I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love Godzilla and it’s new iteration was easily my most anticipated film of the Summer. As such, I went into the film early this week with high hopes and a little trepidation. Thankfully Gareth Edwards revamp of the King of All Monsters is exactly what we’ve all been wanting out of a Hollywood Godzilla movie and will blow audiences away. Come inside to find out why the King is back!
A History Lesson
Before I really delve into this review, I need to talk about my own history with Godzilla, because it’ll make some things clearer later on. I grew up on monster movies. Godzilla, Jaws, Tremors, etc….These were the films the defined my childhood and I remember just about every Saturday morning on TCM or TNT, there’d be some Godzilla movie on and my dad and I would watch it.
As such, the monster holds a special place in my heart, and I’ve been waiting a very long time for Hollywood to do him justice. I’ve finally seen it. While Gareth Edwards’ new Godzilla film paves it’s own way and certainly leaves the door open for more, it felt like I was watching a classic Godzilla movie, done on the scale it rightfully deserves.
It features a lot of nods to the original films, some cheeky Easter Eggs, and also has some ties to the original film in that you could almost view this as a sequel rather than a reboot. It’s cleverly done, and is offers up tons of fan service, yet at the same time isn’t so tied down that non-fans can’t relate, nor does it keep them from doing something different.
Beyond the look of Godzilla and all the traditional aspects we’ve come to associate with the monster, the film absolutely nailed the core themes that made the original film such a powerful piece of filmmaking. It’s not just a disaster movie with big monsters in it, it has a point and that’s conveyed in this film, which sets it far and above other monster movies we’ve received lately (I’m looking at you Pacific Rim!).
The Human Side
It’s time to face some facts here; Godzilla as a character doesn’t really work. He’s a force of nature, an act of God set on the earth to restore balance when necessary (it’s one of the central ideas presented in this movie), so in order to really engage the audience on an emotional level, you have to rely on the human characters. In fact, my biggest gripe with Pacific Rim (aside from it’s story) is the fact that I didn’t care about any of the characters. It relied too much on the spectacle and never formed any attachments to make those scenes even more awesome.
The filmmakers behind the new Godzilla film seemed to get this, and spent a lot of time developing the humans in the story. A case could be made that they maybe spent a little too much time on them at certain points, but the bottomline is they made you care for the people thrust in this crazy situation.
I’m happy with how they handled the characters. Within minutes, they established them and made them feel real and I found myself empathizing with them very quickly. It gave the film an extra layer of tension; because I cared for the people, I was more nervous about the things that were happening around them.
Some of it’s due to the writing, but a lot of credit has to go to the actors as well. Everyone did a great job on this movie, even if their roles weren’t necessarily large, they all felt important and impactful. They added to the overall story and while some parts of the film seemed to drag, there wasn’t any one character I thought could have been eliminated completely (speaking about the “primary” cast here).
Doing the Monster Justice
If you’re worried about how Godzilla is represented in this film: don’t. This is a faithful interpretation of the classic monster, and includes everything you were hoping to see. From his appearance, the sweet roar we’ve heard in all the trailers, and yes, even the “atomic breath” all show up.
Godzilla this time around isn’t a reinvention of the wheel, but rather a modernized version of a character we all know and love. There are some tweaks here and there, but overall both fans and newcomers have a lot to be impressed by. It’s not just his looks either, Godzilla acts like Godzilla again.
Rob mentioned in an article a few weeks ago that one of the biggest failings in the 1998 film was that fact that Godzilla acted more like a scare animal, running away from a fight rather than dealing with it. This new version doesn’t back down from anything, in fact the bulk of the film is him chasing down the other monsters in order to make sure they stop causing so much trouble! Make no mistake, this is the Godzilla your nostalgia keeps thinking of, just enhanced for modern viewers.
The Feeling of Awe
There were several points during the film that I felt as though I was watching the original Jurassic Park film for the first time. It share some similarities, in that it’s a slow build to a big payoff and focuses on more than just the creatures. But the biggest similarity comes from the feeling of awe I felt as I watched the movie unfold.
This movie made you feel small, in the way that any monster movie should. The destruction level is crazy and it’s a perfect disaster movie, showing how real people would respond to monsters roaming around their city. At several scenes the entire audience would gasp, or hold their collective breath, and most excitingly cheer and clap during the film. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that level of involvement with a movie while I’m watching it. I was literally on the edge of my seat during a few scenes, especially during the train bridge sequence...
More than that, the film continually challenges itself to go bigger and part of that is due to its slow building nature. Something big happens in the film, and you find your mouth hanging wide open. Then a few scenes later, something even bigger happens! And it keeps stacking up like that until the final act of the film where all hell breaks loose in the best way possible.
I couldn’t believe how they were able constantly increase the tension and up the threat level throughout the whole film, and finishing with a massive payoff. It’s an impressive feat of filmmaking and something that all monster movies should strive for going forward. It did everything you hoped a film like this would do, all while making you pick your jaw off the ground time and time again.
The fanboy in me doesn’t really want to type this next part..but I have to. In fact, there was one point in the film (when Godzilla is fully revealed for the first time) that I turned to my girlfriend and said, “The film could end right now and I’d give it a 10!” Alas, the film isn’t without it’s flaws, but everything else is done so well, it’s easy to overlook them.
The primary problem seemed to be that the film wasn’t quite sure what type of movie it wanted to be. Each act of the film felt as if it were telling it’s own separate kind of story. The first part of the film builds up a mystery, hinting at secret organizations and a past that’s being covered up. It all feels like it’s leading up to something big, and while the ‘mystery’ is ultimately resolved (it’s not just left dangling) it’s not a big enough reveal to justify all the build that preceded it. It was interesting, sure, but not so much so that I felt that much time should have been given over to it.
The second act of the film feels almost like a chase sequence, where everyone is running against the clock to stop what’s coming, prepare for it, survive it, or just get back to loved ones. Then the final act is the straight up action side of things where monsters are duking it out. Because it’s so divided throughout the film, there are moments where scenes seem to drag.
Even with these hiccups, the film remains very satisfying and something I could see myself watching over and over again. While I’ve heard some fellows decrying the fact that Godzilla doesn’t have as much screentime, the truth is, he has plenty. Would I have loved to see more? Of course, but it fits with the story they’re telling. In the end, even if it dragged a little, the human side of the story is what helped elevate this film. If you just want to see giant monsters fight without any story, then Pacific Rim is perfect for you.
The Visual Spectacle
As I said, what makes this film awesome, is how it made you care for everything that was happening. But let’s face it, a lot of people are going to hit this movie up for the action. In that regard you won’t be disappointed either. It’s freaking insane, but more than that, it looks gorgeous. The visual effects in this movie are top notch and stand out for both design and quality.
Godzilla looks like a real creature, and you’re able to see the muscles move as he moves. It’s a far cry from the man in the suit from days of yore, and was impressive to see on the big screen. The other monsters (two of them only referred to as MUTOs) look similarly awesome. They’re both alien looking, but are animated superbly in that you believe this is how these creatures would move.
There are a few up close shots of the creatures too, so it’s not a situation where the CGI looks good from a distance but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. No, it looks good from all angles, and I have a feeling it’s going to continue to look amazing even a few years down the road (like Jurassic Park has).
I saw the film in IMAX 3D and I have to say, that’s probably the way to go. The 3D itself isn’t anything to write home about (it’s not used for any great effect), but seeing Godzilla roar to life on the gigantic IMAX screen is well worth the extra ticket price.
The sound design is similarly solid, making the creatures feel alive and menacing, even when they’re doing nothing more than breathing and walking. The musical score is epic in it’s own right, perfectly accentuating the tension of a scene and toning things down when the stuff on screen needs to be in the forefront. From a technical standpoint, Godzilla gets top marks across the board.
It’s not a perfect film, obviously, but it does the monster justice. It’s a serious film, that manages to work despite the ridiculous element thrown in there. It has a big payoff in the end that will leave everyone smiling, cheering, and hungry for more. Godzilla is the King, and Hollywood has finally figured it out. It's going to be interesting to see how the rest of the Summer stacks up.