Godzilla (2014)

When I first saw the news, I was skeptical. It couldn’t be real, could it? I mean, after all the franchise had been through in the past few years alone, there was no way this was a possibility.

I still remember that day, because it was a huge moment of excitement, anxiousness, and uncertainty. I still remember reading that article and hearing that Legendary Pictures was in talks with Toho to make a new Godzilla movie.

To put it simply, the fandom exploded. The last several years hadn’t been good to the franchise. Godzilla Unleashed had been released not long ago to mixed reviews, and the last two films –Godzilla (1998) and Godzilla: Final Wars had both been disasters. The franchise was stagnating. This news of a new movie was a breath of fresh air that no one in their right mind anticipated.

And less than six months later, we got confirmation that it was real. Despite the disastrous 1998 film, Godzilla was going to be returning to the American silver screen. A dream that I never thought would come to pass, would one day be a reality.

It was a celebration. The fandom exploded in riotous joy, ceaselessly chattering about what we hoped to see in the new film. What Godzilla could look like, what enemy monsters would be there, what the military would do, the budget of the film etc. We even were told Godzilla would be fighting other monsters! It was a fantastic span of time.

At the 2010 Comic-Con, a booth with Godzilla T-shirts popped up:

 

$_35

The coolest part about the shirt? If you stood in front of a certain display at the convention, this would happen:

 

 

For Godzilla fans, we thought it was all about to happen. I mean, the film wouldn’t take forever, right?

Right?

 

We waited in near silence for a year. We found out that the Godzilla design on the T-shirt wasn’t the official design, and that was that. We kept discussing, kept talking, but there was a sense of anticipation. We heard reports that David Callaham (writer of The Expendables) had started work on a script. Later, in July of 2011, we received word that David Goyer of Nolan’s Batman trilogy had been attached to the film to rewrite the screenplay. In the end, we found out he had only worked on the script for a few weeks and would not receive screen credit.

Then finally, in October of 2011, we got our director. A man named Gareth Edwards. Most people, more or less, said, “Who?” And we were justified in thinking so. I knew the name, solely due to that fact I had paid a lot of attention to Edwards’ one and only film, an indie film known as Monsters. The directing nod created a split reaction, as some fans embraced the idea of a new director, while others hadn’t enjoyed Monsters or didn’t trust a director with minimal experience.

Not long after, in November of the same year, we received word of yet another screenwriter, Max Borenstein, a relative unknown at the time. There was some worry that Godzilla’s script may be in trouble, as multiple screenwriters is usually a bad sign.

After that, silence like never before. The fandom, itching for any sort of news, began to get nervous. Talk of the film being in development Hell was growing stronger all the time. The movie simply had gone dark, and we just waited and waited, hoping for something, anything to grab onto, but found ourselves coming up empty.

Comic-Con 2012 was right around the corner, and speculation about Godzilla making an appearance began to skyrocket after a report there would be something about the film featured there. We waited, waited, and waited…

And on the last day of the convention, Godzilla got a special trailer.

Explosions erupted as people cheered and cheered, the trailer thrusting Godzilla into the forefront of the convention’s consciousness. Edwards came and talked to the crowd, winning over many fans with his humor and passion for the project. It was a massive success for the film, as Godzilla was declared one of the very best things about the convention that year.

In September of 2012, we got our release date: May 16th, 2014. We now had a day, and the countdown began. Though the filming hadn’t begun, we didn’t even have a cast, we were prepping for launch day. Just a few months later, the film got yet another writer, as Drew Pierce was brought to polish the script and age up the characters. In December, it was revealed that Vancouver would be the location where the movie would start filming, in March of the next year.

For a time, we had silence, but not for long. Cast talks began erupting, as we learned that Joseph Gordon-Levitt had turned down the lead role, and that Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame was in talks for the film. But our first confirmation of a character came from an unknown actor with two famous older sisters. It all started with Elizabeth Olsen.

Olsen was a risk, as she was relatively unknown, having spent her career in smaller pictures and indie films. But her acting had been praised, and that was enough to satisfy fans. Not long after, Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson were added to the film, along with actress Juliette Binoche and David Straithairn.

In March of 2013, the cast was formally announced, along with the new name of Ken Watanabe. Not much later, actress Sally Hawkins would be added.

As filming commenced, fans raved over each bit of footage we could find. I still remember seeing snippits of people recording the filmmaking, from FEMA camps to Vancouver, to a thousand other places.

But nothing, nothing could come close to the news we received. It had begun as a grassroots movement, a small uprising among fans to bring in a beloved actor. Akira Takarada, who had been with Godzilla since the beginning. Fans loved him, and we wanted to see him in the movie.

Legendary listened, and gave him a cameo role. It was a great moment for fans.

As Comic-Con 2013 cam rolling up, hints that something big was about to happen came crawling in. A nearby building, close to the convention, was taken over by Legendary Pictures. Hints and rumors as to what was inside ranged from the sensible to the ridiculous. But one thing we kept hearing was a theme: Godzilla Encounter.

The Godzilla Encounter, as it turned out to be, a massive project that celebrated Godzilla, with a small look at Godzilla himself. For more pictures from it, look here: http://godzillaencounter.com/

Later, when it came time for Godzilla to hit center stage, the cast came and answered questions from the audience. The fan favorites were easily Bryan Cranston and Gareth Edwards, the humor and easygoing nature of both won over everyone.
And then we got stunned by a trailer, showcasing a brand new monster unlike anything we’d ever seen before. For fans who were at the convention, it was a great moment. For fans who were not, such as myself, it was a bit of a letdown. We had seen great concept ideas for Godzilla, but we hadn’t seen him, or much of anything. Time to hunker down and wait some more.

Not much longer, at the end of August, we received word of who would be composing for the film: Alexandre Desplat,  who had been nominated a total of five times by the Academy Awards for his soundtrack work on ArgoThe King’s SpeechFantastic Mr. FoxThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Queen. Desplat had a big role to play, as Godzilla fans revered the works of maestro Akira Ifukube, and the legacy of excellent music in Godzilla was a tradition.

Silence came yet again. But out of the blue, and under the guise of the title “Fatman Trailer”, the 2012 Godzilla teaser appeared out of nowhere. Fans scrambled to grab recordings of it, and it didn’t take long for it to spread. I have a copy myself, but out of respect I won’t upload it. It would be taken down instantly.

Still, fans wanted something real, something that wasn’t a leak. We wanted an official release.

And it all began with a little something called M.U.T.O. –http://www.mutoresearch.net/

The viral site came out of nowhere, teasing pictures and ideas from all across the world. Fans knew something was up, and the time for a real release was coming soon.
And then it came, on December 12th:

Fans celebrated the release, as reception for the new trailer brought thousands upon thousands of people to the new movie.

And not much later, just at the tail end of February, a new poster appeared, soon followed by a teaser of Godzilla’s roar: 

And then, much to our surprise, a bit of audio from Cranston himself: http://www.godzillamovie.com/awakenthetruth/

 

And then came, the big deal, what we had all been waiting for. The official full trailer was released: 

 

After the embargo broke not much later, the news began flooding in. Toys began appearing, new trailers began appearing, magazines and interviews, fan contests, new merchandise, and even some free video games. It was a media explosion that took hold across the world, and everyone watched as Godzilla’s release date came closer and closer. The only negative we would receive is that Akira Takarada’s cameo would be cut, but Legendary was kind enough to send him a formal apology letter.

About a month before the film was released, I went and grabbed my tickets for the Godzilla movie. It was to be a fulfillment of a lifelong dream, a moment that I had never truly believed would come, a moment that had seemed almost impossible for so long. But last night, at 7:00pm, I sat down, and for the first time in my life…

I watched Godzilla.

And it was good.

 

 

 

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Release Date: May 16th, 2014

 

 

(Warning: From now on, there will be spoilers. Just a heads-up for those who haven’t seen it!)

 

 

The Positives:

The special effects: Oh my, the special effects were tremendous. The CGI was great and meshed perfectly with the environment around it.  The practical effects were tremendous, too.

The pacing: A good movie has pacing that keeps you interested at all time. This movie had me riveted the entire way through.

The action: The action was, far and above, some of the best I’d ever seen. You wouldn’t be able to look away even if you tried. The combat against Godzilla was incredible, and the monster fights visceral.

The acting: Though some stars shined brighter than others, but the cast was very solid overall. I was very pleased.

The characters: Though some typical character-types, I found them delightful. I had a reason to root for them. More on this later, as I want to talk about something some viewers may have missed.

The MUTO’s: The brand new villains for the new movie, the male and female Muto are some of the most unique and deadly kaiju in the Godzilla series. They do not just earn their mark in the franchise’s history, they practically steal the show.

The storyline: Perhaps straightforward, it was a lot of fun, and offered tantalizing hints at a bigger world. It demands exploration, it demands more stories from individuals caught in the wake of disaster.

Godzilla: The Alpha Predator, the Balance, the Order of Nature, the King of the Monsters. Whenever he’s mentioned, whenever he’s onscreen, he is the ultimate character. There’s so much about him done right.

The monster designs: These designs are beautiful to look at, and intricately  detailed. The lines and ridges across the Muto’s, the scales and gills on Godzilla… every look at them is a sight to behold.

The roars: The Godzilla franchise has a defining trait: Great roars and cries for the monsters. This film does not disappoint. Godzilla’s roar is absolutely guttural, a violent and powerful rush of noise. And the Muto’s don’t let you down either, as they sound very familiar, but so foreign at the same time.

The monster combat: Monster combat has to be good in the Godzilla series. Based off the combat styles of bears and komodo dragons, this combat is some of the most violent in the entire series. These beasts simply tear each other apart.

The impact: A lot of times, a monster film focuses on the monster combat and destruction, and that can be a good thing. But every once in a while, it’s nice to see a film that shows the devastating effect a kaiju can have on the environment around it, and that people ARE killed when they come.

The buildup: It does take some time for Godzilla to appear, and it takes time for absolute chaos to be unleashed. But my, oh my, it is more than worth it.

The emotional weight: Though not an emotional rollercoaster, the film has key moments that pull at your heartstrings. The best part, even Godzilla has a few that really make you feel for the beast.

Joe Brody: One of the best characters in the film, Bryan Cranston brings an amazing performance as a crazy conspiracy theorist desperate for the truth about a horrible accident that changed his life forever. It’s a great ride.

Elle Brody: This character took me by surprise. Elizabeth Olsen plays a sweet and dedicated mother and wife. The emotional core to Ford Brody’s stoic soldier personality.

The score: At first, I thought the score was only alright. With the film, however, I came to adore it. I can’t imagine any other score being a part of this film, and it was a great addition.

The camerawork: The POV shots were brilliant, and some shots took my breath away. A great cinematic experience, with no shaky cam.

The sound: WOW, this movie sounded spectacular! Godzilla’s roar was so loud, you could hear the theater speakers shake. Every footstep of the kaiju made the place tremble. That’s a great way to have an immersive experience.

The moral undertones: There’s some smart notions of what family means. Elle Brody probably delivers this best, as one simple line was heartwarming.

The homages: A couple Mothra references, nods to the classic Godzilla series, Serizawa calling Godzilla ‘Gojira’, and maybe even a Ghidorah reference. No matter what, it’s great to see a film that honors what came before. And for Godzilla fans, it’s a cherished treasure.

Godzilla’s personality: This Godzilla is a one-of-a-kind Godzilla, unlike any of those that came before him. He’s not a true hero in the sense of the word, but he’s not evil. He’s a powerful warrior, a hunter. The creature that brings balance to a world on the brink. Edwards’ description of a lone samurai is rather accurate. No matter what, though, this is a Godzilla you want to cheer for.

Godzilla’s beam: The single-most important characteristic of Godzilla is brought back with a vengeance. I, and the rest of my theater erupted in cheers when Godzilla brought it out. It’s a beautiful weapon of immense power and destruction.

Godzilla meeting Ford: A small moment, but a key one. Godzilla is a strange parallel of Ford, a warrior fulfilling his duty. But what caught me was what you could see in the beast’s eyes: Exhaustion, and a sense of loneliness. This creature is alone in the world, and you can’t help but feel sorry for him.

Ken Watanabe: His character name an homage in itself, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa is a master scientist, and proponent of Godzilla. He brings a similarity in character arcs that Ford possesses, but more on that later.

The nuclear impact: Not a huge deal in the film, but Godzilla requires some radiation in his movie. Serizawa owns a watch that was given to him by his father, a watch that stopped working the moment Hiroshima was struck in 1945. A small reminder of the destructive and deadly power we unleashed. A power that brought monsters to the surface and drove us to our knees.

The international feel: The Phillipines, Japan, America, this movie goes everywhere! I love seeing a Godzilla film travel, a rare feature from the original franchise.

Some of it takes place in Japan: Mostly something for Godzilla fans, the film has an early sequence in Japan, and then another later on. It’s a bond to the nation that brought us Godzilla in the first place.

The beautiful set locations: This movie isn’t just pretty due to special effects. The set locations are aesthetically beautiful, and pleasing to the eye. They help the viewer immerse themselves into this breathtaking world, and believe in what their eyes are seeing.

The human/monster interaction: A  good monster movie ensures that the human characters are under threat. This movie has the kaiju directly interact with their human foes, one of the Muto’s even hunting down and exacting revenge. It’s a great way of bringing some extra tension to the film.

Edwards’ style of filmmaking: I adored Edwards’ first film, Monsters. A sweeping story in a beautiful world, with plenty of small things that added believability to the world. Edwards’ same style exists here in Godzilla, with the same flowing style and small details that make the world seem so real. It’s great to see, and is forcing me to consider Edwards’ one of the best directors I’ve ever known.

1954 sequence: Another big deal for fans of Godzilla, a direct sequence in 1954 is a respectful nod to the year that the world came to know this fearsome beast for the first time. A small sequence, but enough to be a big deal for fans. It’s a big deal to me.

 

The Negatives:

Not enough Godzilla: This is a very minor complaint, but I do wish we had seen more of the titular beast. He’s such a superstar, you just want more no matter how much you get. Still, better to be left wanting more than be overloaded on action.

Some underutilized characters: I enjoyed Elle Brody and Vivienne Graham, but we didn’t get to see as much of them as I wished. I’d love to see Graham and Serizawa back in the sequel, as they would make great characters for a trilogy. A central character team, you could say.

 

Character Analysis:

This section is due to some criticisms of the lead actor, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, among some things. Some people called his acting wooden or dull, but I disagree. Though not a hyper-emotional character, I found something resonant and honorable in Ford Brody, and as I studied his character, I discovered a powerful, subtextual arc that his character, and that of Dr. Serizawa, possess. The film has an underlying trait of sons fulfilling the legacy of their fathers.

In the graphic novel, Godzilla: Awakening, the story focuses on the father of Dr. Serizawa, a man who survived the attack on Hiroshima. On that same day, he was witness to a monster, a horrible creature. Over the course of his life, his work was dedicated to stopping the beasts. A bat-like creature, known as Shinomura, was the first of many, a parasitic beast that could overrun the Earth if left unchecked.

But there was a check, and its name was Gojira. Serizawa’s father knew this, and did whatever he could to convince the military that Godzilla needed to keep the natural order in line. But in the end, he failed. In 1954, Godzilla was hit with a nuclear weapon and was never seen again.

60 years later, his son Ichiro follows in his father’s footsteps. He is a member of Monarch, the very project his father was a part of. He watches over a creature known as a Muto, a parasitic beast not too unlike the Shinomura. He knows the danger the beast can bring.

But he also knows of the check, the order in nature. And that is Gojira… Godzilla. When the Muto escapes, Serizawa does his best to convince the military that Godzilla is the one thing that will stop them, the natural check to the threat the Muto’s bring. In the end, Godzilla crushes the Muto’s, bringing order once more. Godzilla, having won his battle, is able to wade into the sea, at rest and at peace.

And in that moment, Dr. Serizawa fulfilled the legacy of his father. His push for nature to bring the balance that man, in his use of nuclear weapons, had mishandled. Our use of nuclear technology brought these fearsome beasts to the surface once more, and pose a threat to life on Earth. Without Godzilla, they would have brought extinction.

 

As for Ford Brody, his legacy is a different one altogether.

It begins with that of his father, Joe Brody. A leading engineer at the Janjira nuclear plant, studying strange tremor patterns that have been traveling steadily northward, from the Philippines all the way to Japan.

In a freak accident that causes the plant to black out, a leak occurs. His wife is caught in the midst and Joe Brody is forced to seal her fate, and the fate of others. His pain is monumental, his grief unending, as he must now forever live with the knowledge that his decision to send his wife to check the sensors, to send her down into the danger zone, brought about her death.

It was the end of his old life, and the life of his son’s, Ford.

Fifteen years later, Joe Brody is arrested for trespassing in the Quarantine Zone, his old home of Janjira. A frustrated Ford, now an EOD specialist, father and husband, tries to convince his father to return to America and live a normal life, but Joe is determined. The truth must be found, for his wife’s sake.

And find it he does: Monarch, the Muto, everything. What brought about his wife’s death, that all his crazy conspiracy theories were correct, everything. The fifteen years he spent searching for the truth has been worth it.

And then a piece of debris slashes through the walkway he’s standing on, mortally injuring him. Despite all the medical help the doctors can give, Joe dies. His last words to his son, who is barely able to speak, are words of wisdom: Get back to your family, whatever it takes.

Ford Brody does whatever he can to fulfill that promise, fighting to get back into San Francisco and find his wife, but the vicious Muto’s keep preventing him from getting home, from honoring his father’s legacy.

Until he finds the nest. Muto eggs, the lot of them. Laid there by the female, a chamber of parasites that will someday be unleashed and bring mankind back to the stone age. As Ford’s fellow soldiers walk out of the nest, Ford stays behind and ignites the nest, sending the entire place out in a blaze of flames. His revenge on the beasts that stole his mother, his father, his normal life away from him.

At the end of the film, Ford is able to finally reunite with his wife and son, bringing about an end to his arc.

Ford’s character is a soldier, a stoic leader that does not emote. Heavy, open emotions are not his forte. He expresses his love through actions, not words. And his actions speak volumes: His fight to return home expresses his love for the only family he has left, as well as the love he has for his father, buried deep beneath the resentment. His destruction of the Muto nest is a statement of love for his mother, who was ripped away from him in a horrific tragedy. It his act of vengeance for the tragedy that changed the course of his life. His defiance of the Muto that threatens his own life is his personal act of defiance, in honor of his parents and the sacrifice they made to bring him here. And his reunion with his wife and son is an ultimate act of the love holds for his family, both living and dead.

As Ford’s story comes to an end, so his father is able to rest in peace. A father’s legacy fulfilled.

 

 

 

The Final Word: Godzilla is not your typical summer blockbuster. It is not your typical movie. It is a statement of the power we brought into the world, and how we awakened beasts that nearly brought us to our end. It is a reminder that no matter the technology, no matter the firepower, no matter the strength, the monsters we awaken in the darkest corners of the world can still humble us. They can still destroy us.

But nature has an order. A means of restoring balance. And that is Godzilla, King of the Monsters.

And with this new movie, balance has been restored.

The Judgment Call: 9.8/10

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