Film Review: Godzilla

by Chad Liffmann on May 16, 2014

Roaring (and lumbering) back into action!

Godzilla's so vain, he probably thinks this movie's about him.

Godzilla’s so vain, he probably thinks this movie’s about him.

In comparison to 1998’s embarrassing excuse for a blockbuster, Godzilla (directed by Roland Emmerich), most popcorn flicks look Oscar worthy.  What’s refreshing about 2014’s Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters), is that it shows off some remarkably cool modern sequences while embracing the traditional look and feel of the classic Godzilla films and the summer movies of the late 70’s that established the blockbuster sub-genre.  After the overload of monsters and CG destruction we see in movies these days, it’s a relief to know that there’s still room for a film to embrace the origins of both and still surprise us.  Welcome back, Godzilla.

If you’ve seen the classic Godzilla movies, you can probably picture the lizard costumed-actor wreaking havoc over elaborate models of Japanese villages and cities.  Take that same image of an actor lumbering around in a suit, enhance it with incredible CGI to make it seem more like reptilian flesh and bone, and then render some major cities around the world for this reptile to demolish.  That’s the new Godzilla.  Still standing on two legs, still lumbering, and still able to topple skyscrapers.  Except, you won’t see much of this until about two-thirds into the film.  Like the classic blockbuster formula of teasing the threat before a big reveal, as Steven Spielberg perfected in Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Gareth Edwards teases the audience constantly with partial or obstructed views throughout much of the film.  But don’t worry, the payoff is absolutely worth it.

Oh. My. God.  Do you see what we see?

Oh. My. God. Do you see what we see?

And speaking of payoffs, Gareth Edwards was a risky choice for the film studios, Legendary and Warner Bros.  His only feature film prior to this was Monsters, a low budget (under $1 million) sci-fi thriller centered around a journalist escorting a tourist through an “infected zone” of Mexico that serves as a home for the remnants of alien invaders.  The sociopolitical commentary, similar to District 9, was one of the film’s strong points, but it was moreso the efficient handling of a tight story on a tight budget, along with some impressive cinematography and “money shots” that really stood out to those that watched it. Godzilla accomplishes these same impressive feats on a more epic scale, yes, because there was a lot more money to spend.  Even after watching the HALO jump in the teaser trailer, it’s still jaw-dropping in the film.  However, the film is somewhat distracted by its own mixture of styles — from shaky realistic camera work, to polished overly-dramatized framings, to epic surrealist long shots — yet each contains some top notch moments, or as Edwards described them at WonderCon, moments that are just ‘fucking cool’!  With that in mind, who cares if these moments are a bit scattered?

When the first Godzilla movie came out in 1954, it was a direct result of the anxiety and fear stemming from post-WWII nuclear armament.  The giant monster represented the highly destructive threat the U.S. and other foreign forces posed on the nation of Japan.  While the nature of Godzilla’s meaning and symbolism changed over time and the course of 25+ movies, the original themes were still frequently present: radioactivity, foreign threats, and the strengthening of national security.  Now in 2014, these threats aren’t as prominent anymore (well…maybe).  I noticed that the different locations in which the new Godzilla movie takes place suggest that Godzilla now represents our environmental concerns.  No, not in the boring way.  We’re talking, like, in the catastrophic disaster way.  A looming mega earthquake, a tidal wave or tsunami, increasing levels of radiation from the Sun… all of these things have formed a cohesive fear of nature’s uncontrollable power.  When we see buildings topple in Godzilla, we may be cheering just because, you know, it looks ‘fucking cool’, but these are also extremely haunting images.  The best blockbusters manage to shake us up a bit, ruffle our feathers, and even frighten us.  Godzilla is the best blockbuster we’ve had in many years.  What do you think?


Godzilla opens in theaters May 16, 2014.

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