Sunday, May 18, 2014

Godzilla : The Kaiju We Deserve

Godzilla - Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
“Let them fight!” 

6 0 years ago in 1954 Japanese director Ishiro Honda and Toho production company introduced audiences to a monster film called “Gojira.”  In 1956 the United States got their first glimpse of the creature we call “Godzilla.”  The franchise spawned numerous other giant creatures and to the cheesy delight of kids of the 1960’s and 70’s we had our version of “Lucha Libre” or the fake wrestling adults now call "WWE".  Those days are back with some updating of time, place, and origin. We have a new monster that is taking names and kicking ass.  Although the film boasts names like Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad Breaking Bad”), Juliette Binoche (“The English Patient”), and Ken Watanabe (“Inception,” “The Last Samurai”), make no mistake, the true star of this film is the legendary, prehistoric, radioactive behemoth: Godzilla.  “Kick Ass” actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the only Olsen sister who can act; Elizabeth (“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” and “Silent House”) are along for the ride to give the film a point of view.  “Godzilla” is PG-13, and runs a fast 2 hours.

Sci-Fi fan and director Gareth Edwards, starts the story in 1999, setting up the story that will eventually culminate in present times.  Nuclear Physicists Joe (Cranston) and Sandra (Binoche) Brody find themselves in midst of an emerging crisis at the nuclear plant in Janjira Japan.  Never mind that it is Joe’s birthday, and their young son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) is excited to celebrate his dad’s birthday.  Unbeknownst to the Brody family, today is not going to be a good day.

Horrible things happen, reminiscent of “The China Syndrome” at the plant, and thoughts of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster come to mind.  As tremors increase, like birthing contractions and the Brody’s arrive at the plant, at a mining facility miles away in the Philippines, a cave-in in a quarry unearths a prehistoric graveyard.  Scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) arrive to find to giant “Alien” like pods, and one has hatched.  The tremors felt in Janjira are related.  Arriving at the plant the Brodys split up, Joe sends Sandra to check seismic monitors, while he goes up to control central and manages things from above.  The tremors increase and it is obvious that whatever creature hatched and is attacking the nuclear plant.  The lower sections are breached and Sandra and her team race back before the blast doors close.  Joe, takes it upon himself to wait for his wife, and manually close the doors once they are safe. This doesn’t happen and Joe rolls the hard six and shuts the door moments before the nuclear fog reaches the exit.  His wife arrives a moment later, behind the door filled with radiation, just to say good-bye.

Edwards knows that the star of the film is the creature and people play only a secondary part, however, he wants this family to be his point of view, his lens through which we see the destruction that follows.  15 years later, Ford is now a husband, a father, a Navy lieutenant, and a bomb disposal expert.  It is through his eyes that we see the obsession that the death of his mother has driven his dad to.  The once loving father is now a paranoid, conspiracy theorists who believes that there was more to the Janjira incident than the government is letting in on. Joe was arrested for trespassing in Japan and now Ford must go and get his father out of jail.  As a foreshadowing of events to come and a cue to the veteran movie goer, Ford’s wife, Elle says, while saying her goodbyes to her husband, "You know you're only going to be away for a few days… it's not the end of the world,"

Godzilla - Ken Watanabe - Sally Hawkins  | A Constantly Racing Mind
Based on a story by Dave Callaham (“Doom,” “Expendables”) and a screenplay by Edwards’s collaborator Max Borenstein, The Godzilla they present is the Gojira that evolved over the years to become the defender of human kind.  In the late 50’s and early 60’s Godzilla took on radioactive mutated giant, pterodactyls (Rodan), flying turtles (Gamera), and the infamous Mothra.  As it turns out, Joe Brody was right, there was a conspiracy, and after he and Ford return to Janjira, to collect some ancient disks and a picture of his wife, they are captured by Serizawa and Graham’s team who for the last 15 years been monitoring the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (MUTO)  situation.  It also turns out that a deep sea expedition in 1954 (The year the original “Gojira” movie debuted) awakened the larger creature, that Serizawa calls Godzilla, and Graham says, "a God for all intents and purposes."  Edwards pay homage to the original was the name of Ken Watanabe’s character.  In the original, the hero scientist’s name was Dr. Daisuke Serizawa. 

Remember, the two most important elements in any modern day film are sex and violence, and “Godzilla” has both.  With both a male and female MUTOs in search of each other it is love at first sight. Like salmon they have the need to fulfill the basic urge to reproduce, humankind is in trouble.  But wait, Godzilla to the rescue.  Never mind the destruction to the cities of Honolulu, Vegas, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge, Tokyo had its turn 60 years ago.  We seem to forgive our superhero’s collateral damage to cities and people. 

Godzilla - MUTO  | A Constantly Racing Mind

As the story and the destruction evolve, we see the same military nonsense that was in the Japanese originals. That of man’s arrogance to subdue and have dominion over all creatures of the Earth.  David Strathairn ("The Bourne Legacy") plays Admiral William Stenz, who pretty much stands around in the safety of his CIC on the carrier USS Saratoga, pretty much as he did in the war room during the two Jason Bourne films we was in.  As a tactician he leaves much to be desired.  But that was always the nature of the Japanese films.  Nature over technology.  For instance, in the evacuation of San Francisco to the other side of the bay, a school bus with a bunch of kids, Ford and Elle's included gets trapped by the military taking up defencive positions against the MUTOs on the bridge itself. In doing so, they are trapping hundreds of people stuck on the same bridge that is in peril of becoming monster fodder. Need I say more. Watanabe, plays the cautionary scientific advisor, who the military, of course, ignores all of his advice is ignored. 

Aaron Taylor-Johnson fulfills his cardboard cutout role as he follows the creature around and joining military units as he loses one and finds another.  A minor hero he is, but an action hero he is not.  He watches over a young boy who lost his parents, he jumps out of airplane HALO style, and he makes a crucial decision in the future of the MUTOs (watch the movie to see what I am talking about).  The same can be said about Elizabeth Olsen.  It is not that her performance was bad, or flat, but the character of Elle is one-dimensional. She is Ford's reason to return. Binoche’s role was short and served the only purpose of giving Cranston’s a reason to kick-up his already top-notch performance.

Godzilla - Godzilla | A Constantly Racing Mind

Unlike “Cloverfield,” which I disliked because of a severe lack of visible monsters. And the “found footage” style of film, photography that got in the way of the narrative.  Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, working with a team of visual effects companies, including WETA digital, does a great job of catching the emotions and the pandemonium.  As in Spielberg's  “Jaws.” Edwards, waits about an hour before revealing his main character.  All the time the MUTOs play havoc on Pacific Rim cities. We can clearly see the winged male creature flying around, while the larger female stomps on humans and buildings without care.  When Godzilla does make an appearance, he is larger, more radiation scars, and just more fun.  The battle scenes reminding me of a tag team wrestling match and the outcome is always in question. The CGI was far better than I expected and Alexandre Desplat's score left me with chills, while Erik Aadahl’s sound design left the hairs on the back of my neck standing.

Godzilla -  Aaron Taylor-Johnson - Elizabeth Olsen | A Constantly Racing Mind
This is a US – Japanese production. Warner Bros and Legendary pictures produced this epic film and in my mind bring back the nostalgia of monster from my childhood, yet this is a new and improved version. I saw “Godzilla” in 2D, as I am not a fan of the 3D format.  However, if you are not adverse to 3D, do yourself a favor and go see it in that format. I liked the story, the effects, the score, and the monsters.  Godzilla is the star of this show for sure but the school bus driver has my vote as the film’s hero.

Movie Data
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-F
Year:  2014
Staring: Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen
Director: Gareth Edwards
Producer(s): Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull
Writer: Max Borenstein, Dave Callaham
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Date:  5/16/2014

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