Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Return of the King

  16 years... No, not the time the Beach House has been on hiatus (though it certainly feels that way), but rather how long it has been since the last time Godzilla was given a Hollywood treatment. The 1998 Roland Emmerich title was a bust and considered by most Godzilla fans (and even non fans) as a pretty horrible movie. So for this long, Godzilla has been gestating, waiting for the right time to appear in American cinema, and to leave his mark as he has done with the countless (and I mean countless) appearances in Japanese cinema. This, is Gareth Edwards' vision of Godzilla!

"Guys, hold up, I seriously can't find my contacts!"

Spoilers Warning! The film starts 15 years in the past with Joe Brody (played to perfection by Bryan "Heisenberg" Cranston) during his birthday, which also happens to be the same day there's a huge accident in the Japanese plant he works at; which leaves him a widow (not even 5 minutes in and I'm already a nervous wreck?!) and as a single parent to a young Ford Brody (played by future Avengers 2 star Aaron Taylor-Johnson); all while utterly convinced that the accident that took his wife was the cause of something far more sinister than a "natural disaster." The movie springs forward and we learn that Ford has become a lieutenant in the military and is coming home to San Francisco from a deployment to see his family (his wife played by future Avengers 2 sister Elizabeth Olsen), which rapidly becomes a trip to Japan to bail out his father, who apparently has spent the better part of the past 15 years attempting to uncover the truth of the incident that took his wife's life. While there, Ford realizes his father is on to something and decides to help him dig deeper into the mystery surrounding his mother's death.

"Son, we have to cook."
A quick trip to the old site unravels a chain of events that culminate in the meeting of the film's first M.U.T.O. monster (Massively Unidentified Target Organism) who rampages out of Japan and flies (!!) off East. A quick exposition by Dr Ichiro Serizawa (played by Ken Watanabe) reveals that Godzilla is part of the world ecosystem and hunting the M.U.T.O., while on a collision course to yet ANOTHER M.U.T.O. for mating (!!) in San Francisco. The U.S. military decides it's best to nuke the creatures out to Kingdom Come, but Dr. Serizawa reminds them of the horrors of Hiroshima and declares that nature will take care of itself, uttering the movie's tag line "Let them Fight."

"Pear Harbor, bitches."
  There's a lot that works in 2014's Godzilla, and I mean a lot. There's little nuances that don't - like the military's obsession with nuking everything (which sadly is a realistic sentiment) and some of the human characters lack chemistry or logic (looking at you, Brody family) and some continuity issues stemming from wonky editing: there's a scene where Brody's wife Elle leaves her son with a co-worker to leave in a bus that will take them to safety, and not even 2 minutes later the child is seen in a school bus full of OTHER CHILDREN, where the hell is his caretaker?! Doesn't help that Godzilla is getting a dose of naval artillery during that scene, making the glaring omission of the adult that much more obvious.

2014 Mother of the Year

  But then there's the stuff that works, and my God, I haven't felt like a child in a movie since last year's Pacific Rim. When Godzilla finally meets the M.U.T.O.s in battle, it is a glorious monster battle royal that leaves San Francisco utterly demolished. The destruction in this movie makes The Avenger's New York battle look like a small scuffle between children. The reveal of Godzilla takes time; well over an hour of the movie, maybe even more, is full of teases and POV shots of the King of Kaijus about to fight a M.U.T.O. or approaching a location. It's not until the full blown battle in San Francisco when the movie decides to finally show the monsters in all of their primal glory, battling it out in what can only be described as a Nature Chanel on Nuclear Steroids.

"Don't mind the giant lizard savior, guys...?"

  It's painfully obvious that Gareth Edwards is a fan of the source material, Godzilla never is treated as a villain by the movie, but rather as the anti-hero/protector that he has been made in the Japanese films. Unlike the 1998 film, the Godzilla mythos are treated with a reverence and respect; not once during the movie did it feel like the movie wanted to be anything BUT a Godzilla movie that would make fans proud. Godzilla himself is awe inspiring, the design has been called "fat" by some detractors, but the God King has never looked better outside of a rubber suit. And the crowd pleasing "tail attack" and "Fire Breath" (also known as Godzilla Kamehameha) are indeed part of the spectacle, and they did not disappoint.

"Screw you guys, I'm going home!"

  There's destruction, chaos, humanity, family, honor, and pure adrenaline pumping monster fighting in Godzilla. A movie that doesn't try to be anything other than what the franchise has always been: a reflection of humanity's role in the ecosystem after the nuclear holocaust. There's an unnerving sense of dread in Godzilla that the 1998 version (and even prior Japanese films) couldn't/didn't quite project. Godzilla 2014 is the movie that asks the viewer, if these monsters existed, this is how you would react, a sense of realism that inverses us in an otherwise wholly unrealistic movie about giant monsters kicking each others' asses. The King of Kaiju is back, ladies and gentlemen, and he has never looked, sounded, or felt better.


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