Godzilla film review
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe
Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham
Warner Bros. Pictures
CRITIC’S RATING: ** 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
Cinema’s legendary large lizard is back trampling over the escapist dreams and desires of those humans that dare to stand in the way of the mighty Godzilla. In fact, this latest reboot of the popularized classic movie monster promises its share of colorful carnage and familiar nostalgia that moviegoers may want to associate with the raucous reptile. Director Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla has its expected dosage of visual whimsy and dashing special effects flourishes that should be indicative of a stimulating pre-summertime spectacle. Despite a paper thin story that occasionally feels muddled Godzilla nevertheless does engage in eye-popping entertainment that sustains the mythical reputation of the gigantic fire-breathing beast. Thankfully, this millennium edition of Edwards’s monstrous menace outshines the anemic offering that was hatched in Roland Emmerich’s forgettable 1998 version of Godzilla.
Godzilla purists may recall the treasured cheesiness of the slew of late 1950’s/early 1960’s Japanese vehicles that featured the colossal creature ripping apart the region in random fury. Of course pitting Godzilla against other terrifying opponents–say the likes of King Kong, Mothra or Rodan–was always a devilish delight because it resembled the world of wrestling where the “G-man” could take on the role of either a babyface or heel depending on the confrontational circumstances.
Screenwriters Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham pretty much gives Godzilla an Americanized glossy makeover–something that somewhat gets lost in translation given the lumbering lad’s longtime yesteryear association with creating havoc in the Far East. Still, it is an intriguing premise to present the wandering scaly-skinned big bad boy to the international masses while using the various cities and continents as his spacious backyard for spontaneous destruction. For what it is worth, Godzilla is a reactionary blockbuster that resonates with roaring giddiness even though its manufactured charm is invested in a sleek techno-driven package wrapping with a notable cast in accompaniment.
Obviously, Edwards’s Godzilla pays respectable homage to the flawed yet imaginative monster mash movies made in the Golden Age of mock-shock cinema where cheaply-made creature feature flicks were cosmetically inferior but inexplicably winning in its low-grade suspense inspired by fear factors of realistic nuclear devastation and human annihilation. There was always a legitimate sense of paranoia and anarchy that made the Godzilla movies of yesterday so penetrating beyond the campy trappings of a scotch tape-made production. Edwards does wisely incorporate the same messaging that is both refreshing and significant–that his top-notch performers and the rest of the on-screen humanity are dismissive and expendable because at the end of the day “the beast of burden” known as Godzilla is the Number One turbulent center of attention. The important thing to remember is that despite how many various showcases that movie audiences are subjected to regarding the exploits of one of the film’s greatest walking natural disasters it is reassuring to know that the histrionics of Godzilla remain iconic and unfazed.
Avid sci-fi fans may some reservations about the flimsy scientific fodder behind Godzilla’s definitive drive but that is not enough to reject the sensational and surrealistic vibes that this big-budget actioner methodically builds from one scene to another. The premise finds a pair of deadly and freakish insect-bred pests en route to 21st century San Francisco to conduct some extreme mating rituals in hopes of multiplying and spreading their proverbial wings in the process. The antagonistic buggy beasts make some chaotic pit stops along the way in places such as Las Vegas and Honolulu (aptly channeling a real-life historical attack that brings to mind Pearl Harbor) to wreak havoc in their tedious travels. Soon, a cranky Godzilla rises from the deep ocean and makes his combative presence known to these intrusive and brash buggers with the understanding that they are not going to screw with the natural order of the world’s balance. Alas, the badass G-man has arrived!
In the meantime, the dramatic human side of Godzilla unfolds as we are introduced to the familial complications of the Brody father-son tandem (Emmy-award winning Breaking Bad vet Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson). The senior Joe Brody is a scientist/engineer with a conspiracy complex whose insistence that behind-the-scenes top-level governmental shenanigans have led to some monumental foul play being sheltered from the global community. Dr. Ford is not too thrilled with the federal big brass hiding behind accidental nuclear foreplay as a cover and blames whatever shady back door business they may be harboring secretly as the cause of his beloved wife Sandra’s (Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche) demise. Ford Brody, papa’s accomplished military-serving son, happens to be a talented navy bomb technician. Naturally, the clashing of political philosophies and beneath-the-surface affection between Joe and Ford play soundly against the hellish grain of possible government-sponsored cover-ups, militaristic mayhem and the on-going battles that feeds Godzilla’s defiant gumption.The strife is plentiful albeit uneven and spotty at times but rousing more often than not.
Instinctively, Godzilla adheres to its hypnotic misting of bickering behemoths and invites an atmospheric murkiness that hovers over the movie’s proceedings much like a puffy grayish cloud about to burst. Edwards fortifies Godzilla with the effective kind of scope that allows for that satisfying aftertaste in a polished popcorn pleaser that is designed to hit a frolicking nerve. The stretched out creepiness particularly when focusing on exotic locales in Japan (read: earthquakes) and the Philippines (read: archaeological findings) as well as vulnerable human peons sitting on the sidelines watching the wonderment of gigantic cretins duke it out all adds to the gruesome galore of Edwards’s monster-made mouthpiece. No doubt that Godzilla borrows heavily from frenetic fare that are reminiscent from other CGI-generated gems including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws and even Jurassic Park.
The high-caliber performers involved in this kinetic caper are rather curious especially when taking a backseat to the towering and lurching Clawed One. Cranston, always an adventurous actor, does resourcefully embody the angst-ridden conviction to his alter ego Joe Brody as we are convinced of his quiet rage and comprehensive cynicism. The examination of familial frailty runs long in the tooth frequently but Cranston and Taylor-Johnson are able to sell it without too much laboring. The supporting players that pop in and out make their mark in the limited time that is afforded them. The aforementioned Binoche and Elizabeth Olsen are dutiful as the Brody spouses. Former Oscar nominees Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins hit the spot as the scientist and scientist assistant that pleads with pushy military leaders not to interrupt the meddling monsters with poisonous warfare. Another Oscar nominee, David Strathairn, is on board as one of the trigger-happy military figureheads that is itching to eradicate Godzilla and his frightening foes.
Fittingly, Godzilla does its noted work in adequately displaying the continued connection and corruption that is the conception of man versus beast (or life versus death) and flaunts it on a grand cinematic stage for all to digest as a manifestation for contemplative hubris. Godzilla, when properly received, is the ultimate dragon-slayer for the skeptical ages.
NOTE: Focus of New York film critic Frank Ochieng is a member of: