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Godzilla – Movie Review

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Godzilla – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

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Despite being intended as an allegory for the Hiroshima bombings and the radiation testing in Bikini Atoll, Godzilla has been seen as a big joke for decades. This perception was born out of the more child-friendly direction the franchise took. The 1998 American production, directed by Roland Emmerich, didn’t help matters with its pitiful attempts at humour, garish creature design and boring action that relied mostly on explosions and obvious attempts at cashing in on Jurassic Park. After Gareth Edwards’ take on the material, Godzilla will be taken seriously once again as this presents the King of the Monsters as a destructive natural disaster. The human characters are given a lot of focus, but their situation is interesting enough that it doesn’t become an impatient wait for our favourite radioactive dinosaur to finally ascend.

The first scene of Godzilla quickly establishes both the emotional and real-world connection of the story. The devastation early on is not a bunch of science-fiction, but comes out of our genuine fear of nuclear testing and the film builds the story from there. When Edwards and screenwriter Max Borenstein mix the genres by throwing in a war movie and the monster movie promised by the title, it’s a seamless blend. What seems like set-up actually exists to prepare the audience for the creature-induced destruction and make it seem like something that would happen in reality. When Godzilla and other radioactive creatures start rampaging, there is a real sense of intimacy and terror. Contributing largely to this is the work of director of photography Seamus McGarvey, who shoots a number of big scenes from inside vehicles and creates the feeling of being in the middle of the peril. The visual effects team, led by Jim Rygiel, give the monsters a large size and scope and when they are looking down at the mere humans in their way, their presence is immediately felt. This is the type of movie that deserves a big-screen viewing, whether on IMAX or conventional screens, with Edwards and his crew taking full advantage of the power of these ferocious beasts. It all lends itself to making Godzilla an awe-inspiring creation. The way the movie builds up to his appearance and capabilities only makes the third act that much more exciting with moments certain to attract a lot of applause at screening rooms everywhere.

It’s not a surprise to learn that Andy Serkis helped consult on the monster movements. Having previously played a legendary creature in King Kong, he certainly knows a thing or two about how a giant beast would move. When Godzilla stomps through towns, there is a weight as he thunders onto the pavement and his iconic roar is beautifully remixed by the sound team. Godzilla is not portrayed in black-and-white terms. He is neither a villain nor a hero, though he doesn’t care about the humans that cower from him or the buildings he tears apart. They are merely tiny, non-intrusive obstacles to his primary goal. Yet there’s strangely something very rootable about Godzilla and that causes a lot of scenes to produce very wide grins.

However, Gareth Edwards intelligently shows the monster action from the point-of-view of the human characters. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s bomb-diffusing soldier serves as the audience’s eyes and ears to all of the mayhem and destruction. He is purposely made a blank slate, so that the viewer can project their own image onto him. Whether it be his relationship with his father, wife or son, he is made somebody easy to latch onto. Bryan Cranston is the stand-out actor, displaying some real emotion as a conspiracy theorist who is certain the government is hiding something. The desperation of his voice is one of a man whose lost so much and he helps get the whole journey started. Elizabeth Olsen makes the most of her limited screen time and while she is simply playing the worried wife, she is superb as somebody uncertain if she will see her husband again as San Francisco is tumbling around her. Even though a lot of our primary focus will be on Godzilla and his foes, there is a part of me that really wanted to see them reunite and get home safely. In even smaller roles, Juliette Binoche and David Strathairn also leave memorable impressions. The only actor whose part could have been written out without much difficulty is Sally Hawkins. Her main requirement is to tag along after Ken Watanabe’s worried scientist and spout exposition that the fantastically designed opening titles already made clear.

It’s obvious that Gareth Edwards is passionate about the Godzilla series and wanted to take this assignment as serious as possible, while still having a ton of fun making it. Unlike something like the Transformers series, which feels like a kid bashing his toys into one another, Godzilla is the product of somebody completely awed by the Japanese monster movies of yesteryear and wanting to expand on the ideas presented in them. There is a lot of monster mayhem present in the movie, but each set piece is so finely crafted and the human element doesn’t subsequently vanish when Godzilla finally makes his long awaited full-fledged appearance about halfway through. Edwards keeps the movie grounded in reality by heightening the potential terror of the situation, but also remembers the glee one feels upon seeing prehistoric and imaginative creatures fighting and dealing with the surrounding elements. There is enough wonder to enthrall both young and old alike and is almost certain to be the Jurassic Park for this generation.

Review By: Stefan Ellison