Film Review: Godzilla (2014)

I grew up watching re-broadcasts of Godzilla and subsequent follow-up films during my youth.  As you can imagine, Godzilla is very nostalgic, and I have a lot of good memories attached to those films.

If you are unsure who Godzilla is …well … Godzilla or Gojira made his debut in 1954 then directed by Ishiro Honda. Godzilla got his start as a rubber suit donned originally by actor Haruo Nakajima (now 85 years old). Since his 1954 debut, Godzilla has gone on to become a worldwide pop culture icon starring in over 28 films produced by Toho Co., Ltd.

 

Godzilla-logo

 How did Godzilla come to be?

With the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Lucky Dragon 5 incident still fresh in the Japanese consciousness, Godzilla was conceived as a metaphor for nuclear weapons (Wikipedia). Godzilla has played both the hero and the villain.

Godzilla’s Iconic Look

Godzilla’s characteristic look was inspired by the fictional Rhedosaurus created by animator Ray Harryhausen for the film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.  In addition to Harryhausen’s influence,  Art director Akira Watanabe went on to combine attributes of a Tyrannosaurus, anIguanodon, a Stegosaurus and an alligator to form a sort of blended chimera, inspired by illustrations from an issue of Life magazine. To emphasize the monster’s relationship with the atomic bomb, its skin texture was inspired by the keloid scars seen on Hiroshima’s survivors. Godzilla’s appearance has traditionally been portrayed in the films by an actor wearing a latex costume, though the character has also been rendered in animatronicstop-motion and computer-generated form. Godzilla has a distinctive roar, which was created by composer Akira Ifukube, who produced the sound by rubbing a resin coated glove along the string of a contrabass and then slowing down the playback. Godzilla is sometimes depicted as green in comics, cartoons and movie posters, but the costumes used in the movies were usually painted charcoal grey with bone-white dorsal fins up until the film Godzilla 2000. (Wikipedia)

For some interesting history on the changes to the Godzilla suit over the years, check out this article: Evolution of Godzilla

Let’s fast forward to 2014….

May 16, 2014 saw the opening of the newest Godzilla film. Once again, Hollywood is taking a stab at Godzilla after the success of Pacific Rim. I have to say that if you compared this film with the Broderick starred Godzilla of 1998, it’s clear that there has been some redemption on the part of Hollywood.

The theater was packed, and my friends and I eagerly waiting for things to get started. The movie had a very visually appealing and cryptic black and white  intro using old news footage possibly from WW2 and the time the US was testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific. I am not a historian so those are my best guesses for the footage used. (Through some research, I found out more about this introduction and it’s listed in the summary). 

Movie Summary (SPOILERS WARNING)

Our story takes place in several settings: Tokyo , The Pacific Ocean, The Philippines, Honolulu, San Francisco, and Nevada.

The opening credits of the movie are feature black and white footage of film reels showing the preparation and detonation of a nuclear bomb at Bikini Atoll.  A huge figure with jagged spikes rises from the water when the bomb is detonated.

The story begins with two scientists, Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Graham (Sally Hawkins), visiting a quarry in the Philippines, where a colossal skeleton and two egg-shaped pods have been discovered. One pad has hatched and the other has not. Meanwhile, the story picks up with the Brody family. Mr. and Mrs Brody played by Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and French Actress Juliette Binoche (Chocolat)  along with their son Ford live in Tokyo and work at nearby Janjira Nuclear Plant. Sadly, seismic disturbances initiate a breach of the facility and Mrs. Brody along several fellow scientists perish. While the breach is attributed to an earthquake and the area evacuated – Mr. Brody does not believe in that theory at all.  Fifteen years lapse, we see Ford all grown up, employed with the military as a bombs disposal officer, reunited with his family after training. He’s married and has a son of his own named Sam. Not long after arriving home in San Francisco, Ford gets a call from Japan that his father has been arrested for trespassing in the contamination zone.

Through a series of events, Joe Brody and son discover what really happened Sandra. The creature that hatched from the egg was drawn to Janjira and nursed from the plant – sucking it dry like a Capri Sun. Monarch and the U.S. military had set up shop watching over the creature.  When the creature hatches, it lays waste to everything and Joe Brody is fatally injured. Hitching a ride on the USS Saratoga to Honolulu – Serizawa reveals that the creature or MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) is an ancient creature from a much earlier time which feeds off radiation and radioactive material. It is being tracked by much larger creature (Godzilla) that the military has been trying to destroy unsuccessfully with nuclear weapons. In the midst of their conversation, Ford reveals his father’s research concerning echolocation and Serizawa comes to believe that Godzilla and the MUTO are not communicating but the MUTO is communicating with it’s own kind. In other words, the MUTO is looking for it’s mate. Along their route, they do have a sighting of Godzilla.

…. so ends our summary

I don’t think further summary is needed because I want you to see and enjoy the movie for yourselves. However, I do want to give a little bit of an assessment.

Is Godzilla (2014) as strong of a kaiju film as Pacific Rim, sadly it is not. However, it can stand on many merits. This film is nothing like it’s 1998 predecessor. It’s better. Yes, it does suffer from some problems. One of them being the pacing of the human interest portion of the story. The pacing at the beginning was rushed at the expense of the character development. You do not have enough to time to develop an attachment for this family that is at the center of the film. Much of the film rides on the story of Ford Brody. The acting is natural enough, but the human story lacks a bit of heart. Other faults to be found with the film – they kill off Cranston too soon and they don’t give the son really anything spectacular to say or do. For that matter, the movie doesn’t have any major female characters except for the female MUTO. Binoche exits early. Hawkins says very little dialogue. Olsen has the most emoting but again very little lines. However, she at least lends an air of credibility to the need for capable rescue and recovery personnel as she appears to be a nurse.

How does the movie shine?

1) Presenting more interesting kaiju than Pacific Rim.

2) Satisfying Kaiju fights.

3) Delivers on impact.  We see a Tsunami engulf Honolulu (reminds of the tragedy of the Tsunami in SE Asia). In the San Francisco setting, we witness people seeking refuge at hospitals – “hospitals that are now filled with Americans and tended to by Elizabeth Olsen, while refugees collect in giant sports stadiums that recall the aftermath of Katrina. The American psyche would appear to be in roughly the same state of disrepair as that of Japan in 1954. We’re ready for Godzilla in a way we weren’t in 1998, when Roland Emmerich rolled out his remake. If the cycle of disaster movies that gripped audiences in the 1990s were notable for their jocular oops-apocalypse tone – “Ha ha! It’s the wonder of nature, baby!” boomed Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as tornadoes ripped up the south in Jan De Bont’s Twister – our contemporary variants are joke-free zones in which mankind isn’t just threatened with extinction. We’re told we deserve it. (Tom Shone, The Guardian)”

4) Easter Eggs (See More: here)

  • 1954 – Year that the original Godzilla was released.
  • Mothra’s name located at the bottom of the fish tank in the contaminated zone.
  • Serizawa – Dr Ichiro Serizawa is perhaps a relative of Daisuke Serizawa, the tragic hero of the 1954 original Godzilla, or more likely just a nod to his importance. In the original Serizawa creates the Oxygen Destroyer (a thinly-veiled allusion to the H-Bomb) and kills himself along with the creature to save his knowledge falling into other hands.The character parallels come in Ichiro Serizawa’s commitment to the balance of nature and his horror at the human capacity to over-reach, though ultimately this new version of the character champions a natural solution, rather than reverting to devastating weaponry (Simon Fuller).

5) Godzilla is an anti-hero. He’s not clearly evil or clearly good.

6) Godzilla retains a lot of what makes Godzilla look like Godzilla but with a new appearance. He’s the tallest Godzilla to date.

7) Drawing on other inspiration such as Jaws such as the suspense leading up to the reveal of Godzilla. It made the fight scenes between Godzilla and the MUTOs more epic.

Despite some the flaws, it’s one epic fun monster film, and it made me feel like a kid.

I give it 4 popcorns out of 5.

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