Review: Godzilla – Back with a purposeful grimace
Imagine it is Saturday morning. All the cartoon shows are over and now it’s adventure time on the ‘ol tube, featuring a classic sci-fi alien or giant monster flick, where radiation has run amok, creating creatures that are dead set on destroying (or at least squashing) the human race. Now flash-forward forty or fifty years and technology has finally caught up with the human imagination, and you get to see that fun old-school movie re-envisioned with realistic looking monsters and special effects. And there you have the 2014 version of Godzilla, a goofy, nostalgic and flat out fun update to the “King of Monsters” mythos.
The original 1954 Japanese Godzilla is full of allegories representing the atomic bombing of Japan and the world’s collective fear of the destructive power that was unleashed by the use of “the bomb.” This updated version captures some of that symbolism, and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Fukushima nuclear reactor in 2011 is certainly the main motif in this movie, but the wrath of nature/folly of men message is not so heavy-handed that it interferes with the simple thrill of seeing giant monsters duke it out.
And, yes, there is more than one monster; or M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), as they are referred to in the film. It seems that these MUTOs were awakened in the fifties and the explosions we thought were nuclear tests in the Bikini Atolls were actually the military trying in vain to destroy the monsters, who, it turns out, thrive on radiation.
The creatures have lain dormant for decades and have been monitored by a secret agency led by Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe); and when a nuclear power plant is destroyed by an unusual earthquake, nuclear engineer Joe Brody’s (Bryan Cranston) wife is killed and he makes finding the cause of the turbulence his life’s mission. To the detriment of his relationship with his son, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who is a Navy Lieutenant and an explosive ordinance expert.
For what it’s worth, which is not much in this film, Lt. Brody also has a wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and child in San Francisco, and as the monster action unfolds, from Japan, to Hawaii, to Frisco, he is somewhat desperately trying to get back to his family – and always happens to be in the right place at the right time to interact with the creatures and assist the military, as needed. (Coincidentally, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen will also be appearing together as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron.)
So let’s get these people and their petty follies out of the way. Like most giant monster films, the puny humans are pretty worthless in this film. Cranston is great in what is a pretty dramatic part, but that quickly falls by the way side. The rest of the cast, which also includes David Strathairn as a Navy Admiral, and Sally Hawkins as Dr. Ichiro’s assistant, are there simply to move the action from one location to another and provide a little story exposition now and then. Olsen’s character doesn’t even do that.
What everyone cares about is the monsters, and as directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters), I was impressed by the special effects and giant personalities of his creatures, especially the main man himself, Godzilla. When you can get an audience applauding and cheering for a giant lizard that is destroying a city, well, I think your mission is accomplished.
I also really enjoyed the fact that Edwards didn’t go crazy with the look of Godzilla (a la Roland Emmerich’s 1998 fiasco.) The “King of Monsters” is easily recognizable as the sixty-year-old icon that he is, and he’s been updated just enough to shed his cartoonishness without losing his monstrous charisma (keeping his Blue Oyster Cult “purposeful grimace” intact.)
I’ve become rather numb to cities being destroyed by every odd super-powered being (see Man of Steel, Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America 2, etc.), but there’s something about devastation caused by a giant roaring monster – while the humans scramble like ants underfoot – that just makes sense and is a lot of fun to watch. So grab a “MUTO” sized popcorn and enjoy the ride. Grade: 8/10
Photos © 2014 Legendary Pictures