Friday, 30 May 2014

Godzilla (2014) Film Review

Check it out... if you wish to wash the sour taste of Roland Emmerich's 1998 disaster with something that takes minimal liberties, provides solid main characters, and an utterly awesome Godzilla!

Skip it... if you're sick of suspense-filled kaiju films like Cloverfield, and want your monsters served on a platter as quickly as possible, for Godzilla takes it's own merry time.

Godzilla poster

"Whilst the human characters get the most screen time, Godzilla is undoubtedly the star in this outstanding film!"

Godzilla is a film directed by Gareth Edwards, and stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, and Elizabeth Olsen, and is a reboot of the classic kaiju film; this time with Godzilla fighting a MUTO, whom are threatening our very existence.

You would be hard pressed to find anyone on the internet, or anyone following film in general, who wasn't excited to see Godzilla return to the big screen, in what was to be the actual debut of an Americanized Godzilla, something that fans of the franchise had been craving for a good deal of time. After 1998's atrocity, many felt like the Japanese kaiju would never find it's way into the American cinematic history books for the right reasons, though Legendary Pictures thought differently. Attaining the rights to the character in 2010, Legendary set out in hopes of releasing a fresh and vibrant Godzilla film in 2012, which was not to be the case, for various production reasons. Whilst the delay has been somewhat extensive, the finished product comes to us this year in the hands of Gareth Edwards, director of Monsters (2010), whom has re-envisioned Godzilla as something of an anti-hero, or even a hero in a loose sense, and so therefore has established "villain"s in the shape of MUTOs, giant creatures who threaten to destroy all civilization, based on their size and aggressive tendencies. With a supposedly capable screenwriter in Max Borenstein helming the writing portion of the project, Edwards has taken on a re-invigoration of the king of monsters, and in my opinion, has succeed in delivering just that; a re-invigoration. 

Performance wise, Godzilla is spectacular, part from our main actor, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The man was decent in Kick-Ass, though he is as emotionless as they come here. He does show signs of fear every now and again, and his scenes with his on-screen son are fairly believable, but this doesn't make up for his stilted emotions when it comes to his wife and those others around him who he supposedly cares for. Something dramatic happens to a member of his family, and his response is a straight face. You're kidding, right? Part from Taylor-Johnson, though, the rest of the cast is quite impeccable. Whilst Bryan Cranston doesn't get nearly as much screen time as he should, he delivers by far the best performance of the film, acting out as Taylor-Johnson's father, who's arc is the most emotional and promising. If Cranston didn't convince you during Breaking Bad that he is one of the best actors on the planet, then he sure has here. Ken Watanabe, famous for Inception and The Last Samurai, also makes a remarkable appearance here, giving another stand out performance as a scientist who has been studying both the MUTOs and Godzilla for quite a time. Criticism has been deliver to the film's handling of both Cranston and Watanabe, and whilst I understand those who believe Cranston was underutilized, I can not believe those who argue Watanabe is not in the film enough. He's in the film near as much as Godzilla and Taylor-Johnson, so that argument is completely devoid of logic. Elizabeth Olsen is impressive, as are Sally Hawkins and Juliette Binoche. All give strong performances, with their small but vital roles. Many have taken to hailing Godzilla as sexist for it's lack of female characters, though I don't see this as too much a negative; honestly people, it's Godzilla. We're not here for the human characters, though they supplement emotion; we're here for a giant kaiju who is going to beat the crap out of another giant kaiju. The female characters were memorable, most prominently Juliette Binoche's character, despite her minimal screen time. Performance wise, Godzilla smashes it out of the park, part from Taylor-Johnson's less than impressive performance. Fantastic start.

On a technical front, Godzilla is a masterpiece. The camera work is immaculate, the locations are astounding, the score works well with the often nostalgic feel the film aspires to; not to mention the CGI is without fault. Edwards has worked extensively to make both practical and visual effects shots work together seamlessly, for a more realistic effect. As the Nostalgia Critic once pointed out, the best use of CGI is when it is in conjunction with practical effects, and Edwards seems to be taking this kind of advice to heart. When Godzilla interacts with the practical environment around him, and even a few of the actors at some points, you feel as if they are interacting. Not once did I believe any of the actors were looking towards a non-existent creature off screen, not once. I saw people looking in horror at a beast that could destroy all of humanity if it saw just. It's an exceptional thing to watch, both real and non-existent characters engaging with each other, if it's done right, and here, it is most certainly done right. The Godzilla design has been met with some dismissal by purists who call the creature "too fat", though this in itself should be dismissed; the Godzilla I saw was a well designed, menacing creature, which harbored the same build as the 1954 creature, so it fits the bill as an acceptable design. The MUTOs design I was more apprehensive on; it didn't seem prehistoric, as the monster was said to be. Though, that said, it still looks incredibly intimidating and practical. It looks as if it could properly challenge the king of monsters and give it a run for it's money, so in that aspect, it's a well designed monster. In the visual effects department in general, this film excels, and should receive multiple awards for best visuals come end year.

I've already applauded Alexandre Desplat's score enough, giving it a perfect 100 (which it completely deserves, even on 9th play through), though I thought it best to mention it in context of the film. And boy; it adds so much to the atmosphere, to the action sets, to the film in general. Desplat avoids a common place synthetic score, and opts more for a genuine, tension-filled set of music, which allows the use of traditional Japanese taiko drums, and bamboo flutes for a callback to the giant kaiju's heritage. Godzilla's theme is one I'll surely be whistling into the future, though the MUTO's theme is a lot more obscure, adding to the somewhat mysterious air about them. We honestly don't know all that much about the creatures, and Desplat's music really reflects that well. All in all, in context, Desplat's already flawless work is proven to be even more effective; take notice of the music in the film, and you shan't be disappointed. 

The biggest issue that viewers will have with this film collectively is undoubtedly the teasing that Edwards and Borenstein inflicts upon the audience. He sets up a battle between the MUTO and Godzilla near half way through, only to further delay the battle. It's set up utterly perfectly, and my fists were in the air in celebration... until a cutaway destined this to only be a tease of what was to later come. Viewers vented their frustration online, and I can understand the initial uproar... though I personally didn't mind this approach to the monster's fight scenes. Whereas last year's fantastic Pacific Rim gifted us fights left, front and centre without any consideration for subtlety, Godzilla plods along, allowing our suspense and anticipation to grow for sustained periods of time, before finally sating our growing irritation with all those involved, with one of the best final battles you're ever like to see. Even those who believe the teasing of the monsters in this film was unnecessary and frustrating can't say that the final battle between MUTOs and Godzilla was damn near perfect. There were a few movie magic moments to be had in the middle of it all, that I'll show my conceptual children years down the track; I'll want to share some of the most awesome monster movie moments with them at some point, and a few of them occur in Godzilla. Whilst Pacific Rim was a much more extravagant cinematic event, Godzilla seems to tone it down, and allow the monsters to fight with much more brutal and realistic tactics. There may not be any cargo ship-baseball bats as there were in Pacific Rim, but that doesn't take away from the utterly devastating battle sequences that we're given here, by Edwards, whom is obviously a monster enthusiast. Only someone who has a great passion for kaijus could create such epic and grandiose battle sequences, I believe.  

In sum, Godzilla is a somewhat more serious Pacific Rim, with much better writing, often better performances, and some more gritty action. Whilst Taylor-Johnson did drag down the film's rating slightly, Godzilla boasts no major issues that really break the film staggeringly. In my case at least, Godzilla is front runner for one of the best films of the year; I'm desperately hoping this can hold out for my top 10 of the year, because I believe it's good enough to qualify. I give my top recommendations for Godzilla, and hope for a sequel soon! Godzilla is playing in theatres everywhere now.            


Junkie Score: 9.5
Worth Admission Price? Yes

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