Sean Smithson

GODZILLA STOMPS BACK TO THE TOP OF THE HEAP

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After seeing Gareth Edwards’ feature debut MONSTERS back in 2010, I knew immediately this creative dynamo was going to be a force to be reckoned with. MONSTERS, about a news photographer helping his bosses daughter flee Mexico as giant squid-like alien invaders terrorize the countryside, was an exercise in character rather than being anything close to an event film. Small, intimate, and concentrating on human drama, we rarely glimpse the titular MONSTERS. Which brings me to my reaction when it was announced Mr. Edwards landed the gig to bring GODZILLA back to the big screen (and fix what numbskull rent boy party throwing Roland Emmerich almost single-handedly destroyed back in the 90’s) I was optimistic, but trepiditious. How was this indy director going to pull off one of the biggest and most anticipated event films ever?

Then the casting was announced. Then the trailers started dropping. Then the unbridled excitement began to build within me, an old, jaded movie codger, who thinks that modern film making, while fun, is nothing compared to the caustic and edgy work of the 70’s, and earlier. Story has taken a backseat to spectacle. “Big” films suffer for this. Characterization sets up action set pieces. I want to care about who I am watching, something many times lacking in smash ’em up blockbuster oriented flicks.

Gareth Edwards’ GODZILLA is one of this summers exceptions to the rule (the other being CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER).

To quickly synopsize, husband and wife scientist and safety expert team Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) are concerned about mysterious recurring electric pulses that are becoming more frequent beneath the nuclear power plant they work at. Insistent that it is all building to a catastrophe, Joe sends his wife to investigate and corroborate his suspicions. Disaster strikes, the nuclear plant is destroyed, and Joe loses his beloved wife, leaving him a widow and their young son, Ford, motherless.

15 years later, Ford (a buffed up Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is an explosives expert serving in the military, with a wife and son of his own. Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) is a nurse, who raises their son Sam by herself a lot of the time, due to her husbands service often taking him away from the family. When they receive news that Ford’s father has been arrested in Japan for trespassing, the concerned son cuts his rare home leave short to go retrieve his troubled dad. Believing Joe is simply obsessed with delusions and conspiracy theories, Ford attempts to bring him back home to the states. But before you can say “He picks up a bus and throws it back down” Ford is indeed trespassing with his persuasive father, returning to the area of their old home. Soon, they are taken into custody, after they spy a huge refinery like complex, where something very big is obviously going on.

Soon, our bad guy monsters known as MUTO’s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) are rampaging across the planet. Joe Brody was right, the pulses were not naturally occurring phenomena, but were coming from “some THING”. Cue the reawakening of the MUTO’s natural enemy, the massive, lumbering, sometimes heroic behemoth known as…GODZILLA! Let the epic battles begin!

The wonderful thing about this cinematic version of GODZILLA, is the fact, like my aforementioned, beloved maverick cinema of the 70’s, that Edwards takes the time to build his characters, and creates a world that is fully believable. When the shit starts hitting the fan, we the audience are in 100% (or at least this audience member was) which makes the more fantastical elements of GODZILLA that much more affective and striking.

If you really look, this film is actually a sequel to the original (and brilliant) Ishiro Honda version, GOJIRA. The title sequence in the new film harkens back to 1954, the year GOJIRA was released, and explains very succinctly, that all the nuclear tests being conducted during that era weren’t tests after all. Covering up the truth with doctored history books, it was the first time the world powers experienced the rampaging mutant Komodo dragon-like thing we now call GODZILLA. The original, of course, was a metaphoric take on the tragedies of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and the collective misery of the victims of that horrendous moment in history. This new addition to the “original” mythology is undeniably commenting on the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, as well as things like globalization, and proliferate conspiracy theories, while also serving as one hell of a sci-fi action film.

Reminiscent in tone, and paying homage to classics such as CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, JURASSIC PARK, and JAWS (are you seeing the same influence I am here? Spielberg must be smiling ear to ear right now), Edwards’ take on GODZILLA also stands next to those films. We will still be watching this version in 20 years, and by that time, there may (hopefully) be many more in the canon. Having grown-up a lifelong GODZILLA fan, the directors nods to the work of kaiju pioneers Ishiro Honda (director of many Godzilla films), Akira Ifukube (composer of the epic Godzilla themes), and Eiji Tsuburaya (monster suit creator and FX man extraordinaire) is incredibly appreciated. It’s apparent he understands what makes these kinds of films work, and measures what people want to see (high end action set pieces) with what people need to see (top shelf performances and depth of characterization) with a masters hand. Gareth Edwards may come to be as massive a director as GODZILLA is a defender of the earth. Edwards has expressed extreme interest in continuing the saga, and bringing other classic kaiju creatures into play, and taking the action to Monster Island. After what I witnessed with this initial outing…man…excited doesn’t even begin to describe my anticipation for an opportunity to see what this burgeoning genius would do with that source material. He’d even be able to make Gadzooky something intense! And in a word, that is what the new GODZILLA is…intense.

If you like GODZILLA 2014 check these other films and entertainments out –
Criterions release of Ishiro Honda’s GOJIRA (1954)
Shohei Imamura’s classic BLACK RAIN (1989)
Kineto Shindo’s CHILDREN OF HIROSHIMA (1952)
The soundtrack work of composer Akira Ifukube
EIJI TSUBURAYA: MASTER OF MONSTERS by August Ragone (soon to be more affordable in second printing trade paperback)
ALL MONSTER ACTION! by Cody Goodfellow

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