Godzilla (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Godzilla (2014)

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A monstrous apex predator named Godzilla causes devastation when he emerges from the ocean.  Despite humanity's attempts to destroy him he persists, but does not turn his attention toward humans.  But when two ancient creatures awaken and begin rampaging across the United States, Godzilla may be the only one who can save America.  Godzilla is directed by Gareth Edwards from a screenplay by Max Borenstein.

He's here to help - honestThe original Godzilla birthed from Japanese fears of the nuclear future after World War II.  Considering the destruction that spawned his creation, he emerged throughout the years as an unlikely symbol whose mutability has been flexibly adapted to different countries in different ways.  Last year's Pacific Rim was but one in a long line of symbolic monster movies, encouraging an economic and technological alliance of countries that were once allied during, again, World War II - to strengthen themselves against the future.  That film was entertaining more because of the cast and the energy than the giant monster battles, which were indistinct and hazy.

This is why I was delighted to find out that Godzilla was directed by Gareth Edwards.  Edwards' previous film, Monsters, reviewed on this site a few years ago and is one of the pieces I disagree with.  The parallels between the relatively benign monsters along the United States border with these two seemingly vapid people of privilege gave an interesting arc for both.  It's only by accepting the monsters, those beings of lower class, assembled at the border that they are free to pursue happiness outside of their social standings.  The monsters themselves moved with an inelegant poetry that lingered in my memory partly because they were barely in the film.

So for those hoping that Edwards' Godzilla would feature wall-to-wall giant monster action seem to have been disappointed.  Rightly so, if those were the narrow expectations they start the movie with and are unmoved by everything that follows.  Edwards' Godzilla is a film story about how war can birth beings that are capable of being moved by the simple love we feel.  It's shows we, as a country, we need to learn to let go of past violence and trust other powerful members of the world to take the lead.  Only then you get your giant awesome monster action.

The strength of the family drama and performances are essential to the overall power of Edwards' Godzilla.

The strength of the family drama and performances are essential to the power of Edwards' Godzilla.

A lot of Godzilla's careful tone comes from a subdued screenplay by Max Borenstein.  Most of Godzilla has to do with the running marital troubles that plague Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) as government forces figure out what to do about the sudden emergence of gigantic beasts who are slaughtering humans.  Ford's father was the unstable Joe (Bryan Cranston), whose already shaky marriage met an abrupt end because of an accident the emerging Godzilla caused decades ago.  The beats are clear as the early domestic tension of Ford's parents led to Godzilla first awakening, and Elle and Ford's attempts to return are cut with Godzilla's hunt of the two winged creatures attacking the world.

The parallels are important.  Gareth cuts away from Godzilla's fights when Elle and Ford can't communicate, placing their relationship health as directly important with Godzilla's struggle with each cut.  It helps that Olsen and Taylor-Johnson are both adept at playing good, if completely confused, people.  Contrast this with Cranston's biting, spittle-filled, and almost unhinged performance as Ford's father.  His ignorant rage was already doing damage to his marriage, and leaves him unable to learn from the surprising emotional health his son can project.

If Godzilla was as simple as that parallel, then it would be a shallow, but well-made, film.  But the third thread, involving a national defense team led by the stellar David Straithairn and advised by Ken Wantanabe, is just as important.  While their sections are talky, we have to remember that they are always contemplating widespread nuclear action, the potential results can be seen when Edward cuts from their conversations to the human soldiers' attempts at engaging the creatures.  Wantanabe's scientist role, seen against the old film stock and issuing calm advice, comes as a gentle warning from the past.  His function is to keep America from making the same mistakes Japan did.

One of Godzilla's humbling lessons is to let go of the power you have in the present and learn from the past.

One of Godzilla's humbling lessons is to let go of the power you have in the present and learn from the past.

By the time the last struggle starts we watch the threads of family, military, and faith in Godzilla merge into a single fight.  Honestly, when we finally get to watch Godzilla fight, the Star Spangled Banner could have played over the soundtrack for how beautifully nationalistic it all is.  Instead, Godzilla is humbling rather than .  The key scene is when Ford descends from the plane to and we see Godzilla, framed against streaks of red smoke, and who looks like a stained-glass relic from church.  The larger power, America, fighting for family and government, gives their faith to this foreign creature.  Faith.  Family.  Government.  We, as a nation, can only preserve these by letting go, and face the future through Godzilla's uncertain fate.

This is also why, in what is now established as a pure Edwards fashion, that final struggle is so tremendous.  Edwards doesn't hide behind gregarious displays of patriotism, like the robots of Pacific Rim, and lets the battle unfold slowly.  God's judgment is not a lightning bolt, but a gathering storm that cleanses as much as it destroys.  We aren't spared anyone's hope or pain through the exquisite craft and the sound design earns special praise as the creatures let loose a cry for their lost children that nearly brought me to tears.  There are consequences for every blow, and Edwards' strength is bringing them together in this titanic vision.

Godzilla brought me to awe, humbled me with its patience, then thrilled me with great spectacle.  It's not about strength, but trust, and how we need to look beyond our borders and even into our past to learn the lessons needed to survive.  Edwards has created not just one of the best films of 2014, but a monster film for the ages.

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Tail - GodzillaGodzilla (2014)

Directed by Gareth Edwards.
Screenplay written by Max Borenstein.
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Wantanabe, David Straithairn, and Bryan Cranston.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Good review Andrew. I didn’t mind that it took its time to show us Godzilla. In fact, I quite loved it. Made it more tense and exciting whenever he did show up and do what he does.

    • Thanks for the comment Dan. The cut from Godzilla after his first scream to the Elle and Ford’s living room where the fight is on the television is one of my favorite juxtapositions of the year.

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