Honestly, after the 1998 Roland Emmerich Godzilla train wreck, I had my doubts that anybody (other than the Japanese) could ever re-make Godzilla at his best: a vicious, gargantuan, pre-historic unstoppable creature that LOOKED like Godzilla should LOOK like, and that also had a decent storyline to surround his unbridled rampaging. Was that too much to ask?
Well, this new one comes kinda close. Rather than a re-boot, re-imagine, or re-whatever, writer David Callaham decided to adapt the original 1954 Toho Studios Godzilla movie and then take it one step further. Not a bad idea. Here, THAT Godzilla didn’t die, he only got pissed-off, disappeared into the depths of the oceans, and decided to mind his own business.
We begin in 1999 in the Philippines where two scientists, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are called to investigate a massive underground cave unearthed at a mining quarry. What they find is a monstrous skeleton and a gigantic sized pod. . .that’s been opened! Worse yet, whatever was inside has scampered away towards Janjira, Japan and their nuclear facility. Uh-oh!
In Japan, we meet American Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a nuclear plant supervisor, his co-worker and wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche), and their young son, Ford. Whatever escaped that quarry causes the plant to collapse, killing Joe’s wife and leaving him with questions that will haunt him for the next 15 years. Fast-forward to present day and Ford, that is, Lieutenant Ford Brody, USN (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is on leave in San Francisco with his nurse wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their 5-year-old son, Sam.
Ford is unexpectedly called back to Japan because his estranged and “crazy” dad has been arrested. Joe is convinced that something is communicating in the oceans depths and he’s got the proof! Ford and Joe soon learn the truth when they witness the birth of a hatched MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), a huge creature that resembles a winged cockroach that can deliver an E.M. pulse. It flies away seeking food (nuclear material–yum!) and heads towards Honolulu, Hawaii.
But, what’s this? That MUTO also seems to have awaken you-know-who! That’s right! Godzilla! Dr. Serizawa surmises that Godzilla is the alpha predator and don’t take kindly to others invading his world, hence his coming out of retirement. While Godzilla and the MUTO duke it out in Hawaii, Serizawa notices something dreadful: the MUTO is calling out to someone! That can’t be good. Way over in Nevada, deep in the mountains with the stored nuclear waste, is another secret hidden MUTO “pod”, like the one found in the quarry. Bad news: it just hatched, too. Worse news: It’s twice as big as the other one!
Serizawa concludes these two MUTO’s are male and female and are going to meet up to reproduce! The military wants to lure the three out to sea using a nuclear bomb as bait and blow them all to kingdom come, but Serizawa has a better idea. “Just let them fight”, he says. And fight they do, all three of them in downtown San Francisco, while plans for the bomb go slightly askew and it’s up to Ford to come to the rescue and save the city… or what’s left of it.
For all you Godzilla fans, you’ll be both disappointed and overjoyed at the same time. Max Borenstein wrote a decent enough screenplay, but relied too heavily on the stories of Ford and his family and the overall military aspect, and this dragged the movie down to a snail’s pace. The title of the movie is Godzilla, but surprisingly, there is very little of him that is seen.
Newbie director Gareth Edwards (who directed only one indie movie called, ironically, Monsters), broke the #1 cardinal rule of shooting a monster movie: SHOW THE DAMN MONSTERS! Every fight scene (or potential fight scene) was either cut off, cut-away to another scene or a video image, or shown in darkness. The final fight lasted only a few minutes, in the darkness of night, and was obscured behind buildings! WTH?? Come on! I waited 2hrs for this??
On the plus side, the Big Guy himself is magnificent. Looking quite buff and bad-ass in all his re-imagined CGI glory. And his “fire-breath” has a whole new look to it! The MUTO’s have a Cloverfield look to them and are pretty nasty in their own way, although I would have preferred to see more homage to Godzilla’s rogues gallery in the likes of Rodan or Gigan.
Human-wise, give credit to Watanabe and Cranston who added the only substantial acting weight to the film. There were some funny moments to lighten to mood, but overall, THIS Godzilla played it for real with no goofiness or Matthew Broderick/Hank Anzaria silly characters to muck it up. I also appreciated using the name of “Serizawa” again, as that was the name of the scientist from the original 1954 movie. Classy move.
Giant Monster Movies
I’ve loved Godzilla ever since I was knee-high to an iguana, having several Godzilla actions figures strewn about my place protecting me from harm. Hey, don’t judge me! Although I don’t count myself a purist (as some of my rabid friends are) I do enjoy silly, yet mesmerizing giant monsters on TV and all the movies of gigantic beasties growing up. With that in mind, here’s a list of some of my all-time favorites:
Originally released as Gojira, in all-Japanese, and definitely NOT a comedy, this movie started it all. But in 1956, TransWorld Releasing Corp. bought the film and added footage starring TV’s Raymond Burr, changed the tone, and re-edited/re-dubbed the movie to make it more “American”. It worked. The gigantic prehistoric creature (a man-in-a-rubber-suit and/or a puppet) with the signature roar, rampaged through Japan and started a life-long franchise that is, as we know, still very much alive today. Just forget the 1998 Roland Emmerich version ever happened, okay?
King Kong (1933)
RKO Pictures scored major box office with this amazing movie that starred a 13″ stop-motion animated doll! Way ahead of it’s time, people were terrified of it’s special effects of Fay Wray being carried away by a giant ape through downtown New York City, and then the poor beast being shot down by biplanes on the Empire State Building. The tag line, “Oh no, ’twas beauty killed the beast”, is part of cinematic history. A movie masterpiece and timeless classic.
The Blob (1958)
If you want to laugh, this is the giant monster movie to do it to. Starring an up and coming Steve McQueen with an embarrassing script (hey, an actor has to make his start somewhere, doesn’t he?), this cheaply made movie has an ever-growing intergalactic gelatinous substance (okay, so it’s really a murderous blue Jello on the loose!) that kills on contact and a dim-witted police force that hates the local teenagers. Check out the scene where the Blob attacks a local movie theater. The extras running away are laughing their heads off! So much for “sheer terror”!
The only giant monster that attacked England! The creature is captured and put on display in Piccadilly Circus, but things really go south when momma Gorgo comes out of the sea to get her son back. And momma is 10 times the size of her son! Comes complete with a happy ending!
The only giant monster that attacked Denmark! And let’s talk cheap! The creature, which is essentially a giant goofy dragon-lizard-serpent-thingy looks incredibly fake and is dangled on strings like a marionette. It’s roar sounds like lions mixed with car tires screeching! It also shoots green acid slime (a cartoon!) from it’s mouth. Hysterically awful and fun to watch!
Eight Legged Freaks (2002)
Combine a decent tongue-in-cheek script with giant mutated spiders attacking people trapped inside a mall, and you have a very funny AND scary monster movie at the same time. Starring David Arquette and a pre-Black Widow (get it?) Scarlet Johansson.
Named after a street in Los Angeles, this is J.J. Abrams brilliant use of having all hand-held camcorders used by college kids in downtown Manhattan as they document their experiences. A bizarre looking, humongous creature is destroying NYC as the military try to take “it” down. Shakey video, sometimes nauseous to watch, this movie depicted an alien creature that was about as real looking as it gets. The ending is captivating and terribly sad. Word is that J.J. wants to make a sequel… with the the creature’s MOTHER! Yeah, that was the baby we saw!
Troll Hunter (2010)
A Norwegian import that is SO unusual that you have to see it to believe it. Made in the form of “found footage”, this documentary is shot by college kids who think they’re secretly videotaping bear poachers for a school project, but stumble upon a secret covert government agency that. . .tracks and kills trolls! Not just any trolls, I’m talking about ginormous trolls that lurk into the woods and mountains that people aren’t suppose to know about! Don’t discount the set-up, it’s better than you’d think!