Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Film Review - Godzilla



Giant monsters are my thing. I am the daikaiju (Japanese for “giant monster”) equivalent of a comic book nerd or Trekkie. I own every single one of the original Godzilla movies (all 28 by Toho Studios) plus countless other giant monster movies stretching from King Kong and Ray Harryhausen pictures to Cloverfield, Pacific Rim, and Mega Shark. My movie monster credentials could be laid out ad nauseam but it is sufficient to say that almost anything with a gargantuan creature in it is my bread and butter.  
This blatant fanboy bias makes approaching a film like the new Godzilla movie with some measure of objectivity a difficult task. However, I have come to appreciate this familiarity as a double-edged sword: yes, I am very likely to personally love anything with Godzilla on the title, but at the same time I have an extensive repertoire of similar titles to fairly evaluate it against.
So what’s the final verdict? As an adamant Godzilla fan I love the new film and it’s safe to say that it is made to be enjoyable for those who may never have actually sat through one of the entire Japanese romp-fests before. Like the recent Star Trek and Marvel Comic films, Godzilla tows that careful line of appealing to a mainstream audience while simultaneously seeking to appease longtime fans of the franchise.
The biggest key to Godzilla’s success is the vision of rookie director Gareth Edwards. Edwards was a virtual unknown before this project, whose sole feature film credit was Monsters, a documentary style take on the monster genre made on a micro budget. His appointment to a mega franchise like Godzilla raised eyebrows (including his own according to most interviews) but the young-gun proves more than capable of handling the colossal undertaking and in doing so has rocketed himself to the top of the up-and-coming list in Hollywood.
Edwards chose to channel his inner Steven Spielberg instead of Michael Bay and that creative mentality alone makes all the difference between this film and 1998’s tragic Godzilla by Roland Emmerich. Instead of laying on non-stop spectacle and eye candy with monster rampages and creature fights the entire time, Edwards boils the pace to a crescendo. Relentless teasing of the titular beast builds to an explosive, unforgettable climax featuring not just Godzilla stomping through the city but a monster battle to go down in the books with the best of them.
Unfortunately you can’t please all the people all the time and this Spielbergian approach is exactly what has drawn the most criticism from some of the more impatient moviegoers. Complaints about the film’s pacing, focus on the human characters, and relative lack of monster madness seem rooted in the ADD filmmaking styles of films like the Transformers series. Audiences, especially young ones, have grown accustomed to constant action packed, visual effect extravaganzas in their summer movies and for some of that crowd the suspense driven approach of Godzilla is snooze-worthy. To the more seasoned cinephile saying there isn’t enough Godzilla in Godzilla is like saying there isn’t enough Jaws in Jaws. It’s an irrelevant, childish criticism that in all reality doesn’t reflect on the quality of the movie in any meaningful way.
Godzilla’s return to the big-screen has been planned for many years and given the big guy’s early influence on many of Hollywood’s greatest it is no surprise that the crew on-board for this film was truly an All Star team. Everything from the CGI, to the cinematography and soundtrack, to the acting, is top-notch and on or above the same level as any comparatively budgeted blockbuster. The care, craftsmanship, and respect that went in to creating this movie is evident through the entire two hour running time. If nothing else, Godzilla is a true tour de force of creative technical mastery.
The script does have a few pacing problems and the acting is at times uneven. Honestly though, no one expects Academy material out of a film called Godzilla. Audiences know what to expect from movies about impossible prehistoric monsters stomping around cities and the occasional bump in the script or shaky performance isn’t going to make or break the film for viewers just looking for a big-budget spectacle to get the summer movie season going. This particular film might require that crowd to be a little more patient than usual and may not have the amount of seizure-inducing, drool worthy carnage that they expect but it should nonetheless scratch that target itch while instilling a renewed sense of majesty and seriousness in to the sixty year old franchise. Godzilla is as good as could be expected and is a suitably epic return for the King of Monsters.
Grade: A-

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk