“At the dawn of the atomic age, humanity awakens life forms beyond imagination, unleashing monumental forces of nature.” That quote, part of the tag line from a graphic novel entitled “Godzilla: Awakening”, is a pretty good introduction to the premise of Godzilla, the monster who first appeared in 1954 and returns this weekend in fine fettle and even fiercer form than the original. He is . . . “the punishment we deserve” for messing with Mother Nature.
This installment of the mutant monster’s adventures in mass destruction is simply titled Godzilla – no “last wars” or “son of” – this is the real thing, folks. Born of nuclear testing more than half a century ago and covered up, literally and figuratively, by the U.S. military, now he has reawakened to battle other monsters called ‘Mutos’ – Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms – as they all wreak havoc on San Francisco and Las Vegas instead of Tokyo this time.
However Godzilla in 2014 has the advantage of superior technology over his 60-year-old progenitor, so his roar is even more fearsome and his fiery breath more scorching and altogether believable, once you’ve suspended disbelief to go enjoy the movie. Today’s version is 350 feet tall and his features, according to the designers, are an amalgamation of bears, dogs, eagles and Komodo dragons.
So that’s enough about Godzilla the monster; his co-stars are actually more important to the plot. The human action is provided by some well-cast, top-notch actors and the script is well above average for a large-screen monster movie. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are Ford and Elle Brody, USN, explosive ordnance disposal tech and his wife, well matched in this film, though Olsen’s role is disappointingly small.
The most interesting character, excepting Godzilla of course, is Bryan Cranston as Ford’s father Joe Brody, a man tortured and obsessed with a nuclear ‘accident’ that happened in 1999. Brody, a nuclear physicist, was working at the power plant in Japan when unexplained disaster struck, killing his wife – and incidentally leveling the entire city. Joe is still convinced it wasn’t a natural disaster, and finally convinces his son Ford to join his search for the cause.
Meanwhile the Mutos have been busy trying to destroy the planet, so there’s plenty of action, fire and destruction, topplings of large structures and various military deployments, effectively produced and accompanied by Alexandre Desplat’s impressive fortissimo soundtrack.
Throughout the movie, though less notable in the second half where most of the world-busting action takes place, is the human interaction and reaction to extreme danger, bonds of family and friends, powerful emotions of love, hatred and revenge that define the plot and make you care what happens to them. For that we have director Gareth Edwards to thank; his ‘vision’ for the film went well beyond a generic serial monster flick, and it shows.
Edwards has been called a ‘character director’ and the main cast members were his first choice for the roles. Ken Watanabe as the scientist Dr. Shiro Sarizawa, Sally Hawkins as his co-worker Dr. Vivienne Graham, David Strathairn as Admiral William Stenz and Juliette Binoche as Sandy Brody, Ford’s mother and also a ‘nuclear regulations consultant’ at the Japanese power plant destroyed in 1999 all bring believable and compelling life to their roles in the big picture.
Overall, Godzilla is a film that will delight long-term fans of the genre, but it will probably win a slew of awards – and new fans – for expert and imaginative handling of the human-generated monster.