Godzilla (2014)

Director: Gareth Edwards

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, Bryan Cranston, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche

Coming in as a relative newbie where this franchise is concerned, it is refreshing to be able to keep from holding the latest in a long series of films to a higher standard. 2014’s “Godzilla” is a perfectly ordinary and formulaic monster movie, but that makes it a success. Fans of these films have come to expect a Godzilla feature to play out a certain way. Deviate too strongly from the formula, and you risk causing outrage… I’m talking to you, Roland Emmerich. Familiarity is indeed one of “Godzilla” (2014)’s greatest strengths. One of Godzilla’s most famous features, his nuclear breath, comes highly anticipated and is cheered when the moment finally comes. It’s also the audience’s familiarity with real-world events that works to the film’s advantage. The new edition is not without its own twists and turns, and some may be surprised to find that “Godzilla” is a monster movie that actually cares about its human characters.

In 1954, the Bikini Atoll nuclear bomb test was actually an attempt to kill a giant, dinosaur-like creature. It failed, but the creature did disappear back into the ocean from whence it came. In 1999, a nuclear power plant is taken out by an EMP (electromagnetic pulse), and the resulting radiation that is released kills many of the scientists there, including the wife of plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), leading to his pursuit of a cover-up conspiracy theory for the better part of the next fifteen years. In the meantime, his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has grown up, married and had a son of his own. He’s an expert in the field of bomb disposal. His wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), is a nurse at a hospital in San Francisco where they live. Pretty handy skills for either to have if the world as we know it were to suddenly come to an end.

Contrary to what the movie’s advertising might lead one to believe, “Godzilla” does not place its focus on the title monster, nor on Joe Brody, as Bryan Cranston’s dominance of the trailers would lead one to believe. Cranston’s role is merely to point to government conspiracy, do everything he can to prove himself right, and then be there to say “I told you so!” when the monsters rear their ugly heads. That’s right, there’s more for the humans to run screaming from than just Godzilla. In fact, there is a pair of male and female creatures for Godzilla to do battle against, one of them resembling a modernized version of his winged rival, Mothra.

Normally in a “Godzilla” movie you’d only have the rubble of Tokyo or some other city in Japan to sift through, but as Godzilla gives chase to the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), we see Honolulu, Las Vegas and, finally, San Francisco fall prey as well. The more carnage, the better, though I get the sneaking suspicion that Godzilla will be stiffing us with the repair bill. In what I think is a clever move, we are only given bits and pieces of the devastation and of the monsters confrontations throughout the second half of the film before finally being given an up close and personal view of the action in California. This has the same effect that “Jaws” had for its great white shark. Had Steven Spielberg shown too much of the shark before the explosive finish, viewers may have tired of that overgrown fish. Instead, we are kept waiting for more, and the payoff is more than satisfactory. The true nature of “Godzilla” is the time-honored hero’s quest. It’s all about Ford dealing with personal loss and then summing up the courage to do everything in his power to keep his family safe, even if it means sacrificing himself.

It’s going to require some adjustment next summer when Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen will co-star once again, this time in “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” The adjustment I speak of will arise from watching them feature as ordinary human husband and wife in “Godzilla” to extraordinary brother and sister superheroes in the sequel to 2012’s #1 box office smash. I came into this film as relatively unfamiliar with their careers as I am the “Godzilla” film series. Johnson I pretty much only know from “Kick-Ass.” Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen will never see Oscar gold (not that they need it with the fortune they’ve accumulated), but I can see their younger sibling as a contender one day soon. The 25-year old Elizabeth, herself not yet a parent, does a convincing job in her first time portraying a mother.

The special effects, while they do not dominate, are still quite impressive. “Godzilla” has evolved much over sixty years, and yet managed to stay quite the same. This story could have been filmed back in the 1960’s and come out just the same. What wouldn’t come with it, however, is the imagery. Any one of the following real-life disasters could be conjured up: 9/11, Fukushima, Hurricane Katrina and the Thailand Tsunami. Possibly all at the same time. Give me more “Godzilla” movies like this. Hollywood made a big mistake back in 1998 when it tried to change what the fans knew Godzilla was supposed to be. Let us never speak of it again. I can only hope the discussion about the 2014 version will linger on and inspire a sequel. I’ll be among the first in line to watch the monsters fight, the people scream, and the national landmarks crumble to dust.

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