Godzilla (2014)
Alexander Smith
May 22, 2014
Note: review may contain spoilers

 I have waited 10 years for this movie, and on Friday, May 16th, I finally saw this movie on opening day with a very excited audience. The big guy was finally back in theaters, and he looks great. If I had to compare this to any kaiju movie, I'd compare it to all three of the Gamera trilogy of the 1990s, especially Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999). The focus is more on the human plot and the monsters seem to be driven by that as well.

Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) leads an interesting life. Having moved to Japan some years ago, he works at the Janjira, Kanto region power plant. On his birthday he goes there to investigate mysterious tremors with a moving epicenter. He drops his son Ford off at the bus stop and heads with his wife Sandra to look into this. The alleged tremor causes a conflagration that leads toa massive reactor meltdown that takes his wife's life. This sends him into a spiral of seeming paranoia over what happened as he sets out to investigate the true cause of the tremor. 15 years later, his son Ford is now a grown military man who dismantles bombs for a living. He is summoned to Japan to bail his father out of prison. Joe has reached a breakthrough in the investigation- and was arrested trying to discover evidence from the site of the Janjira incident. His son thinks he is crazy, but goes along with him after bailing him out back to the site of the tragedy 15 minutes ago, where he is again arrested and separated from his son. The authorities interrogate him, and he accuses them of covering things up. Doctor Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) was there too, so he cannot help but sympathize with Mr. Brody's plight. However, before any tears can be shed, another tremor occurs, the power is knocked out, and the fearsome prehistoric “Muto" (codenamed such by the military) is released from his prison. He further destroys the plant and kills Joe in the process. Muto begins to rampage towards Honolulu. Godzilla appears as it begins to smash things up, and the military wants to destroy them both. However, Ishiro Serizawa knows Godzilla's biggest secret. He is the natural enemy of the Mutos dating back to prehistoric times, and he may be the key to saving humankind. He urges the military to let them fight.

This movie is a very human-focused adaptation. However, unlike Transformers and other Hollywood movies that attempt this, the drama seems to always integrate into the story. Granted it takes time away from the kaiju, but in my opinion some of the better films in the Godzilla series saw focus on the human plot and only brought in the kaiju at the end as an extremely sweet cherry on top of the sundae. Too much focus on the monsters would probably drive most audiences away and leave the only people enjoying the movie to be hardcore fans of the franchise. So the human-focused adaptation approach and somewhat oddly integrated pace raise the movie up in my opinion.

The acting is frankly what brings the movie down. Bryan Cranston is great, but his character is too soon killed. He seems to play characters with rather Shakespearian tragedy attached to them often. In this case he is killed soon after finding a keepsake of his family. His acting is very convincing, especially in scenes where he mulls over his wife's death. He clearly takes the same school of acting as Tatsuya Nakadai, where he expresses all kinds of things thru his facial expressions, especially his eyes. The other bright spot actingwise is Ken Watanabe as Ishiro Serizawa who clearly knows what he's doing here. His acting shows a sense of gravitas akin to the older Toho actors who played authority figures such as Keiju Kobayashi and Hiroshi Koizumi. As he ponders about the situation, his face and tone seem to express his character has a lot of inner knowledge, as well as his frustration with the military for refusing to listen to his suggestion at first. The two factors that bring it down from a 5 are Elizabeth Olson and Aaron Taylor Johnson as Elle Brody and Ford Brody respectively. These two strike me as bland and I cannot get into their characters as much as the two aforementioned. The two, especially Aaron Taylor Johnson, seem to employ what Mystery Science Theater 3000 called “Dull Surprise” a lot, in which a character reacts to what should be shocking events with just a rather glum expression. I also cannot see much chemistry between the two romantically and the latter actor especially doesn't seem as concerned as he should be with his family's safety. A mixed bag here.

Special effects here are fantastic. It is a relief to finally see classic Godzilla on the big screen in all his glory, and he looks great, like the Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) Goji meets the Millenium Godzilla.  A quick aside on his portrayal. The trailers and internal PR made it out that Godzilla will be like in his 1954 appearance where he is a killer of humankind, and in the actual film his portrayal his much more in line with the Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) through Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) portrayal where he is largely ambivalent towards humanity and protects them from larger threats reluctantly. That said, the effects here are wonderful, with Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings and 2005 King Kong fame providing the movements of Godzilla via motion capture. This film also sees Godzilla using his famed nuclear ray breath, and it looks fluid and naturally luminescent. The fight scenes between Godzilla and his natural foe are quick and animalistic. Speaking of Muto, he is yet another beautifully realized creature, looking  like Clovie meets the Alien Queen, and has lovely detail, with pulsating illuminated organs. The cityscapes are beautiful too, and after they have been destroyed, eerily reminiscent of the destruction in wake of a real disaster. We have a winner here!

Alexandre Desplat's score is also a winner, seemingly taking cues from Ifukube in the main theme of the movie, which, hearing this transposed with the wonderfully made opening credits, managed to give me chills. I knew from the start that this would be a movie to count with the classic Toho Godzilla movies just from that blaring theme. The rest of the music is also wonderful, as well as atmospheric for a monster mash, with an emphasis on blaring, sudden horns and a driving string rhythm. Extremely fitting for a movie of this weight.

Overall, I felt this could have been the perfect American Godzilla if not for the rather dull main lead, which led me to take off a point and a half. Still, I will definitely pick this up upon release to home video formats, and it ranks up there as the best Godzilla movie since Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack (2001) for me. Bring on the sequel!