Monday, May 19, 2014

Crushing Expectations, ‘Godzilla’ is a Literal “Blockbuster”

Posted By on Mon, May 19, 2014 at 6:08 PM

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Godzilla, the newest movie to get a reboot

“Let nature take its course” has a whole new meaning when nature includes three ginormous, prehistoric monsters wrestling in the middle of San Francisco, California. Godzilla, the newest movie to get a reboot, has a flare for dramatic storytelling when all I wanted was more massive monster throw-downs.

For the uninitiated, Godzilla might seem confusing. This movie is based on a Japanese movie franchise of the same name that dates back to the 1950’s. Basically, in each film, Godzilla trounces Japan either on purpose, or as collateral damage when clashing with extraordinary enemies. This includes confrontations with Mothra, a giant moth, or Mechagodzilla, a deadly mechanized version of Godzilla himself. The franchise now has 30 iterations, including this newest one.

In 2014's Godzilla, we get the distinct impression that this is going to be a very human story. The Brody family is American, but they are living in Japan. While Ford Brody attends grade school, his mother and father both work at a nearby nuclear plant. It is his father’s birthday and the family has plans for a celebration. However, a devastating accident at the power plant not only destroys those birthday plans, it takes Brody’s mother.

Fifteen years later, Brody – a Naval officer with a family of his own - looks like he has moved on with his life when his father is arrested for trespassing on the site of the fateful accident. After bailing him out, Brody discovers his father remains obsessed with uncovering the origins of the disaster. To his father, it wasn’t an accident. Reluctant to reopen old wounds, Brody joins his father’s search for the real explanation.

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Like other science fiction movies, Godzilla recasts historical events as cover-ups of more extraordinary occurrences to help make the narrative sensible. For instance,  the hydrogen bomb test in the Bikini Aton, Marshall Islands that occurred in the 1950’s was not a test at all – it was an attempt to kill Godzilla. Hiroshima may have been a related attempt as well. The history rewrite and cover-up device serves as the lynchpin for Brody to understand his father’s obsession and his mother’s untimely death.

Godzilla also fiddles with our understanding of natural history in order to ground its narrative in reality. MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) lived on Earth well before human civilization. During that time, they fed off of the abundant radiation originating from the Earth’s core. Over time, Earth became less irradiated and more hospitable for other creatures, including humanity.

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Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson hold it together for the most part.

In turn, most MUTOs plunged into the deepest parts of the ocean and burrowed underground to stay close to their food supply – except for the MUTOs that are devastating cities to satisfy their appetite for man-made nuclear nourishment. Godzilla is not one of those MUTOs, but he is the only one that can stop them.

The story in Godzilla gives its actors a lot to work with, and they hold it together for the most part. Bryan Cranston brings almost all the emotional power in the film as a tortured father, Joe Brody, and his absence is felt in the scenes without him. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has a serviceable portrayal of Ford Brody if only it carried a little more weight. Ken Wantanabe, who plays reigning MUTO expert Dr. Ichiro Serizawa, never stumbles as the awestruck and puzzled scientist. Elizabeth Olsen’s performance as Elle Brody, Ford Brody’s wife, could have been bigger.

Director Gareth Edwards is a newcomer when it comes to summer blockbusters, but he steers Godzilla clear of action movie disasters. Edwards could have advocated Brody to be more of a “bro,” instead we get a vulnerable soldier just trying to get home. Disagreements between Admiral Stenz, who leads the operation to destroy the MUTOs, and Serizawa may be serious but they never turn into pissing contests. Thankfully, Edwards doesn’t flirt with anything campy or melodramatic either. In a franchise whose notable quality is campy, that’s a good thing.

As a fan, however, Godzilla is not above criticism.

Godzilla is lean on the namesake’s camera time. Viewers don’t see Godzilla until about the midway point of the movie. His first confrontation with a MUTO seems abbreviated too. In fact, the MUTOs eat up much more screen time than Godzilla himself. In the final fight, it seems to only scratch the surface of the kind of carnage Godzilla and his enemies can do. For casual viewers, Godzilla has more than enough monster fights, but for a fan, it only made me want more.

But if we “let nature takes its course” as the movie suggests, then the rumored sequel already in development could come to fruition. We could very well have bigger city-ruining monster battles in the future. I’m also not opposed to more human drama, so long as it doesn’t interfere with any giant monster beat-downs.

@marshnaylor

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