Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla

There are times when Hollywood gets something right, and this was one of those times.

Last week, my wife and I went out with a friend and watched a late showing of the latest installment of the Godzilla franchise. This one, america's second try at the fifty year old story, was a worthy reboot of concept first brought to screens in 1954. The metaphors of the original, namely the idea of the iconic character being the living personification of a nuclear explosion, are somewhat dated today, with only the last few survivors of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki still alive. In the current release, Godzilla is described as an "apex predator" who predates the earliest dinosaurs and lived in a time of much higher natural radiation. The old staples of radioactivity, invulnerability, and titanic size are alive and well, but brought up to speed with newer takes on the concepts and a little more science.

I need to say here that one of the things that makes the this film so good is that is remains true to its source material. Gojira: King of the Monsters (original Japanese release title) ultimately portrayed the main character as a force of nature that man and his best weapons were helpless to even slow down. The movie  wrestles with the consequences of scientific innovation and breakthroughs, as well as the idea that man was now truly beginning to wrestle with forces larger than himself.

The current production takes the best parts of the original, including some central elements of eastern philosophy, and  updates them with some more current themes, such as nuclear power safety, environmentalism, and human arrogance. Also, in accordance with more modern sensibilities, the monsters are given purpose, rather than random destruction, a concept carried through even to the early 2000s with Japanese productions in the Godzilla family.  The story is distinctly not an action movie, with pacing that is almost pitch perfect, a slow build to keep your attention and also tell the important parts of the story. But also, a very close mirror to the pace of the original, where the title character shows up relatively late in the film.

Also of note, the US military sort of breaks with tradition, and rather than line up as red-shirts en-mass to die before the beast's power, we see a very human story told in a very down to earth way. There are no supermen and mad scientists here, just people doing what they have to do to try and outlast a force that is beyond basic comprehension.

The creature design for Godzilla in this film is perhaps the one thing I want to talk about the most. Having grown up on ever improving rubber-suited actors playing the titanic lizard, the sight of the classic Godzilla with truly lifelike motions, a breathing chest, shaking muscles, moving eyes, dilating pupils, and even titching nostrils was like watching a crayon sketch turn into a living dragon. No more will we be asked to suspend disbelief as actors thrash and  smash their way across hundred thousandth dollar scale models, or oddly barren sets of remote tropical islands. The monsters in this film are as lifelike and animated as we would ever dare want them to be.

I'll be the first to say, this is not a film for everyone. Even at it's best, the concepts alone don't appeal to a universal audience. But, I will say that for the young, there is a strong visual appeal. For the historical, the tributes and comments on society, man and history are there, some overt, others not so much so. And for the true intellectuals out there, the ones who over-think things too often for too long, there is something there for you too, if you want to look for it.

This long time Gojira/Godzilla fan is calling the current version an unquestioned 7/10