Review: Edwards' 'Godzilla' is the Modern Monster Movie Done Right
by Alex Billington
May 11, 2014
Step aside Cloverfield and other Kaiju, the King of Monsters is back. And he's bigger and better than ever. Four years ago, I caught a little indie sci-fi film called Monsters that blew me away. No one knew it at the time, but the director of that film, Gareth Edwards, would soon be hired by Legendary Pictures to reboot and re-imagine the legendary giant radioactive lizard known as Gojira. He was the perfect choice. Edwards has re-imagined the King of Monsters perfectly for 2014, bringing us a modern monster movie done right, better than all other recent monster movies, from Cloverfield to Super 8 to Pacific Rim. This is the real deal.
This new version of Godzilla is a bit different than any/every version in the past, and that's for good reason. Gareth Edwards' approach to the idea of giant monsters wreaking havoc is focused more on the human characters and their lives, where they end up, and how they're affected by this attack. The story hones in on the Brody family, lead by father and son Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who both have direct encounters with the giant lizard and his new foes. It's also an intelligent decision to throw out any origin story and go for the "he's here to defend us" angle, which opens up the discussion much more into the idea of whether or not we still try to destroy him or if he even has any care/concern for human life.
How this Godzilla stands out from the crowd is not only in its size and scale, but its structure as a movie. It's not all about revealing the monster and giving us back-to-back endlessly lavish VFX action scenes, it's about following the characters, the humans on this planet. Mainly Ford, and what he goes through, and how he experiences this latest Godzilla attack, and how he feels, and his concerns - not so much the monster, but his family. Thus as an audience we don't actually need to see every last fight in complete detail. Instead, they make a few brilliant choices in how and where they show the action and how it plays directly into the story (and bigger picture) at hand - from the TV news footage to the perspective during the entire airport scene.
The more I think back to it, the more I really begin to love the movie. I enjoyed the experience at hand my first time, but it's crafted to be an experience built around reveals - each step down the path gives us more of the characters, more of the backstory, more of the history, and yet more of the monster(s). But unlike some movies, where revisiting these reveals isn't as exciting and doesn't provide any more insight, Godzilla holds up and still draws us in. That is, I believe, because Edwards has also crafted a movie about real people, with real emotions, and the entire framework for the movie is tied into those emotions. They are as much a part of this movie as the King of Monsters is himself. Harnessing the power of the emotions is where this excels.
It has been said that the most talented directors are capable of casting perfectly for even the smallest roles. This is important, and shows how capable of a storyteller they are, because every little piece of the puzzle is vital in order to finish a masterpiece. And in Godzilla, it's casting choices like Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston that make all the difference. Some of the characters (Watanabe's Dr. Serizawa and Hawkins' Vivienne) are underutilized but I couldn't help but feel like they were being setup in this movie in order to play a bigger role down the line (in future movies) but that's all speculation at this point. On the other hand, Cranston is extraordinary (as expected) and is very much a driving force behind most of the movie. Taylor-Johnson is fine, but can't compare to Cranston.
Godzilla, in all its modern splendor, also puts all of the recent monster movies like Super 8, Pacific Rim and even Cloverfield to shame. It's odd because they were all built in the model of the original Godzilla movies, hoping to surpass them, yet here we are again and the King is showing them how it's done. Maybe it's the attention to detail, maybe it's the care and concern put into the story and the characters, maybe it's the fan-service so perfectly worked in, maybe it's just Gareth and his history with the franchise; whatever it is, this brand new modern monster movie they've created is downright awesome. It's badass when it needs to be, emotional when it should be, and consistently smart and one step ahead of the audience in the right way.
While we now live in the era of visual effects galore and computer generated imagery, it still takes a talented filmmaker to bring realistic human emotions to computer created characters. Luckily, they found the right filmmaker for the job, and Gareth Edwards has succeeded (if not exceeded expectations) in breathing new life into the King of Monsters, and showing the world how to make an engaging, terrifying, heartbreaking, enriching, exciting, exhilarating movie about a giant radioactive lizard. It does have a few slow moments, a few flaws, but they are minor imperfections. Gareth Edwards' Godzilla is masterful human storytelling blended perfectly with exhilarating cinematic action on a global scale. Godzilla is back. For good this time.
Alex's Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing