Before I get into the review in detail, let me give you what I went into the film with. I knew that this film was a GODZILLA introduction and from the interviews I read with Gareth Edwards, I knew he was going for the classic slow burn to a third act HOLY FUCK SPECTACLE. As modern audiences, we’ve been trained to be spoiled children that want it all now. Films seem to have to start with an explosion and keep making it go boom bigger. Odd enough, this one has a really great ATOMIC BLAST to get things started, but instead of following that up with an immediate appearance of GODZILLA… the film settles down… It has a story to tell. In a movie theater, I tend to be a patient viewer. I go, wanting, to have a great time. I actively work to empathize with the characters and imagine what it would be like to live and breath through the action they’re experiencing. It’s what I love about KING KONG (1933), you have characters to experience the unfathomable with. Gareth Edwards is channeling Spielberg in all the best ways.
I’m well aware of what most of you think of my Godzilla chops – it all goes back to that 1998 GODZILLA movie World Premiere at Madison Square Garden. That was also EARLY in my time doing this. I was not overly experienced at premieres… especially of that particular magnitude. I was literally sitting with Muhammad Ali and the “Yo Queiro Taco Bell” Chihuahua. The premiere literally filled Madison Square Garden. There were beach balls loose amongst the crowd. People were so amped they were standing on their seats doing the Dog Pound – and the sound system for that screening was forged from thunderclaps. It was bone rattling. I most definitely got carried away. It is actually the biggest writing regret that I have ever had. But not really. That screening taught me a very valuable lesson. The spectacle surrounding a film, the environment in which you see films… they can affect me. Maybe not you, you’re obviously a superior person that never gets caught up in something, but maybe you are. If you do allow yourself to be caught up into an event… perhaps you can read that old GODZILLA review and understand it as being a portrait of an event on a scale, that this Texas boy had no prior experience with. Since then though… I’ve still never had an event that came close to that particular night. I can remember Merrick & I walking the streets of New York afterwards, trying to find locations from the movie… It was actually kinda magical. But then, I really am an ol sentimental softie.
Sixteen years later… we have another American attempt at GODZILLA. This was mounted by Legendary, the company that put BATMAN back on track after its disastrous mangling. Legendary isn’t a flawless company, but they do enjoy their spectacle – and trying to make that spectacle some how resonate with the here and now.
Right now, the critics I follow are mainly people that I know in the real world. I know them, so I know what they mean when they’re writing about a subject as dear to me as GODZILLA. So – Seeing that Moriarty took his kids and came away with awe and wonder… was encouraging. That Quint had felt impatient for the monsters to unleash, felt encouraging. Then Devin Faraci unleashed with his review, which tickled me pink. Now… it isn’t that I agree with Devin much… In fact, he kind of drives me crazy, but on a GODZILLA film… I’ll trust him.
This GODZILLA screening, I wasn’t even invited to. I found out about it via a Tweet online, found out where the screening was and crashed it. I was given a Godzilla Button. I left the theater to find a torrential thunderstorm outside… my brain instantly conjured King Ghidorah as being the source… and Dad and I laughed and drove home together in the greatest of cheer.
As I write this review, I have no music playing… no film on the screen. Instead… I’m listening the rumbling sky outside… the rain beating down upon this metal roofed house – and it is frankly… Nature unleashed. It rained so hard, it broke one of Dad’s windshield wipers on the drive home. Streets are flooding. It really isn’t something to laugh at.
At 42, I’ve seen nature kick our civilized asses back to the stone age a bit, but we tend to bounce back quickly. However, in all my 42 years, I’ve never seen Godzilla unleashed upon mankind. Nor do I wake up hoping for Godzilla to show up. But, if some other giant monster showed up… there’d be a part of me that would hope that Godzilla would emerge from the depths to fight the terrible menace that we, with all our vaunted might, would be powerless against otherwise.
I was a bit worried about GODZILLA, I didn’t want BIG G to be “the threat”. I wanted him to be a savior. A hero. Sure, he’s KING OF THE MONSTERS… but that’s because he keeps the other monsters in check. Legendary in their pre-hype has been emphasizing the original GODZILLA film. I love that movie. I love Criterion’s Blu of it more than just about any Blu I have. That pop-up Godzilla in the packaging is delightful! And when I got my show going with NERDIST, I chose to decorate the biggest piece of set real estate with that gorgeous French 3 Sheet of mine. BUT… I’m kind of a lover of all iterations of GODZILLA.
GODZILLA movies are not just about GODZILLA. Some are about how we react to the big G, but also… how Big G reacts to the situation the he finds himself in. Japan has done just about everything under the sun with Godzilla… from comedic silly to terrifyingly serious takes… and Godzilla has been villain and hero. He’s inspired within the canon of the Japanese versions, some really amazing fiction tech. My fave being MechaGodzilla. I love the Japanese-centric futures that the film series shows. But when I went to this new American GODZILLA movie, I was pretty much resolved to come away from this knowing that Godzilla was a villain.
They’ve made a heroic GODZILLA movie. That isn’t necessarily how it starts out… I think only Ken Watanabe’s character saw Godzilla as a natural check & balance upon the Earth. He’s a bit of a Mulder type, obsessed with the legends of Godzilla, as well as old newsreel footage that showed the real reason behind all those Pacific Atomic Bomb tests. The rhetoric about how these monsters once lived on a version of Earth that was more rich with radiation… we’re talking millions of years here. Before the Dinosaurs. GODZILLA in this iteration… is an Old One. A legendary beast of ancient wonder. There to keep his fellow atomic brethren in check.
The human star of the film is Aaron Taylor-Johnson, he’s a bomb expert for the military. When he was a kid, something inexplicable happened and killed his mother and caused his entire life to become uprooted. His dad is Bryan Cranston, who worked with the mom character played by Juliette Binoche at this Atomic facility. She is lovely in her way too short time on screen. I’ve always loved Juliette Binoche, she has stunning communicative eyes. Cranston is in meltdown mode the entire film. He lost his wife, his facility… and there’s answers to questions that he’s not even being allowed to ask. He knows that what was happening wasn’t a natural occurrence. The data he had just was not the way the Earth quakes. This was something new. In trying to recover some data that was left at his old home in the “radiation zone” – he and his now adult son played by Aaron… well, they get caught up in what “they were hiding!”
This sequence is big and atmospheric. This radiation zone is in the process of going back to nature. Plants are taking over. Not big monster plants, just the regular kind. We’ll see more of this in the new Apes flick later this summer. But I’ve always loved this particular visual vibe. The idea, if we just stopped living in an area, the natural world would take it back. However, when Cranston takes a radiation reading, there isn’t so much as a tick. IT IS A LIE!!!
At this point, The Brody’s show up on Watanabe’s Dr. Ichiro Serizawa’s radar. Cranston’s data and knowledge of the incident that occurred 14 years prior is important. Mainly because Cranston’s Brody discovered that whatever caused the facility to implode… was talking to something else… somewhere else… again, something quakes don’t do. Dr. Serizawa never thought it was earthquakes, cuz he’s on the inside. He’s a part of a Monarch Corporation and he and Sally Hawkins have been discovering… very big things. In the crater of Cranston’s former facility sits a really cool claw shaped cocoon that radiates energy that interferes with all sorts of things. Watanabe’s Doc is there to study it. Learn about it. But all too soon, he’s screwed, cuz this thing was sitting there for 14 years soaking up radiation like it was the good stuff. Mainly it is hatching because Aaron Taylor-Johnson is there.
Within this GODZILLA universe… you do not want Aaron Taylor-Johnson anywhere near you. All the scientist believe these things are attracted to radiation… but really… It’s ATJ, he’s a magnet for Big Fucking Monsters. He claims he just wants to go home to his family. But he flies to Hawaii… totally fucks that place up. Then he flies to another spot. Giant monster again. Then he goes to San Francisco – and guess what? Fucking Giant Monsters again.
His wife is played by Elizabeth Olsen… she and their son, are characters to motivate Aaron Taylor-Johnson to do whatever is necessary. We don’t get a lot of time with these characters, mainly because BIGGER THINGS are afoot in the world. But I got enough time to be able to imagine… the utter nightmare of having family in San Francisco when Godzilla and a pair of monsters get into it. I mean. Just watch.
Legendary and Gareth Edwards put a whole lot of effort into making everything count. This is a serious story about ultimately silly fun things. Throughout the film, as they establish the groundwork for the world they’re unleashing… Dad and I would glance at each other with our big IMAX 3D glasses on and smile like the kids we are.
Now – Alexandre Desplat’s score is kinda awesome for me. It’s more tonal and psychological than his work typically tends to be. In particular, the HALO drop, which I’ve heard some critics didn’t really get. Let me help ya. You see, the MUTOs (there’s a male and female) who have come to San Francisco to essentially fuck and snuggle… they’ve been interrupted by Godzilla, who’s like the biggest park cop ever to break up intimacy. Godzilla just won’t stand for their fucking. And you see, as a proud flying male MUTO stole a really enormous megaton of nuclear nightmare, that we had rigged to lure the MUTOs and Big G away from San Francisco with… until flying MUTO took it. You see, the MUTOs love radiation and drink it in.
All of this was unnecessary, Watanabe’s Doc tries to explain to David Strathaim’s typically deaf American commander… that these beasts… the whole reason they’re here is to drink our radiation milkshake – and making an even bigger irradiated milkshake is folly… but they seem to think that the BLAST will tear these beasts to itty bitty atoms… silly AMERICAN. Nukes fix NOTHING! When will we learn.
But you see, the MUTOS have an EMP that they give off which shuts down anything electronic. So the military just can’t drive from Oakland to downtown San Francisco… I mean, never mind that the Golden Gate is… um… traffic hell… but everyone in the bay area has been told to get the fuck out of dodge… oh. And the EMP thingee… it means cars stop working too. They do the HALO drop, because they jump out of the plane outside of the “Sphere of influence” that the MUTOs give off, and thus makes it a ridiculous, albeit workable way to get to downtown in time to stop the entire Bay area from becoming a parking lot.
SO – they have to do the HALO drop – but what really makes that scene is Desplat’s score… you’re unsettled. The score gives you that… “THIS IS A REAL BAD IDEA” feeling. Some may find this forcing your emotions, I say… that’s the whole point of cinema. ALLOW IT.
The Battle of San Francisco is worth all the money you spend to see this film. It is an epic throw down. Is it better than the Battle of Hong Kong in PACIFIC RIM? Only if you’re a GODZILLA maniac, that wants to see GODZILLA in that kind of visual effects showboat number. Me – it’s exactly what we want from an American GODZILLA fight sequence. The final money shot of the battle… just fucking savage awesome wow.
The human characters are meant to contextualize the scale of what we see. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Brody is trying to keep his family safe at any costs. He’s jumping out of that plane to stop a bomb from vaporizing what is left of his family. If these giant monsters haven’t already turned them to toe jam.
NOW – What about the monsters?
The MUTOs – as I’ve stated are just wanting to breed. It’s their time to. Like Vulcans, there’s no stopping these two giant monsters from getting together and reproducing when their bodies tell them to. They’re animated to be creatures, not malicious monsters. They have a purpose. And if they hadn’t chosen the beautiful picturesque San Fran area to fuck in, we might’ve sat back and just watched them. BUT people in danger, thus we can’t not react. People would be upset. But when we see these gorgeous crazy creatures nuzzle one another… and the exchange of the big bomb… there’s something real and honest about these critters. As a creature sympathizer – I have to admit… vaporizing the Bay Area and unleashing what would likely be the end of mankind… I mean, it is just a movie… I could’ve gone for that. I like that the male flies and female is just fucking enormous. The egg sack is frightening looking. And I love that Aaron thinks he might ought to do something about the eggs, when nobody else thinks to!
GODZILLA. Glorious. This is how you do a GODZILLA movie, you actually have GODZILLA in it. That’s kind of important. I never really understood the idea of reinventing his look. Instead, they just worked on bringing GODZILLA to life. The roar is perfect. The atomic breath is blue and awesome – and used a bit less than I would’ve liked… but then, Godzilla isn’t hear to wantonly destroy. He’s here to take these MUTO fucks down. Their chatter is probably what woke him up, and he’s definitely grumpy. The idea that they want to breed and make other noisy fucking MUTOs… that also doesn’t sit well with GODZILLA.
They don’t do the GODZILLA happy dance, unfortunately… this is the sort of Godzilla that roars his triumphs. But I have to admit – there is that kid in me that wants to see photorealistic Godzilla Happy Dance in a populated area. Something about joyful dancing that would cause catastrophic damage… well, it’d be amazing.
The children in the film itself… they look at Godzilla with wonder. Like most of the characters. This creature is something… nobody was expecting. It’s fucking GODZILLA… and he isn’t tearing up the city, he’s not even wantonly destroying Naval vessels. He is pure hero mode in this – that said, he causes a lot of damage. But I’d say it probably matches the damage from the last SUPERMAN film.
Now… why the MUTOs and not creatures of TOHO Canon? Well, I’d say they wanted to have creatures that GODZILLA could just fucking kill. I mean, I don’t know about you… but I never want GODZILLA to kill MOTHRA or RODAN or GHIDORAH… actually, I always root for GODZILLA to kill that Monster X motherfucker! I like that the monsters of the TOHO vault that are monsters of the Earth… I like them fighting, but without true deadly intent. Like, having MOTHRA cocoon GODZILLA and haul him out to sea… I like. The MUTOs… I only have a mild empathy for. Mainly because, it’s obvious that the MUTOs love one another and just want to raise a family. I mean. Who Doesn’t?
The real excitement is that on Gareth Edwards sophomore outing, he made a deliberate spectacle with the proper amount of awe & wonder, but that ultimately has a thirst for the ass-kicking jugular that gives the big G the kind of “FUCKING A” that you probably got from Tyrion’s monologue on this past Sunday’s GAME OF THRONES! Godzilla doesn’t need the elegance of Tyrion… GODZILLA takes a bit after Perseus really… but GODZILLA is finally a hero upon our shores!
Next time… let’s get a little crazier with the sci-fi of the TOHO universe and set the film 50 years in the future, so we can have crazy energy weapons, EMP-proof flying vessels… and Asian Aliens that bring a monster of their own! This is the beginning of a new day for GODZILLA… and I want to see more!
LONG LIVE GODZILLA!!!