THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT. 5:
GODZILLA - STILL THE KING (pg. 2)
VIEWS ON FILM BY CEJ -
The GRINDHOUSE: Reviews
No Spoilers Review:
"GODZILLA" (2014) TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING
(Legendary / Warner Bros.)
GullCottage rating (***** on a scale of 1 - 5)
Dir. by - Gareth Edwards
Screenplay by - Max Borenstein
(David Goyer - uncredited /
Frank Darabont - uncredited)
Based On the Character "Godzilla" created and owned by - Toho Co. Ltd.
Prod. by - Thomas Tull, Josh Jashni,
Mary Parent, Brian Rogers
Exec. Prods. - Patricia Whitcher, Alex Garcia, Yashimitsu Banno, Kenji Okuhira
Dir. Of Photography - Seamus McGarvey ASC, BSC
Edited by - Bob Ducsay
Production Design by - Owen Paterson
Costume Design by - Sharen Davis
Music - Alexandre Desplat
Running Time: 123 mins.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa), Bryan Cranson (Joe Brody), Elizabeth Olson (Elle Brody), Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody), David Strathairn (Admiral William Stenz), Sally Hawkins (Vivienne Graham, Richard T. Jones (Capt. Russell Hampton), Victor Rasuk (Sgt. Tre Morales), Carson Bolde (Sam Brody), CJ Adams (Young Ford), Patrick Sabongui (Lt. Comm. Marcus Waltz)
The Godzilla character in the hands of Americans has had a long and spotted history. Toho Studios’ original 1954 GOJIRA (renamed GODZILLA for western audiences) was redubbed into English, had a number of it’s scenes excised, and others inserted featuring future IRONSIDE actor William Conrad as an American journalist in Japan making jangled commentary (war correspondent-like) while the titular creature makes landfall, wrecks havoc and becomes the literal incarnation of Dr. Oppenheimer's nuclear nightmare prophecy (actually borrowed from ancient Hindu text) "I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds".
30 years later THE RETURN OF GODZILLA - renamed "GODZILLA: 1985" (Hmmm, is there a pattern or something goin' on here?), would do the same, ... to the point of even bringing back Conrad for more of those America-friendly insert scenes. And, of course, INDEPENDENCE DAY / 2012 director Roland Emmerich’s 1998 "Zilla" reboot, while a financial success, was deemed by many to be a shameful bastardization of everyone’s favorite giant radiation-breathing lizard, who over the years had undergone transformation from Hiroshima / Nagasaki-like menace (those analogies intentionally peppered throughout the early films) to anti-hero guardian / protector of the earth.
When early buzz began building about a new film from the production gang at Legendary Pictures (the team who over the years gave us 300, BATMAN BEGINS, INCEPTION and more); when footage was shown at last year’s San Diego ComicCon, and (especially) when the first teaser trailer hit depicting a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) skydiving military force descending onto a monster ravaged San Francisco, the Internet went as ballistic as any sidewinder missile which had exploded off the scaly spiked back of the “King of the Monsters” during his near 60 year reign as one of the most popular, iconic and lucrative filmic icons in all of cinema history.
Interestingly however, we weren’t all that impressed by these teasers as the rest of the world seemed to be. We’d see the new GODZILLA to be sure. How could we not! The King was every bit an indelible part of our childhood as the all-day TV Creature Feature marathons featuring his Royal Highness and the (eventually destroyed by much loving play) models and toys based upon them. But we did have reservations …
… All of which turned out to be wholly unfounded. Wow!!! This new GODZILLA rocks!
123 minutes of one narrative surprise after another - the first one being how good Elizabeth Olson looks with a little meat on her bones, Gareth Edwards’ new reboot manages the three-pronged near impossible feat last accomplished by Rupert Wyatt’s 2011 RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: being an intelligent reboot which doesn’t insult it’s audience, reminding the audience of what it loved about the original series, helping said audience erase the memory of it’s immediate predecessor reboot (in the case of APES, Tim Burton’s misguided 2001 “re-imagining”), and lastly and most importantly giving that audience it’s “blast you outta the back of your high-backed seat” money’s worth - a tougher and tougher task when expectations continue to rise proportionately with those ever ascending IMAX 3D ticket prices.
Oh, and one thing … PLEASE!!! DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND DON’T READ ANY SPOILER REVIEWS TILL AFTER YOU’VE SEEN THIS FILM. EVEN USE DISCRETION WHEN DOING A WIKIPEDIA OR GOOGLE SEARCH … OR EVEN READING VIEWER COMMENTS ON PAGES SUCH AS MOVIEFONE AS THEY WILL MOST CERTAINLY RUIN ONE OR TWO GREAT SURPRISE REVEALS!
That said, on to our (we assure you) NO SPOILER review, ... which in order to do we must concentrate on the film’s technical achievements rather than narrative ones, as it’s niftily constructed plot is of the nice “layer of the onion” reveal structure rather than the standard “search and destroy” line of so many summer tentpole franchises of late.
Apart from Elizabeth Olson’s healthy look (okay, no more on that, we promise!), Bryan Cranston’s performance left us rather moved. In the trailers (to us at least) he came off as histrionic, crazed and overacting. But we realize now it was a nice mislead “red herring” of sorts. One of the most important things to remember when doing a reboot of a beloved fun franchise is not make it soooo serious and damned dark as to pummel the fun right out of it. Some (though not us) feel Marc Webb’s two most recent SPIDER-MAN films were guilty of this. And we certainly disagree with those who always harped on how Tim Story’s two FANTASTIC FOUR entries should have been more "dark and intense". No. Batman was always a dark and brooding character. The original Fantastic Four comics, with their dysfunctional family slant, were always of a lighter vein, and very enjoyable because of it.
Director Edwards has stated that he wanted Cranston not based on his most obviously well known character - that of cancer diagnosed high school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine maker William White in BREAKING BAD, but rather because of the actor’s earlier portrayal of Hal, the head of the dysfunctional family on TV’s earlier MALCOM IN THE MIDDLE. Cranston, along with AMELIE actress Juliette Binoche (who portrays his wife in the new film) both took the roles based on the depth of the emotional reality of their characters evident in the script. NOT the kind of thing you usually expect to hear for a summer tentpole actioner, and certainly not for a GODZILLA film. But Edwards, his actors and screenwriters find the perfect balancing act of making their characters realistic enough that we honestly care for them. And by extension this makes the dire circumstances they later encounter (when the genre / action stuff kicks in) that much more intense and involving.
There’s always lots of industry press junket talk during the release of big film about how an up and coming director, plucked from the salt mines of independent cinema after a festival hit, was chosen to helm the latest super epic because the studio wanted their “unique vision” brought to bear. But how often soon into production it becomes all to evident they were chosen a) because they’re relatively inexpensive to hire and don’t necessarily come with a contracted team of co-creators (composer, writer, cinematographer, etc.), and b) because of the size of the project, they must rely on the studio and therefore are more readily controlled than an established star director such a Robert Zemeckis or Roland Emmerich who want to do things “their way”, and who (damned those pesky visualist) will demand final cut on the finished product. One can’t come away from director Scott Derrickson (THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE)’s “not-bad-but-still-ultimately-disappointing” 2008 remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL without feeling this kind of scenario was most likely in flux.
to tell you the truth we really don’t know if GODZILLA’s “unique
narrative and character stamp” are the results of director Edwards being
granted carte blanche, or because those among his
screenwriter staff are actually “stars” in their own right powerful enough to do
things “their way”. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. For while (because of
Writers Guild stipulations) GODZILLA is officially credited to Max
Borenstein (the festival fave SWORDSWALLOWERS AND THIN MEN) and David
Callaham (THE EXPENDABLES), subsequent script rewrites were handled by
writer / directors David Goyer (DARK CITY, the DARK KNIGHT trilogy, TV’s
DA VINCI’S DEMONS) and Frank Darabont (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE
GREEN MILE, TV’s THE WALKING DEAD). And, if one is familiar with Goyer
and Darabont’s brand of characterization, their contributions here are
One of Goyer’s maxims is, and has always been,
that (with a comic book hero for example) a character HAS to be
fascinating BEFORE he / she dons their cape. And his BATMAN BEGINS is a
sterling example of this. One is so caught up in the saga of Bruce
Wayne traversing the world in order to find the meaning of his soul, we
almost forget he will eventually become Batman. And both Cranston and
Binoche have stated it was Darabont’s final rewrites - putting more
emphasis on the family relationships between Cranston and his son -
nicely portrayed by ANGUS and KICK-ASS actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and
on Johnson and his wife - portrayed by the aforementioned Olson. It was
also Darabont’s narrative conception to cleverly alter certain details
concerning Godzilla’s 1954 origins - this first hint of this in the film’s
stylishly clever Main Title sequence montage, designed with the names of
the film’s production personnel as the only text remaining on
“censored” classified government documents.
Oh, and one more thing. This reviewer had a sit down conservation with a couple of friends the other day, friends who's outlook on film I greatly admire and respect. And one of them despised this film. Their reason? They felt the original 1954 Toho GODZILLA was a dark and serious tone poem of a movie which effectively and cleverly mirrored the inner trauma of the age. And guess what? - they're 100% correct. I however, grew up watching all-day-Saturday Godzilla TV marathons which spanned the original 1954 film all the way through to DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968). I was also a fan of lighter "kaiju"-inspired TV fare such as ULTRAMAN, THE SPACE GIANTS and even the animated JOHNNY SOCKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT. So my childhood view / experience of the Godzilla / kaiju-film canon ran the gamut from serious sci-fi treatise on nuclear trauma all the way through to none-too-serious city-destroying flat out monster actioner. This new GODZILLA manages to (in our opinion) cleverly touch upon ALL of those things.
Too dour and brooding and a film such as this can become self-serious and (far worse) not a lot of fun - a criticism which greeted Zack Snyder's MAN OF STEEL this same time last year. But go too far in the other direction, and create something which becomes nothing but a character-less excuse for big budget CGI widescreen wanton destruction, then go on and claim it's all "childlike fun", and the action eventually becomes irritating "background noise" - a criticism which also greeted Synder's film. Edwards' GODZILLA finds a nice balance. But be warned, if you're looking for a 100% remake of the original, you'll be sorely disappointed. If however you take into consideration the entire Godzilla series, we think (like us) you'll walk out of the theater with the biggest grin you've had on your face in quite some time.
Along with RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES the last few years have seen a
number of damned well realized reboots and adaptations of old favorites
(THE AVENGERS and SKYFALL anyone!). And GODZILLA continues the
movement with style, heart and more than a couple of memorably
hair-raising suspense / action sequences. If this is what we can expect
from a new Godzilla franchise, then thaw that great big lizard out
again and again. We’ll pony up the IMAX 3D fee for another ride on the
“King of the Monsters” thrill ride express.