Godzilla (2014)

Written by Nick McCann

88/100

I don’t think Roland Emmerich fully understood the gravity of his situation. When he made his own Godzilla movie back in 1998, he not only took advantage of the name for his own gain but left a sore legacy. The box office bombing, critical panning, and fan backlash of that film gave little hope that we’d see another American production touch the property. But as time went on and others tried to get something going, Legendary Pictures finally got a reboot rolling. Although avant garde in many ways, it still delivers immense satisfaction.

Godzilla doesn’t immediately go for the throat compared to other blockbusters. The script loves to twist certain conventions on their head, tease the monsters and build up for massive payoff. Combined with Gareth Edwards’ direction, the film builds suspense and realism the likes of which we haven’t seen much of in monster movies. I would even say it’s got the Steven Spielberg touch of wonder and intrigue(including some fun homages). At the same time, you feel an earnest respect for the character and what he stands for. Some aren’t going to get on board with this rendition of Godzilla wherein he is not constantly in sight or the sparse destruction presented, and that’s fine. But if you’re patient and willing to let it play out, you’ll be well rewarded.

This execution of the familiar Godzilla story finds itself a lot more character focused. I quickly grew to like the characters , they may seem like a typical ensemble but their parts are well defined and performed superbly by the cast. Bryan Cranston is the stand out, throwing it all on the table he’s our solid emotional center. Sadly he isn’t around for too  long but the impression is made and lasting. Aaron Taylor-Johnson also makes for a capable protagonist, Elizabeth Olson nails believable reactions, David Strathairn is a refreshingly likable military leader and the always excellent Ken Watanabe fits like a glove. The most important test to the cast’s durability is that they can each say Godzilla’s name straight-faced and not have it be silly.

Which brings us to the king himself. Godzilla! His look retains the classic design while going for something more nature inspired. The special effects team realizes a grounded (and sometimes personable) Godzilla for modern audiences. His two opponents in the M.U.T.Os aren’t too shabby either. Their looks, abilities and overall characterization as a pair give them their time to shine in the wide range of Toho’s monster stable.

Whether alone or all together, these creatures seem to be able to bring the house down. The focus on build-up makes the set pieces feel gratifying and weight. They manage to find ways to have our human characters get suddenly caught up near or in the middle of the monster attacks, further giving the situation a realistic viewpoint. The ace in the hole is the cinematography, making liberal use of street view and the feeling of being someone in the middle of it all. These monsters feel massive and the damage they cause is more impressive because of it.

Sound design shouldn’t go unnoticed either. Godzilla’s new roar, the various combat engagements, buildings crumbling, explosions. Everything has an audible power. Alexandre Desplat delivers a brilliant score. There may be a lack of the classic Toho theme cues, but his music still captures the monster’s enormity and the human character’s marvel. It’s equal parts emotional and hair-raising.

Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla is where I look to when I think of reboot films done right. For all the conventions it does different, it never forgets to deliver on what you want. Again, some will be put off by a character-focused monster movie where the monsters aren’t always turning cities into pebble piles. Trust me when I say it’s all worth it by the end. There are spectacular fights, a great cast, and direction that’s as confident as it is respectful. The King of the Monsters finally got his shining moment in America and it’s only led to further excitement and anticipation.

Godzilla (2014) Trailer


You can watch Godzilla (2014) on HBO Max.

You can connect with Nick on his social media profiles: Facebook and Letterboxd.

Godzilla (1998)

Written by Nick McCann

45/100

By the 1990’s, Godzilla had a 40 plus year history built up and American audiences had got a few different tastes of his growing legacy. It was about time though that a proper American production took him on with a big budget spectacle picture done by the best of our crop. Development took a hair longer than expected but 1998 saw the first fully American produced Godzilla picture. And it turned out to be silly and unworthy.

Roland Emmerich takes the directing wheel here. His take on Godzilla starts off with a fairly nice build up. Suspense brews in that old school monster movie sense as you see traces of the coming disaster. After the big creature reveal though, the film slowly declines in quality. Not only does Emmerich recycle many of his own tropes from past movies, but he shows a total disregard for the character himself. It’s a lighter tone without much gravity to what’s coming at you. It becomes what I’d call a hodge-podge movie. You can trace many major plot points back to other better films. Had it not worn the name, this could’ve functioned fine as it’s own story. But no. The name’s just a free pass and easy money.

Getting to Godzilla himself, it’s clear by now that this creature doesn’t resemble him in any fashion. This rendition of the beast lacks the menacing weight the actual Godzilla possessed. It’s too sleek, too fast, too hesitant to cause destruction. I will say it’s a good creature design on it’s own. Still, the designation makes it hard to separate from objectification. The film attempts to make you feel empathy for this creature. Which mixes the message quickly when the very citizens it’s terrorizing show sympathy for it, and there’s also the whole it’s breaking a city thing.

The human characters are even less interesting. What it comes down to is the performers, who are the strangest picks for a film such as this. A lot of them don’t look comfortable with the material and often they give awkward deliveries. Matthew Broderick looks too unlikely of a presence for a lead. You look at him and feel like he walked on the wrong set. Jean Reno on the other hand is great fun and is visibly relaxed. Things are instantly cooler whenever he is on screen. The written dialogue that these actors are asked to do sets them up terribly to begin with. Many of the jokes fail to land, and all the winking and nudging this movie does is eyeroll inducing.

What’s left is the action and it’s not all bad. There are some admittedly exciting set pieces throughout that are mostly done well, from Godzilla’s first attack, to a submarine pursuit in the Hudson River. The visual effects hold up fine too, even if the rain and darkness make the CGI look muddier than it is. However these sequences leave a lot to pick at, namely how it looks like the military does more damage to the city than the monster. Also the third act feels like a bad Jurassic Park movie at every turn. But for all the nagging, the action is well filmed and propelled further by David Arnold’s score.

Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla lacks the weight and respect the character deserves. It’s got cliched characters, silly action and derivative concepts. But in that lightweight blockbuster fashion, it’s a fun watch if you don’t give it much thought. I hate to admit it but I do have to credit this movie for putting the name in my head, like a lot of kids my age around the time of release. Now after becoming a seasoned fan of his various entries, it’s turned into bad movie comfort food. And I will never turn it down in that regard.

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King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Written by Nick McCann

69/100

King Kong ushered in a new era of special effects driven American filmmaking back in 1933. Godzilla, 21 years later, took that effects film formula and wove in a palpable social commentary for Japanese audiences. Not to mention the big dinosaur was well on the way to starting a profitable franchise. So given both monsters’ popularity, it seemed only a matter of time before they clashed. Lo and behold, 1962 was the year that brought us an enjoyable proving ground for the future of the series.

Although the previously released Godzilla Raids Again saw the first monster battle of the series, this film sets the standard for how this template is to be executed. Ishiro Honda once again directs with efficient speed and touches on relevant themes once again. All the jabs at commercialism and the advertising industry give the movie a light and satirical tone that makes it the right kind of cheesy. It also does an okay job at rebooting Kong into Godzilla’s follow up adventure, though I feel some of the Kong iconography feels slightly like an afterthought. Also certain details can still come off as hokey for sake of the plot. Even with that, it’s reliably exciting and quick-paced as it builds to the ultimate showdown of its era.

Speaking of which, Kong and Godzilla themselves give me mixed feelings here. Godzilla still looks good with a decent suit design and his continuing relentlessness. Kong’s suit on the other hand doesn’t hold up very well through his dopey face and fur pulled right off a living room floor. But to bring it back positive, the body language in both suit performances are defined well between Kong’s problem solving and Godzilla’s near-constant forward momentum. If there were more non-confrontational moments where the monsters could interact with each other, it’d make this all the more delightful.

When they fight, it’s a great spectacle. The special effects show great improvement from the prior films with lots of model buildings, RC vehicles and even okay blue screening. The fights have funny highlights through the actual excitement, like one shot of rough-looking stop motion and Kong force feeding Godzilla a tree. It’s what you expect from one of these movies. Camera work is energetic, the editing is tight and Akira Ifukube’s score hits with great numbers throughout. In particular, the new islander Kong chant is a strong musical presence.

On the flip side, the human characters are not too shabby this time around. Even though actual character development is still thin, everyone hits the material with personality and clear distinction from one another. Ichiro Arishima stands out greatly as a slapstick-oriented business agent. I couldn’t help but cheekily laugh at this guy, he nails the part. Kenji Sahara, Tadao Takashima, Yu Fujiki and Mie Hama also make up a spry and witty cast. Other supporting players fulfill their job in the plot fine without much time spent on giving them dimensions.

Any casuals looking for a solid Godzilla movie to either start with or get the general idea of the series should consult this one. It’s importance goes beyond just two of the most famous movie monsters together in one package. King Kong vs. Godzilla lays a nice foundation for the series with it’s fast pace, decent characters and charming set pieces. Although flawed, it satisfies all the same. Here’s to Legendary Pictures and what they have in store for their take.

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Gojira (1954)

Written by Nick McCann

91/100

Pretend, reader, that you were a citizen of Japan in mid-summer of 1945… yeah that sucked. The atom bombings of World War 2 left a permanent stain on that country and the world. The nuclear age was born and affected everything that followed. Cinema of course took notice. While America was taking advantage of this themselves, the land of the rising sun was brewing something straight from the heart at Toho Studios. That turned into one of the greatest monster movies ever.

This first outing in the long running series does not mess around. Instead of tongue-in-cheek fun as seen in most American sci-fi, “Gojira” tells a grim tale with a blunt real-world parallel. There is suspense from the start and director Ishiro Honda maintains a solid pace throughout. Frankly it can get horrifying! As a viewer, you are always reminded of the gravity of the situation. It leaves little room for respite and earns its tone. Even when the message is dead obvious, it never feels intrusive. It works both as a monster movie and a stern warning for what destructive power awaits us in our future.

That power is encapsulated in Godzilla himself. He still looks threatening to this day. His design iconic and the performance by the suit actor–great. He may be a guy in a rubber suit but he always feels like a looming presence, on and off screen. The special effects are of course dated in spots. Yet Godzilla’s rampages still have a dark and explosive quality, be it a collapsing model building or raging fire. Sound design is also intense, between Godzilla’s mean, echoing roar and a barrage of cannon and machine gun fire.

Accentuating this is some gritty camera work. The low angle coverage and overall look of the black and white film stock makes it all the more foreboding to watch. It’s directed as if this were an actual event, capturing all aspects of the chaos and subsequent aftermath. Lain over top is a grim score by Akira Ifukube. With it’s brash sound, it gives everything heightened power. Not to mention the times when it doesn’t play and lets sound effects take over are quite effective.

Last of note is the cast. They may not have the most deep personalities or dynamics, but they are well on the money in their performances. Akira Takarada is a dependable leading man while Momoko Kochi is a good emotional center as she takes in more of the situation. Two standouts though are Takashi Shimura and Akihiko Hirata. Shimura as the paleontologist Yamane has a wise presence and shows heartfelt sorrow for Godzilla’s scientific potential. Then there’s Hirata as Dr. Serizawa, a man troubled by his creations and feels guilt at the possibility of what it could entail. As he becomes more involved, you can track how much everything weighs on him.

Anyone who says monster movies are trite need only look to this movie for proof of a quality execution. “Gojira” is just as much of an eye-opener of social commentary as it is a thrilling monster movie. Through its titular creature and blockbuster filmmaking, it’s dour story is a stern warning as to what nuclear power means for humanity. It also laid the stepping stone for what has now become a legendary franchise. Don’t miss out.

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King Kong (1933)

Written by Nick McCann

94/100

There is no other like the Eighth Wonder. Who could’ve thought in the 1930’s that movies can get so big? Sure talkie pictures had been around for a while and there were some B-pictures that came and went. However, none could compare to what RKO would release smack-dab in the middle of a poverty-stricken nation. After years of production and a ton riding on ambition, King Kong released and changed the course of cinema for decades to come. Today, it’s still nothing short of thrilling.

Our story is one of adventure and wonder. It’s a mythic tale about what happens when man discovers a living legend and his reaction. This movie doesn’t waste any time as it moves with efficient progression. It’s setup keeps you on your toes until a grand reveal that kicks off a primal thrill ride. Even with some outdated aspects, the plot holds up well as one of the finest cinematic adventures to this day.

Much of that is owed to Kong himself, along his island of danger. This film marked a major landmark in special effects filmmaking and it shows. Willis O’Brien’s stop motion creature effects are a show-stealer in the best way. It may not be as fluid as what would later come, but they are delightful. Every new dinosaur encounter keeps the action fresh and Kong himself displays a lot of character for being a 3-inch figurine. Miniature sets are also highly detailed, on top of clever uses of animatronics and rear-projection work. Bottom line, every effects sequence shows genuine work put into them and they are still a marvel.

One could also gather that the action sequences are just as much of a spectacle. For it’s time, there are some visceral sequences of dinosaur carnage and peril. From the famous sacrifice to the last stand on the Empire State Building, there is variety around every corner. Production design is spot on with great sets, sound design is highly rich and Max Steiner’s score captures emotion and scale beautifully. Sure a lot of it looks fake now, but I don’t care. It still gets me going like any big picture today.

All of this is kept grounded with well rounded characters. Robert Armstrong, as the film director Carl Denham, exudes charisma and bravado. One look at this guy will tell you he is a man of composure for how crazy he can be. Fay Wray also brings beauty as Ann Darrow. She’s likable as she tries to fit in around places, although she does turn into a scream machine any chance she gets. Finally, Bruce Cabot makes for both a voice of reason and a reliable man of action in Jack Driscoll. These three characters are sound in their standing within the story and perform well throughout.

King Kong is so important it hurts. The fact it inspired some of our best modern cinematic geniuses and people generally are still talking about it today marks it’s continuing success. It’s filmmaking breakthroughs are matched by it’s timeless, fantastical story. Age is just a number, as they say. Go see this one if you haven’t yet. No excuses!

King Kong 1933 Trailer

King Kong (1933) is currently available to stream on HBO Max

You can connect with Nick on his social media profiles: Facebook and Letterboxd.