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Godzilla (a review by yours truly)
Surprisingly clever for a monster flick
This year's remake focusing on the supreme king of monsters is sold not so much on the inevitable spectacle, but on emotion, both in the human characters and the monsters themselves. It was captured best in perhaps the subtlest moment of Godzilla's existence as a character: while he was lying down in the ruins of San Francisco, head down as if dead, but in truth he was taking some time to regain his breath, so as to be able to walk again into the horizon.
After a good near-three dozen movies featuring the razor-sharp monster, it would be easy to ignore the emotions, to lose sight of delivering good storytelling and instead simply throwing scene after scene of monstrous carnage at the viewer. This remake cleverly sidesteps the dangers of focusing too heavily on the monster fights and general destruction, and delivers genuine back-story that builds the characters for context, with monster-free scenes that have the tension to match those with the monsters in them.
The Breaking Bad star, Bryan Cranston, delivers his usual blend of tight, empathetic acting in the role as Joe Brody, seen early on as an obsessive scientist who is more concerned about the unnatural seismic tremors his plant encounters than his own birthday. In a swift and cruel twist of events that immediately feels the actual tremors occur in the plant both he and his patient and loving scientist wife (Juliette Binoche) works at, Joe is forced to witness her death first-hand in the plant, fueling his already lingering obsession with the actual causes of the earthquake.
Try as they might, the military, portrayed with copious liberties in this movie as sort of a Japanese and American jurisdiction partnership, is unable to keep Joe from going back into the quarantined area 15 years later. Turns out he was arrested, and his son, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), just returned to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) from his overseas duty as a military bomb-disposal expert, has to come out of the States again and back into Japan, into the epicenter of where the monsters we all came to see finally surface.
It is a slow-burn introduction, for sure, but it does provide good context for the buildup to when the monsters start to go on their rampaging sprees, and a chance to flesh out just what the human characters are, under the skin, along the way. While there is obviously no character development depth here that you would expect to meet Citizen Kane standards, there is enough of it to lend tension value to the sometimes danger of seeing, for example, Ford threatened by the metaphorically godlike monsters.
Even the characters that do not possess scenes threatened by any direct danger have entertaining sequences worthy of praise. The rising flames of a largely demolished San Francisco, the Tokyo of the flick for all essential purposes, has a strangely soothing and yet visually exciting quality, as a group of American soldiers, inclusive of Ford, all skydive into. We do not see the majority of these soldiers outside of their presence in a short pre-dive briefing, but we find ourselves unmistakably on the humans side as they later go into heroic battle. Take that one scene and imagine a huge bulk of a movie with that same level of visual and thematic quality.
Back to Godzilla, the King of Monsters, let’s not forget about him. Surprisingly, he is on the side of the humans here, even if he doesn’t realize it this time around. Sure, there were times where we could have had more battle scenes against its malignant creature foes, instead of more human-centric scenes, but what was shown was clearer and more enjoyable than most action flicks have for action.
Who would have known a monster movie grounded with emotion would show the way into the horizon?