe Brody, still looking for answers as to what actually happened that day, is arrested for trespassing in the area near the destroyed plant, which is still a quarantine zone. Brody’s son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an officer in the United States Navy, leaves his wife Ellie (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam (Carson Bolde) and travels from San Francisco to Japan to bail his father out of jail, only to find himself pulled into a situation he never expected.

As it turns out, it was more than seismic activity that leveled the power plant all those years ago; it was a giant monster, hibernating underground, feeding on the nuclear energy. Without warning, this monster, which the authorities are calling a MUTO (for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), awakens, causing even more damage to the area before heading out to sea.

What’s more, there’s evidence that another MUTO may be active in the Nevada desert, and as the U.S. Navy, under the command of Admiral William Stenz (David Strathaim), consults with Monarch to determine the best course of action, yet another giant creature arrives on the scene, the mighty Godzilla, who may be the only one capable of defeating these MUTO invaders.

As you might expect from a movie with a reported budget of $160 million, the effects in Godzilla - especially the monster battles - are awesome; a sequence involving San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge absolutely blew me away. But like many of Spielberg’s best films (Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), Edwards doesn’t inundate us with monsters, deciding to show them sparingly at first, and increasing their screen time gradually as the film flows towards its big climax. Instead, we get to know the characters, especially Ford, who from the moment he arrives in Japan is front and center for the duration, trying in vain to get back home to his worried wife and child as the world starts to crumble around him.

The cast does a decent job; Bryan Cranston shines as Joe Brody, who knows there’s more going on than meets the eye, and Elizabeth Olsen is equally strong as Ford’s distraught wife. And while the action scenes may be a little sparse early on, those we do get are thrilling enough to bring us to the edge of our seat.

Many of the film’s detractors felt that the biggest problem with 2014’s Godzilla was there wasn’t enough Godzilla; in his positive review of the movie, Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times still said he “would have liked to see more” of the big guy. Personally, I thought director Edwards struck the perfect balance between spectacle and story, giving us just enough of both to keep us invested and entertained, and even if Godzilla isn’t the star of the movie (I think the MUTOs may have gotten more screen time, actually), the big guy is given ample opportunity to make an impression, which he does each and every time he takes center stage.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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