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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