"Godzilla" Review, by JJ Mortimer (May 18, 2014)
“The arrogance of Man is thinking Nature is in our control, and not the other way around.”
As George Carlin once put it, when Mother Earth is done with us, she will shake us off like a bad case of fleas. Take from this movie as you will - as a message regarding the destruction of nature by humans and the use of nuclear technology, and the revenge it sends upon us, OR as simply a showcase of fiction in which monsters emerge from mishaps in the environment - but in the end, it's a monster movie with a lot of mayhem and destruction.
I enjoyed the new "Godzilla" quite a bit, and many times it was in the simplest of things. Director Gareth Edwards is clearly inspired by Steven Spielberg (nods to films including "Jaws", "Saving Private Ryan", and quite a bit of "Jurassic Park" references), and I found it quite refreshing to see him use actual helicopters in scenes where many film makers would have used CGI. The design of Godzilla himself was old-school, and the build-up to the monster beat-downs was well worth the wait (much of the monster action is utilized in the third act, with a lot of back story and human character elements used for the rest).
One major aspect I cared a lot for was the use of the Godzilla monster. Ken Watanabe's character is the voice of reason to the United States military, but his words are not ham-fisted or pandering to an environmentalist standpoint - he clearly speaks the quoted words at the beginning of this review, and states that Godzilla is, essentially, Mother Nature's balance. Godzilla is here to prevent the wanton destruction of the earth by fighting opposing creatures. Once he's done, he's done until he's needed again.
This film used much of the same messages that the "Godzilla" films we grew up with used back in the day. Nuclear testing = bad. Monsters = bad. Nuclear testing brings giant monsters, also = bad. Despite whatever message the film makers may or may NOT have been trying to convey, it would seem somewhat idiotic to think that a film about a giant monster that blows blue fire from its mouth while fighting giant, flying, "Cloverfield"-monster lookalikes would be a source for people to go, "Geez, maybe we shouldn't be using nuclear technology." If anything, the nuclear energy approach was just a theme used to get us to the point of "bring the giant monsters to the city so we can watch some giant monsters beat the shit out of each other, giant monster style."
A few people have complained that Godzilla wasn't on screen enough, and that people don't really give a damn about the human elements. I disagree. While I would have liked to have seen more Godzilla (who wouldn't), any monster movie that avoids the human element takes away what makes a monster movie terrifying, at times. Without a protagonist to give us a point of view, how are we to insert ourselves into the film and feel at least a little bit of the terror one would feel in a situation where you're on a train, and a 300-foot beast is hovering over the tracks a half-mile ahead, awaiting your approach in order to eat you whole? Even the Godzilla movies of old had human characters - all of them did - but even at the worst of times, the human scenes just made us appreciate the scenes with the monsters THAT MUCH MORE once they appeared.
Alexandre Desplat's score is hummable and appropriate, bombastic when necessary and confident in its monster-movie beats. Bryan Cranston is always welcome in whatever movie he is in, so he was a welcome face to have to set the film up for its destructive unleashing before allowing his son, star Aaron Taylor-Johnson (looking nothing like his "Kick-Ass" self), to take over.
One thing I would have liked a little more is for some of the monster action to have taken place during the day. For any future "Godzilla" film that may be produced (for which I'm sure there will be many to follow), film makers should take note that confidence in one's film making abilities is to not shy away from showing your creatures in broad day light. Given that Edwards is so inspired by Spielberg, he should see that the majority of the big dinosaur shots in the original "Jurassic Park" were daytime scenes, with the visual effects supervisors and creators at the top of their game and confident that what you're seeing on screen is a testament to months, sometimes years, of labor-intensive work. To see Godzilla in a showdown at high noon with whatever monster that shows up to fight him would be a visual treat nobody would take their eyes off of, or re-close their dropped jaws to.
In the end, the acting was competent, the tension was nearly on par with "Cloverfield", the music and cinematography were good (with a lot of the action shot at night), and many moments were very Spielberg-esque. Despite the majority of the screen time being with the human characters, they were not the main focus for viewers. We came to see monsters, and the director took much of the approach from the points-of-view of the people to give us exactly that - giant monsters trying their best to take down Mother Nature's beast, the one and only Gojira/Godzilla. If the director's intent was to put an environmentalist message onto the film, it was pretty lost on me. I just enjoyed what I was seeing on screen.
I look forward to another "Godzilla" film and will probably watch this one again. I just hope that in future installments, we get to see a little more monster battles during the day. Another $100 million into the budget should do the trick.
Oh, and this Godzilla is ENORMOUS. Seriously, what the fuck were they thinking back in 1998 making Godzilla a half-breed of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and the mother alien from "Aliens" that was small enough to HIDE between buildings in New York City?? This Godzilla doesn't run, prefers hand-to-hand combat and blue-fire breath (which proves to be quite devastating to his opponents), and probably could have squashed the Emmerich Godzilla monster by simply tea-bagging him with nuts the size of a three-story building..