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Wednesday, May 14, 2014 07:40 pm

Clever Script, Dynamic Effects Resurrect “Godzilla”

Just as Christopher Walken famously asked for “more cowbell” on Saturday Night Live, you may find yourself asking for “more Godzilla” while sitting through Gareth Edwards’ reboot of Japan’s most famous import.  Employing the same strategy he did with his low-budget debut “Monsters” (2010), the director toys with the audience, giving us glimpses here and there of the featured creature before its big reveal an hour into the movie. To be sure, some will be frustrated by this approach, especially since Godzilla doesn’t really take center stage until there’s a half hour left in the proceedings.  However, an uncommonly clever script by first-timer Max Borenstein keeps us engaged until the big throwdown as it wisely ties in pieces of extensive Godzilla lore to explain the origin of the titular creature and his motivation for this modern adventure.

The film opens in the Philippines in 1999.  Engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) has been tracking seismic disturbances around the nuclear power plant he oversees and is lobbying to shut it down when he notices they are growing stronger.  However, he’s too late as a massive disturbance destroys the plant, killing his wife, fellow researcher Sandra (Juliette Binoche) in the process.  Jump ahead 15 years and Brody is convinced, based on evidence similar to that he recorded before, that a similar event is going to occur again.  Seen as a crackpot, even by his son, military man Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), those in charge of the plant that’s now a quarantined zone discount his warning.  Big mistake, as a similar disaster strikes, though it is definitely not an earthquake as was assumed before.  A creature dubbed a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), which has been feeding off radiation from the wrecked power plant while in gestation, has awakened.  Looking like a jacked-up Preying Mantis, it heads to the Pacific Ocean and begins to swim east.  Where it’s headed and why is a mystery but before all is said and done, another such creature will reveal itself, unparalleled destruction occurs and human beings discover they have a very large reptilian ally to protect them.  

Godzilla tears through the Golden Gate Bridge in "Godzilla."
Courtesy Warner Brothers

 

Though it all doesn’t hold water, Borenstein does his best to provide a rationale scientific explanation for the existence of these creatures as well as their motivations.  In doing so, he folds in many key dates and events from previous Godzilla entries.  Seems all those nuclear tests in the South Pacific, starting in 1954, the year of the first film in the series, through the 1960’s weren’t tests at all, but attempts to kill Godzilla, all of which failed.  An explanation as to why these creatures are so closely tied to radioactivity is inspired while the assertion that our big green hero is in fact a force of nature unleashed to restore balance in the world is at least an attempt to explain why he’s always fought on our behalf in the past.

 What’s unique about this entry is that most of the mayhem is seen from a ground-level point of view.  Edwards positions his camera so that we’re front-and-center, witnessing first-hand the destruction that ensues when say, two giant moth-like creatures start tossing 747’s around like toys.  This perspective provides moments of intimate impact in a movie shot on such a massive scale and allows Edwards to only show us glimpses of the creatures in action, with a giant scaly foot entering the frame from above or a massive wing sweeping low to wipe out a building or two.

 However, make no mistake once the all-out monster war takes over during the film’s last half-hour, it’s quite a show.  Godzilla and the two MUTO’s lay San Francisco to waste and in so doing, engage in the sort of destructive mayhem that fans of this genre crave.  When the big green guy first lets loose with his famous roar or unleashes his atomic breath – this time in a particularly inventive manner – a chill of childlike nostalgia may run up and down your spine and spontaneous applause may be your response. (Yes, I got a few looks while displaying this behavior…so what!)

While not as smart as last year’s overlooked Pacific Rim, overall Edwards achieves what Warner Brothers hoped he would. Not only has he successfully resurrected one of the most famous pop culture icons of the 20th century with the proper amount of reverence and a healthy dose fun, but he’s also primed the public for a new series of films featuring the monster.  While there’s no doubt as to the outcome of this movie, what is in question is how and when they’ll bring Godzilla back once more, as this feature will have viewers craving for much more where the scaly star is concerned. 

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