The idea of another American attempt at tackling a Godzilla film was met with understandable skepticism and trepidation when director Gareth Edwards first announced he would be sitting in the director's chair for this latest take on Toho's infamous King of the Monsters.
After all, the wretched memory of Roland Emmerich's abortive 1998 attempt at the franchise still stings and leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of all fans who grew up watching this giant, nuclear powered lizard destroy cities and battle with an assorted array of kaiju crazies throughout his illustrious "career." Teaser posters and trailers piqued the interest of many fans, however, giving birth to the hope that, just maybe, Edwards would make good on The Big Green Guy and deliver a film which could stand proudly alongside Godzilla's legendary heritage.
Well, there's good news to report, the first bit being that there's no Matthew Broderick or Puff Daddy in sight here with Godzilla 2014. Additionally, the visual design here is stunning, with Godzilla himself finally appearing with the burly might he so rightly deserves, as opposed to the ineffective "raptor-esque" design which polluted Emmerich's 1998 cinematic mistake. Indeed, this King of the Monsters is big, bad and in total control of his surroundings-despite taking his sweet time finally appearing on the screen. bringing the audience to the very edge of annoyance without quite sending them over-making an entrance which can only be properly described as...celebratory.
Yes, there's much to celebrate here with Godzilla, for Edwards and his crew have taken great care in respecting the source material, while still taking enough creative liberties with their origin story to make this giant monster outing both contemporary and classic. Just as many of the classic Toho Godzilla films focused much of their story upon the human protagonists down on the ground, so too does Max Borenstein's screenplay focus its energies upon the Brody family-father Joe (Bryan Cranston) son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Ford's wife Elle (Elizabeth Olson)-and their own connection to the giant monsters threatening Earth.
Oh, did we mention that there are other monsters involved? The M.U.T.O.-a pair of giant insects with an appearance similar to a mantis-are wreaking havoc with their ravenous hunger for nuclear energy, destroying anything and anyone who gets between the pair and their ultimate goal of reproduction. It's the M.U.T.O. who provide most of the monster mashing during the first half of the film, while Borenstein and Edwards attempt to explain the Brody's back story and establish their character.
It's here where the film stumbles a bit, as the human protagonists fail to leave any real lasting impression, other than the excellent Ken Watanabe as Doctor Serizawa, the sole dissenting voice against a military plan for utilizing a nuclear bomb against the monsters. Elizabeth Olson struggles against her cliche and poorly written character, and her relationship with Taylor-Johnson is never defined or passionate enough for the audience to believe or care in their plight. Cranston is as reliable as ever, but even his performance isn't enough to lift up the human side of this Godzilla tale as a challenge to the more memorable and composed human characters of the Toho films.
To be honest, however, is human interaction the real reason why fans line up to watch a Godzilla movie? Of course not, we want our monster action and we want it to be big, bold and gratuitously over the top. In this respect, Godzilla delivers as Edwards embraces every defining characteristic of The Big Man-atomic breath, tail swipes and that iconic, deafening battle roar-while making enough subtle twists and changes to make this Godzilla stand out from both the classic Toho design, as well as the various tweaks applied to Godzilla during the millennium era from 1999 to 2004. The film's gorgeous cinematography doesn't hurt either, with some interestingly framed, exciting shots receiving an extra boost from Alexandre Desplat's booming, brassy score.
This film's success really hits home during the climactic final battle between Godzilla and The M.U.T.O.'s. The sequence gives fans nearly everything they could possibly desire from a Godzilla fight and more, while also showcasing some devastating new battle tactics for the fearsome, indestructible Godzilla. Fans-yours truly included-were shouting and cheering during these scenes, and there was this sense of communal, shared joy in the theater which hadn't been felt by this writer in years, facilitating pleasantly warm and fuzzy flashbacks to the Creature Double Feature of yesteryear.
This feeling of fun was exhilarating and contagious; the sort of feeling one expects when viewing a film such as Godzilla. Call it nostalgia, call it a reboot if you must, but just go see Godzilla in person and take a trip back in time to when that fun was all one really needed to enjoy a classic, old school monster movie.