Japanese Title: ゴジラ
Languages: English, Japanese
Genres: Action, Science Fiction
Director: Gareth Edwards
In Japan, the Janjira Nuclear Plant starts experiencing seismic activity. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a supervisor at the plant, sends his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and a small team to assess the damage. However, the seismic activity increases, leading to an explosion and radiation leak, which kills everyone on the team. The entire plant collapses, forcing those who can to evacuate. On the TV news, the accident is written up as an earthquake, with no one knowing the real cause of the disaster.
That is, until fifteen years later. Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) gets a call from the US embassy in Japan, which tells him that his father Joe has been arrested for trespassing. This forces Ford to momentarily leave his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olson, and son, Sam (Carson Bolde), and go to Japan.
In Japan, Joe reveals to his son that he has been researching everything that could be possibly related to the incident fifteen years ago. Ford, initially reluctant to listen to his father’s frantic rambles, accompanies him to ground zero. There, they discover the existence of Project Monarch and its leader, Dr. Serizawa (Watanabe Ken), the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), and a destructive force of nature known as “Godzilla”.
2014’s Godzilla is the second time Hollywood has tried to adapt the iconic King of the Monsters for Western audiences. The first time was the 1998 film disaster of the same name. But before we dive into talking about this second attempt, let’s have a little history lesson of the American films in relation to the Japanese ones.
1998’s Godzilla came out during a planned 10-year long hiatus by Toho, the big G’s parent company. The hiatus was planned in an effort to renew interest in the franchise, so that a new generation of fans could be born. This was done once before; the franchise went on hiatus after 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla until 1984’s The Return of Godzilla (aka Godzilla 1985).
However, the 1998 Roland Emmerich interpretation of the monster was so poorly received that Toho decided that Godzilla couldn’t sleep on such a bad note, and cancelled the hiatus (which started after 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah). Toho came back with a vengeance with the release of 1999’s Godzilla 2000 – a sort of apology to disappointed fans. Since then, different movies of the Japanese series have taken stabs at the “American Godzilla”, concluded with a short (and effortless) confrontation between the two in Godzilla Final Wars.
After 2004’s Godzilla Final Wars, the big G started his second decade-long hiatus. And guess what? Fast forward ten years later, and it’s 2014. Coincidence? I think not.
Now that our history lesson is over, let’s talk about Gareth Edwards’ contemporary take on the classic monster.
2014’s Godzilla marks the return of Godzilla’s classic look and roar, with a few noticeable changes. The biggest change is that he is 100 meters tall – the largest incarnation yet. Secondly, to the dismay of some fans, he comes back packing a whole lot more body mass. Despite the changes, the design still proves to be 100% faithful to the original. After all, every film’s Godzilla features a slightly altered design, so these kinds of changes are all fair game. We’ve seen designs that make Godzilla fat (Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack), and some that make him look like a frog (Godzilla vs. Hedorah).
The film introduces new, original monsters in the form of the MUTOs, which are another great addition to the Godzilla family. Though looking like remixes of the Cloverfield monster, they had enough attitude to be worthy for admittance. One can’t help but wonder if they will be given official names by Toho, as “American Godzilla” eventually did (Zilla, because it wasn’t worthy enough to be a “god”).
What this film does that no other one does is successfully make Godzilla actually feel like a giant from the audience’s perspective. While the classic suitmation method is the bread and butter with Godzilla and the daikaiju genre of tokusatsu, the rubber suits don’t make the audience feel like there’s a horrific titan towering over us. Through clever camerawork and top-notch CG, this Godzilla really feels enormous!
To top it off, when the film eventually does reveal the big G in all his glory, one can’t help but cheer. It’s certainly the best reveal the King has ever gotten in any of his films.
Daikaiju films are all about the clash of titans. The fights in Godzilla will quench the thirst of fans craving that kind of action. Granted, they move at a much slower pace than their suitmation counterparts, but it’s definitely much more realistic (if 100 meter tall monsters are at all).
As awesome as the action was, the film could have used more of it. Instead, the story focused a lot more on the humans involved than a typical Godzilla film would. Longtime fans of the Japanese series might find themselves in a confusing spot, as they might be used to devoting most, if not all, their sympathy and emotion to Godzilla himself, rather than the humans involved.
The attempt felt haphazard, as the best actors in the film, Watanabe and Cranston, didn’t have as much screen time or involvement in the story as the eventual central character, Taylor-Johnson. Even Olsen felt like a throwaway character; she also had little screen time and didn’t really do anything to help advance the plot. She’s the result of an attempt to build some sort of sympathy and connection for Taylor-Johnson, as the story wants the audience to cheer for his survival so that he may come home to his wife and kid.
But all in all, the relationship between the humans and Godzilla was loyal to the Toho films. The humans did the footwork, while Godzilla did the heavy lifting.
Personally, I only had two gripes with the film. One was, as mentioned before, the film could have used a lot more monster-on-monster action. The second was that I was really hoping for an anti-hero incarnation of the big G, similar to his depiction in many of his Heisei and Millenium era films. However, that second gripe is just a personal preference. The film’s depiction of him as a (heroic) force of nature is straight from the Toho series, so I shouldn’t complain too much.
There is one last thing that I was really appreciative about. When the film starts to play the scenes that we originally saw in the teaser trailers, it’s really easy to notice the changes that were added to them. It gives the audience a nice surprise, and shows that they were really careful with what they wanted us to see, and when. Hell, it’s even easy to forget that they did not once show Godzilla and his atomic breath at all in the trailers.
Above all, the film will make longtime fans shed tears of happiness. It’s like saying “Hello” to a friend you haven’t seen in a long time.
That all being said, it’s only a few more years until the sequel, and the scheduled crossover with King Kong!
Watch this film…
…if you want to see the King in all his glory. Plus, if you want to see a Hollywood adaptation done right.