In 1994, a four issue mini-series called “Marvels” was published by Marvel Comics. Written by Kurt Busiek and with art by Alex Ross, the comic series looked at the Marvel Universe from a different lens; the average person’s. “Marvels” was about photographer Phil Sheldon, a common man living in the dawn of mutants, men who could become living flame and women able to turn invisible. The awe of existing in the same world as the unbelievable has rarely been as potent.
The latest American stab at cinema’s most beloved monster Godzilla mirrors “Marvels.” Directed by Gareth Edwards, Godzilla aims to the view the skyscraper sized fella and the insanity that ensues upon his arrival with the wonder and terror it would bring to you and me. The movie calls to mind an array of Spielberg pictures, though never feeling like a mere copy. Shades of War of the Worlds and Jaws can be found in the terror, as the tone of Jurassic Park permeates the narrative tone.
Godzilla features a ridiculously good cast, featuring Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn and more, even if it largely centers on the ho-hum Aaron Taylor-Johnson. After a stirring opening credits that hints at mankind’s past meetings with the behemoth, we begin to skip around in time as gigantic skeletons are discovered and earthquake-like vibrations flare up. There are decades of cover-ups for the titular beast, often rooted in horrifying deaths and the blending of real-world history into the pot. Along the way, the script introduces us to scientists, soldiers, nurses and the equivalent of a Godzilla historian/fanboy. The movie naturally moves from one story to the next, never seeming convoluted or jagged. It’s largely two threads, that of one soldier’s (Taylor-Johnson) attempt to get home and help stop the chaos if possible, in addition to a military crew’s strive to understand – and also stop – said chaos.
Edwards first movie Monsters is a perfect predictor of his Godzilla, as it focuses on the struggle of surviving a land containing massive, uncaring inhabitants. What Monsters did especially well there, and Edwards does again here, is presenting the shear scale of it all. The epic spectacle on display here is something to behold, as trains slide off the rails and narrowly miss our heroes, knocked off their tracks like children’s toys. Edwards set his camera wide to encompass the size of the happenings, with the humans appearing as gnats in comparison to Mr. Lizard, before dropping us next to those same scenarios to get a bird’s -eye view. As Japan, Honolulu and San Francisco receive their beatings, there’s a sense of wonder which has rarely been achieved since Jurassic Park.
However, despite the familiar tenor and scientific mumbo-jumbo thrown around ala Spielberg’s terrific tale, Godzilla doesn’t match in a few senses. For one, the characters are almost uniformly one-note archetypes. Jurassic Park had an array of memorable guys and gals running amidst its gargantuan neighbors. We start off in that vein, introduced to the oddball married pairing of Cranston and Binoche. Their connection creates a fantastic, tense opening rooted in an interest in each one’s survival. This footing is soon lost as a trove of men and women appear, each lacking much in the way of a personality or distinguishing attribute besides their job title. As such, the set-pieces occasionally becomes immaculately crafted images that are on repeat. Yes, Edwards and his crew craft one wow shot after another; several of them can be lost without the film losing any of its vigor.
Still, there’s no denying the final act, with Alexandre Desplat’s affecting score heightening the mood and all of the relevant players on hand, his or hers outcome very much in question. There aren't well versed metaphors akin to the 1954 original. There is enormity though that turns Godzilla into a suitable popcorn flick, even if it’s one that misses the mark of being wholly satisfying.
Godzilla opens wide all across Seattle Friday.