Back in 2010 when I was researching the Godzilla franchise on Wikipedia, I found a piece of very interesting information. Back in 2004 I remembered that it was announced that there would be no more Godzilla films after the release of Godzilla: Final Wars for a period of 10 years, just to give it a break and renew interest. It is hard though to keep an icon down. In 2008 I remembered reading about an upcoming film to be released in 2009 which was to be a 3D movie for IMAX cinemas starring the title monster and called Godzilla 3D to the Max. This idea though did not get off the ground. Also in 2008, for the film Always Zoku Sanchōme no Yūhi (Always Sunset on Third Street 2) Godzilla himself makes a brief, but terrific appearance very early on. Then comes 2010. It was announced that Legendary Pictures, the studio behind Inception and The Dark Knight were interested in attaining the American movie rights to Godzilla in the hope of doing a complete reboot of a series that was initially planned around about 1995/1996 that sadly did not really work out by all counts. Well, Legendary were successful and during the time between then and May 2014 had been hard at work with director Gareth Edwards (and several writers including David S. Goyer, Frank Darabont, David Callaham and Max Borenstein) wanting to produce an Americanised Godzilla film which was by all counts faithful to the iconic Giant Force of Nature that has entertained and inspired millions including myself all over the world for nearly 60 years. Well, I can say that they have achieved this in such a way that it is not only a proper Godzilla film, but also one of the best.
The film begins with an opening montage showing reports made by sailors over the centuries of encountering colossal sea monsters. The video then moves to 1954 showing footage of what appears to be giant spines on the surface of the water, like the dorsal fin of a shark. The footage continues to show this but no details as to what it is before concluding with a nuclear bomb detonation. The scene then moves to 1999 where Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his assistant Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins) investigate a pit at a mine in the Philippines, discovering a giant skeleton and a couple of pods. In Janjira, Japan meanwhile, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a nuclear physicist is examining a set of tremors at a nuclear power plant. Suddenly there is a reactor breach and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) who was in the bowels of the plant is unable to escape and the whole plant collapses. 15 years later, Joe’s son Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an EOD technician returns home after 14 months away to his son Sam (Carson Bolde) and wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen). He then gets a call from Japan saying that his father has been arrested again for breaching the quarantine zone.
Ford heads for Japan where his father has become almost a complete crackpot after what happened and Ford tells him to come home. Joe though persuades Ford to help him go back to their old house to retrieve his discs. After this they spot the site of the old plant which appears to be being rebuilt. They are then arrested and taken there. Joe tries to tell the authorities there about who he is and what he thinks is happening, which gains the attention of Serizawa and Graham. Something at the plant then begins to stir and Serizawa orders they kill it, but instead it wakes up. A giant bat like creature which causes a lot of havoc before taking off killing Joe in the process. The military, overseen on the USS Saratoga commanded by Rear Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn) takes over the operation to track the creature and Ford is briefed by Serizawa that the creature that attacked the plant is called a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) which is an ancient creature that feeds on nuclear energy. The creature in turn is hunted by a much larger and ancient alpha-predator discovered by a deep-sea exploration in 1954 after the first Nuclear Submarine woke it up. The discovery of this creature led to multiple cover-ups as several nuclear weapon tests in the 1950’s were in fact an attempt at killing it. Serizawa heads up the division known as Monarch whose job it is to track the MUTO’s and possibly this other creature who is named by Serizawa as GODZILLA. Ford tells the team that his father mentioned something about the creature at the plant talking to something. Ford goes to Hawaii to catch a plane back home to San Francisco.
News of a Nuclear Submarine disappearing is reported and a team of marines investigates in an Hawaiian Jungle where they find the Submarine being fed on by the creature. The military sends in fighters but are disabled by an EMP blast from the creature. Reports then come in of a second creature approaching the Island. Serizawa stands on the deck of the carrier and sees three dorsal spines running through the water. On the island, Ford looks after a boy split up from his parents when the lights go out. On the island, the sea regresses as a giant figure makes land. The power returns to the train, but the line is attacked by the MUTO. All of a sudden, the Giant figure appears on the scene in full view; a Giant lizard like creature that lets out a resplendent roar and attacks the MUTO. In San Francisco, Elle sees the footage of this battle live. The following day Ford returns the boy to his parents at the city is in ruins. He manages to hook up with an army battalion while near Las Vegas, the other MUTO pod from the Philippines, has fed on Nuclear Waste and has escaped. It is determined that his one is a Female which cannot fly and the other a Male. Out at sea, a navy convoy holds a perimeter around the dorsal spines of the creature now confirmed as Godzilla.
A plan is put into place to lure the three creatures together and destroy them despite Serizawa’s objections. Two nuclear missiles are put on board a train which Ford joins, but when inspecting a bridge, the train is attacked and destroyed. The following morning Ford is rescued along with one remaining missile. In San Francisco the city is evacuated with Elle staying behind to help. On the bridge, a convoy of busses witness the arrival of Godzilla from the ocean as the Male MUTO steals the remaining warhead before taking it to the now arrived Female who uses it to make a nest. Elle manages to get into a secure bunker as Godzilla arrives to fight the creatures. Ford joins in a battalion to retrieve the warhead and flies into San Francisco via halo jump witnessing the creature’s titanic battle as he lands. The Battalion run to the nest where they manage to get the nuclear weapon. Ford stays behind briefly to destroy the nest. Godzilla is struggling to take on both MUTO’s but the distraction of the nests destruction gives him enough time to power up, and let out a furious blast of his Atomic Death Ray. Ford and his team return the warhead to a boat but are attacked by the female. The male is killed by Godzilla but a building collapses on him. Ford manages to get the boat into open water but is corned by the female, who, in turn is attacked and killed by Godzilla. Godzilla then seemingly dies upon collapsing in victory. Ford is rescued as the bomb detonates out at sea. Elle is rescued and she, Ford and their son reunite. People scramble on the corpse of Godzilla, which then snorts as it wakes up. Branded as King of the Monsters, Godzilla simply departs and swims out of sight under the calm, still water.
Godzilla is a heart stopping intense film but also a tense thriller with moments of human hardship and questions about the use of nuclear weapons and man’s desire to control the earth any means necessary, particularly nature itself, but more on that later. For now let’s look at the cast. The cast is a mix of a great bunch of characters and actors. Bryan Cranston who from the trailers looks like the lead bloke plays a professional scientist who while knowing his job and believes he is doing the right thing and probably is does face the fierce competition of nay-sayers, but in between that he does show a more human caring side to him, and this is what makes him stay in Japan to work out what is going on at his former job, even if it makes him forget what made him stay there in the first place which strains his relationship with his son. While he may be later on be made to look like a crackpot mad scientist, he does still show his caring side and is now way a joke to those around him or to the screen. It is obvious though that he does have a strained relationship with his son Ford due to the accident and surprising that his attitude to the situation doesn’t help to inspire Ford along all that much and is a shame that their relationship couldn’t be explored further, however it is a good showing of how much family means to someone and how that guilt can quickly ruin someone, particularly if they see it as their fault. Juliette Binoche’s character meanwhile is more of a real parental figure to Ford and has more of an easy-going understanding of everything around her and tries to get the best out of Cranston’s character and tries to make him think more rationally and in many respects is the pivot as to why Cranston is still there.
Ken Watanabe as a scientist is a lot like Dr Yamane (played by Takashi Shimura) in the original film as he has an understanding of such creatures as there are in this film but wants to be able to preserve for the benefit of science yet he is able to distinguish when they are a threat or not. He is a man with a dark past as represented by his pocket watch and finds himself mystified by Godzilla and almost finds himself able to rely on such a creature when he feels that he follows after the Mutos. This mystery about himself allows him to play such a role and while his name in the film is that of the scientist in the 1954 film (played by Akihiko Hirata); Ken Watanabe is playing his part brilliantly and is rather enjoyable, but maybe it should have been more the case that his character should have been called Yamane rather than Serizawa. Sally Hawkins who plays his assistant, shown more so with her calling him Sensei, shares a lot of on-screen time with Watanabe but not enough (more in the sequel perhaps?) I think as the relationship between the two works well and I do feel like she should have more scenes, but for those that she does have, are really enjoyable and brings that needed human side of the scientist when discussing the discovery of the creatures but also in dealing with them and does have a very remorseful side about her.
Carson Bolde plays a very good part and almost has his own backstory in comparison to those around him and while for the most part he is himself quiet he does show a level of emotion during those scenes. I mean for the part of a child they could have just used any old stand in, but Carson shows a level of acting that if nurtured correctly, could lead to more big roles. Richard T Jones is also quite good as Stenz’s second in command and is as rational as his superior by also not underestimating the situation.
I do find myself really liking the David Strathairn character; Admiral William Stenz (a name which does make me think of Nimitz). What I like about him is that he is not a cowboy, he is in charge of this entire operation after the Janjira incident, and he follows the creatures, even surrounding Godzilla but acts rationally by not attacking. This shows that he is a rational man that also does not underestimate the situation and is in no way gun hoe about the situation and decides to make a plan before actually attacking anything at all. It shows an easier going thinking to a serious idea and like a detective would prefer to know all the facts before doing anything else. He is also understanding of other people’s ideas and history particularly when Serizawa shows him the watch his dad in Hiroshima when the bomb dropped, but instead of laying into Serizawa for not wanting to use the bomb, he takes a more firm and understanding approach showing the world has moved on and there are better understandings of how and when such a weapon is used if at all.
The on-screen relationship between Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen is well done and actually looks like a realistic relationship between the two instead of just a generic one for the sake of it. The need to return to Elle does play on ford’s mind throughout and is his main journey in this film, not to attack the monsters but to return to the one he loves feeding on a primal instinct of love which helps make his character realistic to everything he does throughout making him both believable and creates a connection for the audience, but I can’t help but notice that in the city scenes, when he Collapses, so does Godzilla. This could be a sense of trying to imply what he is going through, Godzilla is too and so that struggle is both shared by Humanity and Nature. So while the film on this part is stating that nature cannot be controlled, there is a human connection to it instead and they are both in and are the same thing, however, why didn’t try to swim away? I do think though that there could have been more drama on his part particularly when his father dies and the scientists say they are sorry. As an audience member it is easier to see but mostly thanks to hindsight that if the authorities did tell Joe what was going on, his death could have been averted and if anyone deserved to know what really happened at the plant 15 years previously, it was the families of those who lost people. So I am surprised that Ford did not lay into them for that, because that’s what your primal urge would want to do, instead he just listens to them quietly instead of trying to get some form of restitution from what’s happened so far. Elizabeth Olsen is one of the best characters in this film by far. Like how Ford wants to get back to her, she is trying to stay in the city for the benefit of waiting for him but also trying to get in contact with him. I really do think there could have been generally more of Olsen throughout this film (which allows room for her in the sequel) those moments that you do see her are some of the best on the human side of the film. While everyone else is looking at the situation from afar for the most part, she is the one who is really experiencing them and allows for all bases in such a film to coexist as well as given an insight to the situation and pay a s ort of homage to those scenes in the Japanese series of people running from the danger. But because those scenes are focused on somebody, it means the audience can connect with someone who is there and feel what the situation is like.
Godzilla is beautifully produced and shot. Scenes involving running with humans and general drama scenes for one, but scenes including the halo jump as well as the human interactions with the monsters in the final act are beautifully done and represent very well what it is like being in that kind of situation. Even Janjira looks amazing. The overgrown deserted city which just happens to be there giving the impression of a city like Chernobyl is now and this is accomplished more brilliantly seeing as it doesn’t actually exist. The naval and military scenes show great uses of research as to how certain things would be done in a real life situation and in moments where the real thing could be used rather than a CGI model, like the ships, tanks and planes, they are used brilliantly. The film does actually work well as a thriller on its own when there is no monster in the scene. Take the bridge scene for example when the birds crash into the bus windows. This is almost like a true horror scene as you get the shock of your life only to discover its birds. During the monster scenes themselves great work has gone into close-up shots with the humans including the train bridge scenes and even in the final act. Along with that you have other scenes which plant ideas into your head of signs of the monsters, but don’t see them, and give an idea of how big they are and also what they are very much capable of. But it really comes down to how the monster scenes are done in tandem with the humans. From the scenes on board with the aircraft carrier with Godzilla’s spines are protruding from the water, to the Hawaii airport when the water comes in around the man’s feet signifying the arrival of something big. It is down to the reactions of people seeing these things that are the true essence of how well such shots are done. Also I like the sense of scale that is shown. When Godzilla is first seen, you don’t see him in full, and even when you see him walking on land for the first time, the shots are restrained to eye level to show the true height and size of the creature and so you may only see arms and feet, and leave the reveal shots for later on when they are needed. Shots such as these and others help to show the human and audiences place in such a situation and allows the remain of a sense of awe altogether.
The film’s soundtrack (produced by Alexandre Desplat) is amazing, and that is the quick way of describing it. The film’s score has elements of mystery, particularly in the Japanese scenes which while having a sense of suspense when the plant is crumbling, but also when Ford and Joe go to investigate. When you get past the opening introduction you have moments of awe from the scene in the Philippines to that of Ford and Joe entering the quarantine zone. That piece in part is one of the best pieces in the film with moments of big drums signifying something big and catastrophic but not yet sure what and also give a more traditional Asian feel to the music. Other pieces earlier on have moments of a big reveal such as the film going to Janjira followed by a soundtrack that shows the early tension of escaping the power plant. Other pieces later on such as the reveal of the atomic breath, Godzilla’s victory and departure (and his own main theme) have connotations to old American monster movies and give that sense of awe as you gaze and what is happening. Godzilla’s victory piece does have a corny feel about it and feels more attributed to a character like King Kong, but works in the short-term and his departure also which I think helps to correct this, his victory piece though goes into a more sombre bit which relates to the cost and sacrifice endured to achieve victory. The monsters themselves do share quite a bit of the soundtrack too including the MUTO reveals and the moment Godzilla arrives at the Golden Gate Bridge. But sneaked in there is a small little horror piece which is used to great effect in scenes where the soldiers are approaching something, and it can be seen, but not clearly and is more like the calm before the storm, but gets you ready for it.
For me, the best thing about the soundtrack is Godzilla’s theme. While the soundtrack does not carry any themes produced by Akira Ifukube, they have taken great care in producing a soundtrack which works for the title character. You have that mystery there to begin with, just to begin with. Then hallway through, there is this grand scale of notes which reveal some form of terror which builds up inside you. It’s like your eyes have seen something that betrays you and now you’re by the foot of a great terror.
It’s like something relentless is coming to get you, you manage to spot it and your eyes can’t get away from it because it’s just unbelievable and you can’t run, you just can’t. Like a great abomination, like a werewolf or Frankenstein’s Monster, it’s running, rampaging towards you and then you trip trying to run. And it’s got you. Your Heart Stops. What next is up to him?
GENEPOOL (Click Here for Part 2).