Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn
A disaster at a Japanese nuclear power plant in 1999 irrevocably changes the lives of nuclear engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his young son Ford. Flash forward 15 years and the now adult Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a US Navy explosives specialist recently returned home from an extended tour of duty. His reunion with his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son is short-lived however when he has to travel back to Japan to collect his wayward father. Turns out that Joe has been investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding the nuclear disaster, and evidence points to a massive cover-up concerning the return of giant monsters from our planet’s long forgotten past. As these new creatures wreak devastation across the Earth a surprising glimmer of hope may also rise from the depths of the sea; Godzilla, The King of the Monsters!
Director Gareth Edwards helms this revival of one of the cinema’s greatest franchises, adding Hollywood technology to a character as synonymous with Japan as sushi. His previous effort, Monsters, was a refreshing and human take on the effects of an alien invasion. Similarly told, Godzilla harkens back to the 1954 classic with strong focus on Johnson’s character and his trek back to his wife and son. An Odyssey of sorts, his path and perhaps his destiny, lay entwined with these massive beasts for which we humans are but minor annoyances.
Edwards takes great care in small reveals, hinting at colossal brawls but pulling away at the last possible moment whetting your appetite for the inevitable showdown once all the chess pieces are laid out on the board. He lends an almost mythical bend to these creatures; carefully enveloped in fog or under water for surprise appearances and maximum awe. And these kaiju are indeed awesome. Despite numbering only 3 moving giants, including the redesigned Godzilla, maximum impact is given with an astounding amount of destruction and show of force that truly makes the humans seem like spectators in a battle that could decide their standing on the food chain.
Effortlessly tearing through bridges, skyscrapers, and military vehicles of all sorts, there is an almost Nature Channel feel to the proceedings; that these creatures are products of nature and we are simply the audience, amazingly privy to their instincts and nature’s call. It’s much more epic, more grand in scale than any other monster movie. Taking a ‘street level’ approach for much of the action, the film feels more like a super intense disaster film. A popular opinion of Godzilla, at least in the United States is that the films are hokey kids’ stuff; ridiculous rubber suited men stomping through miniatures of cities and scaring Japanese people. The first film however adapted the fears of a nation who had seen two disasters as the only victims of nuclear weapons. Cautionary but entertaining, it would go on to be a classic of the science fiction genre. While there is not really such a subtext existing in this film, it is a summer tent pole film after all albeit done with a seriousness many will not be expecting, it does carry with it a subtle jab at the modern world’s over reliance on technology and ‘the arrogance of man’ as so succinctly put by Ken Watanabe, who plays his Dr. Serizawa with Zen like calm.
Alexandre Desplat composes a wonderfully tense and brass heavy score; a terrific compliment to the high quality visuals and perhaps some of the best visual effects of the year. Sound design will blow out your year with the grinding of metal, earth shaking footsteps, and that ever present and iconic Godzilla roar. Reworked for this new incarnation, it’s fresh and recognizable all at the same time.
Ultimately, time will tell where the film ranks in the all-time Godzilla list, but one thing is clear; this is sprawling, mature, and thrilling summer entertainment. Gareth Edwards hits it out of the park making Godzilla vibrant and alive but still staying true to the roots of what made Godzilla so iconic in the first place. Brave but still reverent, it’s adventurous filmmaking and a whole lot of fun; never before have kaiju seemed so menacing and real. A force of nature that we have no hope of controlling, much less killing, Godzilla is back in a big way.