Saturday, May 17, 2014

Godzilla review

The summer movie season prides itself on being big. Each summer, the major studios bring us new films that feature bigger disasters, bigger monsters and more destruction than ever seen before. However, since Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon exploded onto screens in 2011, it seems like the studios have started to try even harder to top each other. At this point, it feels like a giant contest in Hollywood to see who can create the most CGI destruction in their movies. This year, Warner Bros. starts off the season of mass chaos with our first big summer disaster flick: Godzilla. While a new Godzilla movie in 2014 might sound like a risky and ridiculous proposition, the marketing has made this new film look phenomenal. Ever since Warner Bros. premiered a teaser in December, excitement for this new film has been off the charts and fans have been trying to get every little bit of info that they could. In the end, Godzilla is a very good, almost great disaster film that is held back by some problems in the third act. Gareth Edwards comes close, but ultimately this film just gets a little too messy.

Godzilla is a reboot of the beloved Toho monster property and it really does start from scratch with brand new characters and a darker tone. After a Jurassic Park-esque opening scene that introduces us to Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), we head to a Japanese nuclear power plant, where Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) work. After a "natural disaster", Sandra is killed and Joe is left to deal with the aftermath. 

Fifteen years later, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the son of Sandra and Joe, is returning from military service when he receives a call from the Japanese police who tell him that his father has been arrested for trespassing on private property. Ford leaves his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) for Japan and bails his father out when he gets there. However, Joe sucks Ford into his world of conspiracy theories about what really could have caused his wife's death and they end up discovering something that could destroy our world completely. 

Godzilla was definitely one of my most anticipated movies of the year. The trailers for this movie were fantastic and the tone and scale looked breathtaking. The reviews started pouring in earlier this week and I became even more encouraged. Going into Godzilla, I was immensely excited and to say that it didn't quite live up to my sky-high expectations disappoints me a bit. I still really enjoyed the film, but something just didn't click at certain times, which is very interesting considering how well this film is set up. What's even more interesting is that the things I disliked about the movie were not the same as the majority of the critics out there. 

Many people have expressed their disdain for the characters in this movie. Although a lot of the characters are pretty typical of this kind of movie, I really didn't have a problem with any of them. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is pretty good in his role. I've never really liked him in anything before, but he shows some promise here. Bryan Cranston is also good and delivers a solid performance in a short amount of time. Ken Watanabe and David Strathairn are almost too serious for this movie at times and Watanabe's dead serious performance was a slight annoyance at times (he does get to say "Godzilla" with a Japanese accent though, which is cool). The females in the cast (Olsen, Hawkins, Binoche) are limited to about five minutes of screentime each and none of them have much to do. 

Summer blockbusters can often be made by "directors for hire"- filmmakers just looking for a job who will do whatever the studio tells them to do. And although there is definitely some studio influence towards the end of this movie, it's clear that Gareth Edwards wanted to direct this film and was going to do his best to put a personal flair onto it. His direction in this movie is phenomenal and even though this movie disappoints in some aspects, it proves that Edwards is a talent to watch. 

Edwards paces this film so well for pretty much the first hour and a half of this movie. From the Jurassic Park homage that kicks things off to the exciting sequence in Hawaii, Edwards builds suspense and does it well. His reveal of Godzilla is immensely exciting and the Spielberg-like build-up is great. The cinematography of this movie is great and the way that the first section of the film sets up the rest of the movie is a feat of filmmaking.  It's just too bad the monster fights couldn't have been a little bit better. 

As hinted at, my main problem with the movie lies in the third act. We've been building up to the Godzilla monster fights for an hour and a half and I want them to blow me away. I want epic destruction, I want Alexander Desplat's awesome score pounding through the massive speakers in my theater and I want to be amazed. Sadly, I wasn't amazed. The action lasts for about twenty minutes and it ends up focusing a little too much on Brody. 

By the time the action is set to begin, the city of San Francisco is a mess with black and red smoke throughout the city. The stage is set for one of the greatest action climaxes in movie history. Gareth Edwards has set up the final battle splendidly and he can put the final nail in the coffin and make Godzilla one of the best blockbusters in recent years with one final epic battle. Instead, he gives us ten minutes of on-and-off fighting between Godzilla and two MUTOs with a couple of epic shots that left me wanting more. I wanted a full on battle. I wanted it all. It pained me to watch the finale fall flat after Edwards had built up the suspense so well. The battle just felt too short and the pacing was off by a mile. It just felt like the producers said "Needs more destruction!" and they just forgot to make it exciting. I liked what Edwards put on the screen, but it just didn't feel like it fit. Something was off. 

Look, Godzilla is flawed before the monster action begins. The script is a bit wooden, the serious tone is a bit off-putting and the characters are not all that interesting. However, I would have most certainly forgotten all about that if the film had a stunning conclusion. And there are stunning parts. A couple of the shots that show Godzilla fighting the MUTOs are great and there were a couple of "Wow" moments. There was even a scene towards the end that made me clap. It was just not enough. I was expecting more. 

In the end, I wanted a disaster movie masterpiece and I got a mash-up of Jurassic Park, Jaws, Pacific Rim and World War Z. It's still a very, very good film and even though I have spent a large chunk of this review expressing my disappointment in some aspects of this movie, I still believe that it's an interesting summer blockbuster and one that you should definitely check out. I loved Edwards' treatment of Godzilla and I loved the way that he created suspense for the arrival of Godzilla. I just wish that the ending had been a little bit better. Edwards is clearly a director to watch and I hope that he can make an even better Godzilla movie in the near future. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                                             (7.4/10)  

               

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