Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)- An Unbalanced Lumbering Beast of a Film That Touts Strength in Action Subtlety but Lacks Legitimate Human Heart and Development

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in GodzillaBack in 1954 a monster emerged from the seas into our pop culture consciousness known then as Godzilla (a.k.a. Gojira) and in his monstrous horror came the embodiment of a country’s fears of the nuclear age and a melancholy drama focusing on the aftermath of nuclear destruction. Of course this original intention of the monster didn’t really stay relevant in its almost 30 sequels where the famed monster traded social criticism for large entertaining spectacle battling some impressive and often times ridiculous monstrous foes, such as Mechagodzilla, King Ghidorah, and the ever useless installment in the franchise Godzilla vs. Megalon (seriously, check the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” riffing on this one as soon as possible). When another reboot was announced it seemed appropriate to give this delicate subject matter to a director that knew a thing or two about monsters in the first place and when it was given to independent filmmaker extraordinaire Gareth Edwards as the directorial leader of the project it inspired hope. Edwards, after all, is known for his half a million independent film Monsters (2010), which was all at once a tactical homage to giant monster films while remaining selective, careful, and purposeful in his delivery of special effects spectacle. Unlike some directors who are given an insane budget for their first Hollywood introduction Gareth Edwards pulls back the usual bombardment of mundane and tiresome special effects in his reboot of Godzilla (2014) that only allows his monstrous destruction to be seen in selective bursts adopting an incredibly old school style of Hollywood filmmaking allowing tension to build becoming undeniably refreshing and arguably needed in this special effects saturated film culture. Unfortunately the latest reboot of Godzilla (2014) also has the adopted weaknesses of Edwards’ previous film Monsters (2010) that doesn’t exactly have a devotion to character depth and interaction falling back on clichéd character archetypes and absolutely zero catalysts for character development making the deeply focused human element to come off heroically shallow leaving behind great possibilities for a renewal of the original’s grim and melancholy drama. However, that lack of human development is merely a distraction from the effective build up that Edwards focuses on with his monsters and full force destruction that culminates into an ending worthy of Godzilla fandom. When the lowest standard bar you can reach for the famed monster is Roland Emmerich’s horrid 1998 adaptation then it can already be stated beyond a doubt that Gareth Edwards has made a worthy if imperfect reboot for the pop culture monster icon.

A question that should always be asked when rebooting, remaking, or reviving a particular work should always be, “what is the reason to bring this work back now?” Usually the answer to that question in Hollywood relates to the possibilities of money to be made from said revived work but that is a passionless reason and leads to a true creative blindness in really assessing the validity of a particular script’s foundation. What remains evident by the end of the latest Godzilla is the fact that screenwriter Max Borenstein and director Gareth Edwards didn’t really seek out a large enough intent for reviving the monster beyond the simplistic reason of Hollywood blockbuster spectacle making the script a tad thin in genuine purpose. There are no societal criticisms to be had, no environmental worries, and absolutely no relevance to our current modern age (the parallel to the Fukushima nuclear crisis isn’t really enough and never really followed through) allowing only two aspects of the script to take full precedence which is human drama and of course huge monster fights. The strengths of the script are the elements highlighted through Gareth Edwards’ inevitable subtle direction heightening the performances, the action, and the thrill with intricate tension building while also being dramatically selective in allowing you to actually see the monstrous destruction that is occurring. However, whenever there are aren’t any monsters on the screen we’re basically forced to focus on these arguably drab human characters that are often times never explored in motivation nor are they emotively felt in their reactions to the destruction around them as they regurgitate simplistic dialogue that all seems poorly devised. This means the script eagerly wants to have a majority of human interaction while also making its strongest aspects beyond the human interaction creating an uneven experience that has you begging more in emotional content and quality drama. Overall though Max Borenstein’s script does a delicate balance of homage to the original franchise while also integrating the monster into our modern world surroundings giving a credible foundation for Edwards’ abilities as a subtle director to breathe life into this newly revitalized King of the Monsters.

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Once the criticisms of thin character development, poorly written dialogue, and weak human interactions are put to the side we’re able to focus on the true reason anyone would see a Godzilla movie and that is for the monsters and the fearful destruction that occurs in the wake of their animalistic intentions. Gareth Edwards made an incredibly brave choice to become the antithesis of modern day Hollywood blockbusters as he made a Godzilla reboot that truthfully doesn’t have too much of the famed monster in it since a great deal of the first half is all human drama with small bouts with other bug like monsters that are the subject of Godzilla’sinevitable emergence and hunt. However, there is an incredible strength in his selectiveness where pieces of a monstrous puzzle are put together through witnessing characters building up to the destructive climax that audiences will undoubtedly enjoy and be thoroughly gratified with by the end of the film. There is mastery here of subtle reveal while also expressing a mastery in computer-generated imagery which used to be creative polar opposites until now as Godzilla showcases that special effects can indeed be just that, special.  All of the technical aspects from the visual collaboration with the picturesque expertise of cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (Anna Karenina, We Need to Talk About Kevin) and the haunting score of Alexandre Desplat come together under the directorial guide of Gareth Edwards who creates a monster film that doesn’t invoke excess and keeps the payoffs close to the chest. Edwards should be praised for his revival of Godzilla despite the unbalanced delivery of all the elements in the story mostly because he has brought back what giant blockbusters from Hollywood should contain and that is an enamored sense of awe in the spectacle of cinema. From a sequence of military men jumping from a plane only to see glimpses of a horrific monster fight in their proximity to the full force of a monster battle in the middle of San Francisco there is always a sense that Edwards knows just what to reveal when it’s meant to be revealed and it brings the audience member into the awe-inspiring world of limited special effects. If only the human drama and the felt consequences of the destruction were as potent and realized as the selective reveals of monstrous destruction then the film would be a modern triumph of storytelling pure and simple. Unfortunately the praise is as limited as the monster sequences within the film only to be held afloat by Edwards’ technical understanding and a talented cast that works with the material they were handed quite well.

If the cast of Godzilla were taken from your atypical blockbuster choices then it probably would have suffered tremendously due to the clear weaknesses in the script relating to the one dimensional characters and complete lack of character insight, motivation, and development. It’s incredibly hard to act when the script doesn’t exactly give you believable reactions or legitimate consequence to events that surround you so in the hands of a less talented cast this material would have faltered greatly. Luckily the entire cast of semi-familiar faces and credible talents never allow the shallowness of the material to get the best of them as they create presence where there arguably could have been none. Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Kick-Ass fan comes forward as the lead Ford Brody who has a caring soul and a fatherly grudge as he sees the delusions of his scientific father as misguided and damaging. Johnson’s Ford is no question a hero in all senses of the word and perhaps to the character’s detriment doesn’t really have any flaws, doubts, or hesitations when dealing with any of the destruction around him making for a rather unfulfilling character offset by Johnson’s ability to act. The mighty Bryan Cranston plays Johnson’s scientific father Joe Brody and his remarkable presence and delivery are as ever pristine but unfortunately short lived in the scope of the film. For some reason the script and the direction of the great Ken Watanabe as a scientist looking for the truth has him staring oddly into the distance on numerous occasions as he seems horrifically mystified as to what is occurring around him despite being fully integrated in this search for monsters and answers for years. The same limiting of talent occurs for the actual talented member of the Olson family Elizabeth Olson who never comes off as unbelievable but is never given anything momentous to do at any given moment she’s on the screen. All of the criticisms that can be granted to these performances and others, including the amazing Sally Hawkins and the always presentable David Strathairn, are never aimed at their acting capabilities but rather Max Borenstein’s thin script where characters are merely created as exposition carriers where plot point is carried to plot point to serve as the placement of the monsters on a destruction chess board. A credible foundation of character aids in the credible delivery of performance and though no performance is detrimental to the impact of the film as a whole there is certainly a void of character development and presence that could have been improved had the script decided to focus on it more.

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Reviving the gargantuan beast Godzilla is by no means an easy task since the previous franchise often times became ridiculous and previous efforts have resulted in absolute failure when considering the comically horrid Roland Emmerich version from 1998. To simply say that Gareth Edwards’ version of Godzilla is superior to that of Emmerich’s would be a tad dismissive to the reasons why Edwards should be praised for his return to an old school style of filmmaking where subtlety takes precedence over overstated excess and thrills are selectively given instead of oversaturating the screen with a blitzkrieg of special effects chaos. Unfortunately not every element of Godzilla is as focused as the technical achievements that aid in Edwards’ tenuous build up and climactic delivery since Max Borenstein’s script as the foundation completely lacks character development but also doesn’t really have any character motivation towards the consequence of the monstrous destruction around them. Had the script sacrificed the character dynamics for some sort of insightful criticism on our current societal state like the original 1954 Godzilla had done then the film as a whole would have been purposefully constructed. However, the final result is a lumbering beast of a film with unbalanced motives and thoughtless intentions that finds strength in contained thrills from Edwards’ careful cinematic construction. Godzilla (2014) might not be the monster movie we deserved but it comes incredibly close as it delivers climactic monster destruction worthy of the big screen.

Grade: C+/B-

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Comments
One Response to “Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)- An Unbalanced Lumbering Beast of a Film That Touts Strength in Action Subtlety but Lacks Legitimate Human Heart and Development”
  1. Josh Silverman says:

    I thought the film was terrible…but then again, I am loathe to give a good review of most re-makes. Actually, quite displeased with the Hollywood re-make trend.

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