While sitting in the back of the movie theater, watching a legendary kaiju, a relic from my childhood (and, really, my mother’s childhood) introduce himself with that classic roar, standing in the flaming wreckage of a dismantled airport, I noticed the audience was relatively silent (almost certain I would hear unanimous cheering). I wondered if the audience was unimpressed or, perhaps, in awe of the beautifully rendered mayhem playing out on screen. Then, I realized that this Godzilla was a serious incarnation of the monster movie I grew up with….but perhaps not the one this generation was expecting.
Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” sweeps aside the sort of intended cheesiness and gung-ho nature of last summer’s unapologetic kaiju slugfest, Pacific Rim and does what Cloverfield attempted (and failed) to do, taking us through ground level urgency where the terror should be. One aspect in which the movie fails (and this is really only where only where old school fans are concerned) is in maintaining the message of the original: “Nuclear weapons are a problem.” Instead of nuclear arms being this thing that comes back to bite humanity in the ass, they become this thing that’s sort of useful as long the threat is big and nuclear enough. However, ultimately, this is an argument that can (and almost certainly will) be had among longtime fans. For everyone else, the movie holds to the idea that we too commonly forget that nature is something greater than us and can transcend our technological advances at a moment’s notice.
Edwards’ reboot of the franchise is, in its way, the most human version, featuring a showcase of characters with clear cut motivations, emotional baggage and character developments (as thin as they are). The film telegraphs the message right out of the gate that you’re sitting down for a ridiculously serious venture with strong characters like Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), the alleged crackpot hiding a tortured widow beneath and his soldier son, Ford, who just wants to get back to his wife and son. Ken Watanabe plays a Japanese scientist who has studied the mysterious Gojira his entire career and basically serves as the Japanese Morgan Freeman, sounding awesome while explaining shit for pretty much the entire movie. But as Godzilla eases into the forefront, all these characters, much like the movies throughout the franchise’s legacy, are reduced to either a). bearing witness or b). firing off ineffectual ordinance at the impending kaiju.
Plot-wise, Edwards does a masterful job of gradually moving his characters from centerpieces in the first half of the film to background in the second as he makes way for the star of the show. The story depicts Godzilla (and, really, the concept of kaiju in general) as a force of nature, an ancient inevitability that mankind must ride out and survive until they run their course. Visually, this is one of the most gorgeous kaiju films I’ve ever laid eyes on without question. Unlike many movies of this generation, special effects are used to enhance the story without ever actually becoming the story. Though it’s highly likely at this point that this film with spawn sequel and spinoff, Edwards makes sure to tell a coherent, self contained tale that will set the new standard for this reworked genre of cinema.
Bottom Line: Easily one of the best films in the “giant things destroying stuff” genre (definitely the best of its namesake) in the past 15 years. 9 out of 10.