GODZILLA (2014) Review
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details and images from an upcoming movie.
Gareth Edwards’ 2014 GODZILLA has at least one unintended consequence; it reinforces my belief that Ishiro Honda’s 1954 GODZILLA was an incredibly stunning artistic achievement. After six decades of technological development, the finest cinematic artisans and craftsmen in the business and an incomprehensibly larger budget, Edwards’ film does not surpass the original Japanese movie’s terrifying commentary. Mr. Honda’s 1954 GODZILLA has a cohesively clear story and artistic statement that still gets me after a few hundred viewings over five decades.
This year’s GODZILLA is a fine movie that I enjoyed more than many other recent special effects extravaganzas. In no way do I mean to diminish Edwards’ achievement here when I pledge allegiance to Mr. Honda’s 1954 GODZILLA, and I suspect he might even agree with my opinion regarding the qualities of the original. I like this latest version of GODZILLA very much and I think it is one of the best of the Giant Critter genre. I feel this Godzilla creature is genuine in action, appearance and sound. Being only Edwards’ second film and his first major studio effort, makes the accomplishment all the more impressive.
I like it so much, I can recommend everyone take someone who is not a fan of the genre and I think both will enjoy it. Besides being a fast paced sci-fi adventure, there are enough references to real world situations to provoke thought and perhaps significant discussion.
The 3D presentation was quite effective without looking gimmicky or objects flying off the screen for no other reason than demonstrating that the film can make us flinch and duck. The 3D presentation enhanced the grand scale of the settings and damage caused by epic battles. The visual design made for some gorgeous cinematography. The score composed and directed by Alexandre Desplat was quite effective and appropriate.
Director Gareth Edwards and producer Thomas Tull have successfully reimagined the Japanese variety of Giant Critter pictures in this fast-moving two-hour adventure written by Max Borenstein. The story is coherent and characters’ actions are plausible. The script was economical and delivered convincingly by the fine cast. Unfortunately I anticipate there will be some weeping and gnashing of teeth in certain fandom circles as this Godzilla movie does have a few problems that might irritate the hardcore Godzilla fan. However, if the viewer considers Edwards’ first feature MONSTERS, then his approach to this current contribution to kaiju eiga will make more sense.
SPOILER WARNING #2: SPOILERS BEGIN IN EARNEST BEYOND THIS POINT
In my SciFi Japan review of MONSTERS, I noted that, while I liked and enjoyed the movie, there was not a lot of monster action. I thought viewers (such as might read SciFi Japan) seeking an action packed monster movie would be unsatisfied. I also speculated that the monsters of the title were not the alien animals stranded on Earth. There are some stretches in GODZILLA without monster action, but the story moves along with plot devices that remind us that monsters are imminent. That subversion of the viewers’ expectations also reflects the style of MONSTERS, where the conflict of mankind against alien invaders is overshadowed by a different storyline of a modest human drama.
I should disclose that I also like this movie partly because I like preposterous Giant Critter Pictures. I like this GODZILLA, but I also like THE GIANT GILA MONSTER. Therefore the boilerplate plot devices are stock monster movie clichés, and that is fine with me. I saw GODZILLA with a highly respected author who was put off by the numerous cinematic clichés. I find the usual cinematic clichés endemic to Giant Critter pictures comforting, like slipping on an old favorite sweatshirt again. I am still charmed (even for the 250th time) by a countdown to destruction in the form of a digital readout on a nuclear weapon.
Considerable time passes before Godzilla appears and sometimes the monster’s scenes seem cut off. These are some of Edwards’ narrative techniques to sustain interest and suspense that will put off some Godzilla fans, but it worked for me. In 1979, ALIEN scared me out of my seat and that creature only had a few minutes screen time with no shot lasting more than a few seconds and only one or two tantalizing full glimpses.
My biggest problem with GODZILLA is the story is about another monster, and Godzilla is sort of a guest hero. That set-up is quite reminiscent of MONSTER ZERO (INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER) where King Ghidorah appears first, sets the story’s events in motion and is the primary object of the characters’ attention. The structure of Edwards’ GODZILLA would make much more sense is it was a sequel to a movie focusing on the title character rather than the first installment of a new movie franchise.
Another puzzlement is Godzilla’s nature this time out. The monster seemed somewhat less menacing to humans. The relationship to the military is also odd. I do not recall the U.S. military forces directly engaging Godzilla The production had lots of help from the United States military. After the credit “The Producers gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the Department of Defense and the men and women of the United States Armed forces.” The credits go on to list twenty-seven individual entities of the defense establishment.
It is possible that the creative team decide to make Godzilla less belligerent towards the U.S. Armed Forces. In fact one shot almost makes the U.S. Navy appear to be escorting Godzilla, like taking the monster for a walk. The kinder, gentler Godzilla might be fine in a later installment in a series, but it is puzzling for the first time out. I almost suspect that this cooperation from the U.S. military might have subdued some subtext that is hinted at when some military leaders insist on using a nuclear weapon.
Another little problem for me (that is not the movie’s “fault”) is the inescapable fact that this is not a Japanese movie. The Giant Monster genre is most convincing when the sci-fi fantasy/light action adventure is set on a Japanese island with the blithe suspension of disbelief unique to kaiju eiga. Legendary Picture’s production team did a good job of making Canada stand in for Japan and San Francisco, but there is no substitute for Showa era Baroque Japanese Giant Critter Picture in TohoScope.
In addition to GODZILLA being a well-made, enjoyable adventure film, it is just reassuring to see Godzilla being introduced to a new generation and staying relevant. North American Godzilla fandom should be happy for the movie raising consciousness of Godzilla, bringing DVDs, Blu-ray discs and many other products to the marketplace. And for me, perhaps making possible Rialto Pictures 60th anniversary restoration of Ishiro Honda’s original 1954 GODZILLA is the greatest by-product of the current Edwards and Tull production. A box office success that I think is coming for GODZILLA 2014 will also further validate the achievement of the original GODZILLA’s creators Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya and Akira Ifukube in 1954.
For more information on Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures’ GODZILLA, please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- GODZILLA RETURNS!
- Legendary Pictures Previews GODZILLA and PACIFIC RIM at Comic-Con
- Legendary Pictures Sets GODZILLA Release Date
- Warner Bros and Legendary Announce Cast and Start of Production for GODZILLA
- GODZILLA (2014) Press Release
- Warner Bros Releases Trailer and Poster for GODZILLA
- Warner Bros Releases High-Res Photos from GODZILLA
- GODZILLA Textless Poster and French/Canadian Trailer
- New GODZILLA Poster and Textless Art from Warner Bros.
- New GODZILLA Roar from Warner Bros.
- New GODZILLA Trailer from Warner Bros.
- GODZILLA International Trailer
- GODZILLA (2014) Photo Gallery
- GODZILLA (2014) TV Spots
- GODZILLA (2014) Extended Look
- GODZILLA (2014) Licensed Product Guide
- GODZILLA Publicity Banners from Warner Bros.
- GODZILLA Production Notes and Images
- GODZILLA Final Credits
- GODZILLA (2014) Asia Trailer
- GODZILLA (2014) Video Clips
- GODZILLA Screens in Hollywood
- GODZILLA (2014) NYC Press Junket Report: It’s Big and Terrible
- GODZILLA Premieres in Hollywood
- “Godzilla Craves Italian” in FIAT Brand Commercial