Review by: Christopher Haskell
September 16, 2014
“an·ti·he·ro — noun: a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.”— Webster Dictionary
The term antihero is becoming a staple in the entertainment that we consume at home and in theaters, mainly because a central character with flaws is much more relatable. “Breaking Bad”, “Guardians Of The Galaxy”, and even last year’s “Texas Chainsaw” sees the main characters lacking some (if not all) of the moral fiber we find synonymous with the ideal hero, yet we all cheer when they save the day or stomp the villain or make it out alive. The revelation experienced at the end of “Texas Chainsaw” is the reason it is mentioned in the tiny list above. Never would I have imagined myself cheering for a character that was sold as a serial killer for forty years. Yet there I was, with an epic change of heart, because the viewer was given a back story and an evil that was worse than Leatherface. That is the idea behind the new “Godzilla” and probably the spotlight on what was missing from the poorly received 1998 version directed by Roland Emmerich.
[SPOILER ALERT: There exists the possibility that some of this review contains spoilers. As I feel with almost any review, if you have not seen the film, read the following at your own risk.]
Aside from Godzilla’s appearance (proclaimed as too fat), for which I had no problem, the biggest complaint one is likely to hear coming out of Edwards’ film is how little the title monster is actually featured. Contrary to this belief, I believe Godzilla was used sparingly for good reasons. Often shrouded, Godzilla really only makes a strong appearance during the climax of the film, with his enemies causing most of the destruction through the rest of the run-time. For better or worse, this allows the human story-lines to take front and center. We get a mere glimpse of Bryan Cranston as he plays Joe, the head engineer at a Japanese nuclear power plant that is destroyed under mysterious circumstances at the beginning of the film. Jumping forward in time, we meet his grown up son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who returns home from the Navy to his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their son, only to be ripped away again when hell starts to break loose. Meanwhile, the team of Ishiro (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne (Sally Hawkins) attempt to contain the mystery behind the nuclear plant destruction as Joe (Cranston) seeks to uncover the truth. Obviously, in the grand scheme of humans versus nature, this all means very little, with the possibility of human extinction being a likely outcome in the unleashing of these historic beasts.
In Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla”, the title monster was simply an animal looking to nest under New York City and causing a wake of destruction in the process to which the human characters did not take kindly to and attacked. Many of the same ideas funnel through into Edwards’ vision, with animal instincts and the military playing huge parts in the events that occur. However, instead of forcing Godzilla to play title character and antagonist, we are given two other formidable kaiju. With human civilization getting in between them and their mating ritual, destruction becomes imminent. Earth needs a savior. The kaiju need a predator to even the playing field. Thus, Godzilla, the antihero is born. Dubbed as human’s salvation by Ishiro’s character, the idea of letting nature takes its course is one of the main themes of the film, basically stating that humans can try to control nature, but in the end, there really is no stopping it. Allowing the audience to cheer for Godzilla, with his historic trademarks like glowing blue and breathing fire, not only brings back the spirit of the countless “Godzilla Versus” films that came before it, but creates a climax much like a historic boxer entering the ring for his anticipated final fight.
Even though “Godzilla” is not a Marvel film, it is important to see the window that has been opened because of “The Avengers” bringing on cult director Joss Whedon as the visionary that now carries the franchise. Coming from small beginnings and taking a huge leap to the studio behemoth was one of the first of its kind and now it has become common place, with James Gunn and Shane Black following suit. Before “Godzilla”, you might have known director Gareth Edwards from his independent monster movie titled “Monsters” but that would have been all. So for Warner Brothers to stake their rebooted franchise of the giant Japanese monster on the back of a director with one feature film credit on his IMDB page, it truly shows how far we have come. Now, thanks to the success of “Godzilla”, Edwards finds himself on board for a future “Star Wars” films, setting the trajectory for the rest of his career.
Edwards brings a minimalistic view to the giant scope of “Godzilla”, creating a sense of awe and wonder around a monster that has been around for over sixty years. Watching both of his films in close proximity, one gets a strong sense of the overwhelming nature of the beasts in proportion to the human characters. It is one thing to visually get the idea across, to which Edwards and his visual effects team do a tremendous job, but it is another to emotionally portray how utterly minuscule humans are in comparison. One way this is achieved is by placing the camera from the human perspective through almost the entire film. The massive Godzilla and his enemies are seen through glimpses, like a giant footstep seen through a tram window or a battle happening in the background during the red smoke, halo jump scene, rather than angles that frame the entire monsters. Instead of cutting to these alternate angles, the audience in kept in the moment and allowed to constantly stay in the human’s perspective. Unfortunately, this forces Edwards to use Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a means to that perspective and subsequently places Johnson in almost every single major event that occurs throughout the film. As good as Johnson can be, his likability runs thin and his presence eventually sticks out like a sore thumb.
With “Godzilla”, Gareth Edwards makes huge strides, not only honoring the legendary mythos and creating another potential franchise, but giving the monster a much needed rejuvenation. Edwards also proves the significance in parring down and leveling the ground between a big budget blockbuster and a strong independent darling, providing the best of both worlds. Despite the human element not quite hitting its mark, with much of the talent remaining underutilized, except for the overused Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the lead role, the monsters are eventually allowed to take front and center, the tent-poles of what can only be described as an epic spectacle. Even though antiheroes have taken hold of every facet of our entertainment, Godzilla enters as one of the very first monsters that audiences can actually stand up and cheer for, a concept that seemed foreign to me before the screening of this film. And with that, if I can be extremely over-dramatic, we will never look at Gojira the same way again.
May 16, 2014
“Godzilla” by Toho
Warner Bros. Pictures
(for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence)