‘Godzilla’ is potent start to summer box office season

May 25, 2014

It’s been a decade since Godzilla made his last appearance on screen, starring in “Godzilla: Final Wars.” It was a divisive film in the series, as it featured a quick pace, “Matrix” moves, and monsters performing martial arts (Seriously, Godzilla has been hanging in Tokyo for decades, you think he hasn’t picked up a ninja move or two?).

After so many years in the industry, there’s only so much left for the big guy to do, so it’s easy to forgive filmmakers for having a bit of fun with the character. But this latest incarnation’s director, Gareth Edwards, wanted to take a more somber path in rebuilding the beast, especially after the fire-breathing creature’s last visit to the U.S. was as much of a disaster with audiences as it was to the fictional New York City landscape in which he made landfall.

And even after starring in 29 films throughout the years, it’s amazing to see how much fire is still left in the old lizard’s belly.

Even though he really needs no introduction at this point, Godzilla receives quite the proper setup. Where he could have easily jumped right into the action and filled the screen with chaos and catastrophe, Edwards instead provides a pertinent prelude to the impending pileup.

It all makes for an effective and affecting spectacle that does not sacrifice its characters for calamity. Beginning in 1999, we see Drs. Ichiro Serizawa (played by Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (played by Sally Hawkins) investigating some rather peculiar findings - the remnants of a huge creature underground and what look to be two egg sacs.

Soon, we meet Joe Brody (played by Bryan Cranston), the supervisor of a Japanese nuclear plant who works in the facility with his wife (played by Juliette Binoche) and lives in blissful domesticity with their son Ford. An unexpected quake upends their lives and tears the family apart. Flash forward 15 years and we see a grown Ford (now played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson of “Kick-Ass” fame), on leave from active duty to visit his own family, including his loving wife Elle (played by Elizabeth Olson) and his young son.

Ford barely gets to unpack his bags before the embassy calls concerning his trespassing father, who is still in Japan, trying to poke around for answers about the blast.

History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man….

For those who are used to the traditional summer blockbuster, you may think you can blindly walk through the rest of the picture to its inevitable conclusion, but this “Godzilla” has new scales up his sleeves. It stays faithful to the original “Gojira,” but decides to treat the proceedings almost like a crime-scene procedural.

Edwards’ decision to take a more methodical approach will undoubtedly upset those used to blinking-fast action sequences, but for those of us who don’t mind a bit more to chew on dramatically, there’s a hearty meal to be served in the film's runtime.

And when the beast from the Far East finally does arrive, he’s given more flourish and expressiveness than your normal CGI creation that towers in massive summer films such as this. His movements both on land and in water suggest that much care and detail went into making him more than just a rubber-suited wrestler. One wishes the same could be said for poor Taylor-Johnson, who shoulders much of the film’s second half, but looks as though he was smuggled onto the set drugged and blindfolded, bewildered by everything taking place around him. But, honestly, why whine about a human in a film about the king of movie monsters? “Godzilla” is a potent start to the summer box-office season and could easily be the film to beat when looking over the rather slight list of contenders for his throne.

A sequel has already been announced, and if the same amount of care and concern go into the production of the follow-up, then long may the Lizard King reign.

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