Godzilla has triumphantly regained his name as King of the Monsters with the Gareth Edwards-directed epic starring Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen.
What makes this summer movie so truly special is it never forgets to intertwine its jaw-dropping special effects with all sorts of heart and a story that plays to our core values as human beings. Oh, and it certainly helps that Edwards is keenly aware of the Japanese cinematic history that has come before when it comes to the big guy.
We’ve all seen the goosebump-inducing Godzilla trailer with Cranston’s Joe Brody screaming about a cover-up that involves massive destruction that is “not a natural disaster.” In the opening moments of Edwards’ Godzilla, the director establishes where all that verve from Cranston comes from and it provides the emotional undercurrent that sweeps us away and keeps us gasping for air-- all the way to the end.
The film begins by introducing us to Brody, his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and their young son Ford (who will grow up to be Taylor-Johnson). They live in Japan and both husband and wife work at a nuclear power plant. A series of unexplained seismic activities have rocked the area and on this day, the mother of all disasters hits.
We fast forward to current times and military man Taylor-Johnson is getting home from his overseas tour to a delighted wife Elle (Olsen) and his young son. The celebration is short-lived because Papa Brody has been arrested in Japan and Ford must go bail him out. It is while Ford is in Japan with Joe that our story truly takes off.
Monsters, called MOTU, are causing havoc and despite the best efforts of the world’s military, they cannot be stopped. Also, something has appeared in the Pacific Ocean that seems to be following the MOTU towards Hawaii and then the United States mainland. It is of equal size and we cannot tell if it is friend or foe. Of course, it’s Godzilla.
The message of Godzilla has always varied depending on the era. In the 1954 original, the Japanese had invented the massive monster as a response to the nuclear bomb attacks on their country that ended World War II. In Edwards’ Godzilla, Mother Nature has had enough of our tampering with the planet, and the director (with the help of the fantastic script by Max Borenstein) paints a picture that has the crux of the film being about the balance of nature resetting itself.
The feel of the film is still massive, even with its earthy message, and Edwards has done amazing work with 3D filming to create a vision of the monster movie as we’ve hardly ever seen prior. We must point out that if Godzilla doesn’t win all the Oscars for sound effects and sound design, it will be a crime. You will be hard-pressed to hear a better movie in 2014. It is simply astounding.
The supporting cast firmly knows its place. Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe are scientists who have been on the trail of these monsters for years. Watanabe’s character even serves in many ways as the voice of Godzilla himself. He provides the moral compass of the story. David Strathairn is an admiral who is charged with fighting the beast and gives his best in a role that many actors of his caliber would think was thankless.
Taylor-Johnson and Olsen, largely, are the heart of the film. It is their family that we are rooting for to not only be reunited after this international disaster of the most enormous of scales, but for them to survive and prosper. Lastly, our Godzilla review has to point out that Cranston is absolutely stunning. He commands every scene he is in, and it is his performance that slingshots this spectacle into something that is both sensationally sincere and profound.
Oh, and it is also beyond fantastically fun.