Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla reboot is the exact prescription needed to eliminate lingering side-effects of Roland Emmerich’s poorly conceived, atrociously executed 1998 disaster, which posited Godzilla as nothing but another reptilian Hollywood monster. How sad a film that was, wasting Japan’s mightiest protector by ignorantly dismissing every intriguing detail about the giant creature, forgetting he’s more savior than villain. Edwards and his team (writers Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham) understand Godzilla’s true nature, what he represents, and the battle that wages in his presence. What’s more, they honor this rare export in a beautifully artistic Kaiju Big-Battle type of way that makes Cloverfield‘s scale seem like child’s play. No Matthew Broderick, no little Godzillas, no getting tangled in the Brooklyn Bridge – just humanity’s survival hinging on gargantuan monsters and mass destruction. The way Godzilla should be.
In this Godzilla, scientists have long known of super-creatures who feed on radiation and have attempted to keep the beasts under wraps. MONARCH was created for the sole purpose of studying these mystical beasts, keeping tabs on creatures most thought previously dead. However, after a catastrophic “meltdown” at a Japanese nuclear power plant, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) refuses to accept that only a natural disaster caused the death of his wife and gets on the trail of these creatures. Years after the disaster, Joe still lives in Japan, studying sonic sound and Richter scale readings in hopes of finding whatever caused an entire plant to crumble around him. His son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), along with most sane minds, think he’s crazy, but when the same readings from the meltdown present themselves years later, the Brody boys find themselves in the middle of a secret conspiracy filled with planet-destroying monsters, nuclear warfare, the fate of mankind, and a legendary beast that could be our only hope – Godzilla.
Chills, people. Literal chills were shooting down my spine as Godzilla appeared for the first time, similar to Jurassic Park’s Tyrannosaurus Rex reveal that wowed audiences in 1993. The fanboy in me rejoiced, the cinema fan in me wanted to graciously applaud, and the nerd in me wanted to hug Gareth Edwards, who captures everything that Toho’s Godzilla represented. Man’s biggest mistake is audaciously assuming invincibility, but Godzilla finds people slowly realizing they are just tiny ants caught in a massive battle that they have no control over. Ken Watanabe’s character, Daisuke Serizawa, states, “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control… and not the other way around,” transforming Godzilla from a creature feature into an all-out disaster film. Emmerich’s biggest mistake was squaring military forces against Godzilla; luckily, Edwards recognizes the sheer futility of machine guns, missiles, and tanks against nature’s mightiest warrior.
Godzilla is a balancing force, fighting those creatures who threaten mankind, while all us humans can do is watch, praying casualties are limited while staring in disbelief at the lizard dragon monster beating down two terrestrial forms attempting to nest in San Francisco. I can’t stress the helplessness and despair that Edwards’ film hits upon, removing goofy blockbuster plotlines in favor of Godzilla’s massive scale, tragic nature, and relentless assault of sci-fi excitement. So much respect and honor is paid to Ishirō Honda’s now-classic costumed city-crusher, from character Easter Eggs to Godzilla’s range of attacks, keeping true to form even considering the beast’s physical appearance. Standing tall, Godzilla is a marvel to behold, readying himself for battle like a scaly sumo wrestler, emitting an altered take on the iconic roar that doubles as a hair-raising battle cry.
Drawing parallels between the beast and star Aaron Taylor-Johnson at times, Edwards characterizes Godzilla through personality and interaction. He’s not just some unstoppable beast – he’s a living, emoting beast who just happens to be miles high. Godzilla’s personality has been tarnished by so many previous efforts utilizing ‘Zilla for nothing but commercial value, and it’s Edwards’ film that captures Godzilla’s warrior spirit once again. Sure, Taylor-Johnson’s predicament doesn’t EXACTLY correlate to Godzilla’s ongoing battle, but those few moments where the duo lock eyes formulate a strange connective bond between man and beast – and show that the film is recognizing Godzilla as more than just being a mere set piece. Without such a warmly crafted relationship, Godzilla would simply be about humans watching creatures fight while hoping enough cityscape is left to inhabit when the dust settles – a strong theme that’s thankfully not ignored, but the chaos finds a weightier gravity through our protective love of Godzilla himself.
While Godzilla sports an incredibly strong cast, names like Pitt and Damon aren’t fleeing the monster’s destruction. Taylor-Johnson has proven himself as Kick-Ass, but besides the uber-violent comic book adaptation, his name doesn’t resonate through all audiences like a typical summer blockbuster cast would. Likewise, Cranston has exploded thanks to Breaking Bad, and rightfully so, but he lacks huge name recognition amongst commonplace movie fans.
Then there’s Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe – all phenomenal performers who work wonders in Edwards’ reboot yet avoid limelight attention that recognizable casting typically ignites. Every actor does their best to capture the inherent fear created, be it Olsen’s front-row seat to Godzilla’s heavyweight bout or Watanabe’s understanding of nature’s order. Throughout the entire film, we’re constantly reminded of how helpless humans are in the face of dangers that are completely beyond our immediate control.
It’s Edwards’ grand vision that breathes fresh new life into the Godzilla franchise, establishing humanity’s inferior status beneath nature’s other inhabitants. So many scenes flash just a portion of Godzilla, be it one gigantic foot stomping over an airport or a patch of belly scales as military officers look on with horror at the dinosaur dwarfing skyscrapers and battling winged adversaries. Godzilla is a larger-than-life adrenaline rush that’s established by Edwards’ comparative scaling, always framing Godzilla so his gargantuan size can be easily understood.
Taylor-Johnson’s HALO jumping scene continually replays in my mind for this very reason. We watch from our falling soldier’s point of view as Godzilla battles MUTO, yet we’re level with Godzilla’s eyes while the ground is still nowhere in sight. We feel like a tiny fly buzzing around Godzilla’s massive head, which just emphasizes man’s insignificance in the face of large radiation-loving beasts. Everything Edwards proved with Monsters is exponentially improved upon throughout Godzilla when analyzing pacing, tonal entertainment, and picturesque visuals. In essence, Edwards succeeds in shutting down the haters while simultaneously validating his believers.
Godzilla is a rejuvenating return to form after ‘Zilla was shamefully reduced to a Saturday morning cartoon, restoring a cinematic icon’s tarnished reputation. Boasting a proud, ferocious roar, all other summer blockbusters now have to follow Edwards’ show-stopping opener – an act no movie should choose to follow. This year’s Godzilla is a magnificent blend of Toho’s iconic creature features and modern day Hollywood marvels, rivaling recent monster smash-hit Cloverfield‘s grand size and unimaginable scope. Reborn for a new generation, this is the definitive reboot fans have been wishing for, allowing Godzilla to proudly wear his crown as universal ruler once again – hail to the king, baby.
Gareth Edwards' Godzilla made me feel like a wide-eyed, mesmerized child discovering big-budget filmmaking for the first time - a nostalgic blast of magic of iconic sorts.