Business to see to first. Yesterday was a Snippet Sunday, so check out the post by Norma at her blog and the joint blog for something from our manuscript. And Shelly has some advice for writers at her blog. Last time I reviewed an earlier movie in the Godzilla franchise. Today I'm taking on the new one just out in theatres.
"The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around." ~ Ichiro Serizawa
Rising up from the apocalyptic murk of nuclear testing, the new Godzilla opens with a bang and leads into a prologue years in the past involving a nuclear plant manager, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) having a bad day in Japan when a disaster strikes at the plant they work in. In the present day, their son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is in the Army, married to Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and living in San Francisco. Fate draws Ford to his father in Japan, still searching for answers about what really happened all those years ago.
They make some discoveries, leading to two scientists, Ichiri Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, Batman Begins) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) who are overseeing something at the site of the plant. It's something big, and it being a monster (not the title character, mind you) soon conveniently breaks free, hungry for some nuclear radiation. And so the stage is set for a confrontation between monsters, one of which is a gigantic cranky lizard who hasn't had his morning cup of coffee.
The director of this new version is one Gareth Edwards, who previously debuted with a well regarded film called Monsters. Edwards gives the film a stylish feel, with a story delving into the arrogance of men, the power of nature, and the theme of family ties. There are times, mind you, when the spectacle of the monster overwhelms the human element, but that's to be expected in a monster film. The story presents the gigantic beast not as an out of control juggernaut that must be stopped, but more of as an antihero. It is neither friend or enemy to humanity so much as a reminder of what can happen when humanity disregards the limits of nature. Wisely, Edwards chooses not to give us a really good look at Godzilla until well into the film. It's a good decision to pace things like that, actually.
The special effects crew do better with this than the crews for the Emmerich version in 1998. Their design of the monsters that Godzilla duels with looks interesting on screen- the creatures are winged insects, but on a massive scale. They look creepy (those with phobias about insects might want to avoid this film), and the effects involved in bringing them to life actually work well. The same goes for Godzilla, who looks more like the classic version of the character without having to be a guy in a rubber suit as was so often seen in the Japanese films. When we finally see the big guy, and he starts to roar, we can feel the sound of the roar. The visual effects, in short, are stunning. I also liked the camera work- early scenes set in the past feel like period footage, in fact, but Edwards gives us enough of a distance that we can keep track of things as we go along. That's a good thing in an action film.
The human element of the story does get overwhelmed by the monsters, mind you, but that's to be expected. Humans in these kind of stories are merely there to bear witness or run for their lives. Cranston's a well respected character actor just coming off several years in Breaking Bad. I haven't seen that series myself, but I've seen him in a lot of other things down through the years, and I like what he's capable of. Here he plays a man obsessed, shattered by grief and consumed by the certainty that things are being hidden away. Juliette Binoche playing his wife (however briefly) is a good choice as well. Much of her work has been in France, but American audiences will know her best from Chocolat. They're both good actors, and I'd quite prefer to see them in something more conventional.
The same applies for another actor. David Strathairn (Lincoln, Good Night And Good Luck) has an excellent track record as an actor. Here he plays an admiral overseeing the hunt for the creatures, responding to a dire situation as you'd expect a military officer to react- with blunt force. He plays the part with gravitas and conviction, even though he has to blurt out some peculiar expository dialogue. That's also the case with Watanabe and Hawkins, both of whom are playing characters who are reluctant to give out information. They're believable as scientists, and burdened with expository dialogue.
Elizabeth Olsen happens to be the younger sister of a pair of nitwit twins who have grown up literally in the spotlight. Strangely, this is not a bad thing- this is the first thing I've seen her in, but she comes across as grounded, as opposed to flighty and self absorbed in the fashion of her sisters who got their start in that dreck called Full House. She's sympathetic and supportive of her husband. Strangely enough, the actor playing her husband will be playing her brother when the two co-star in the next Avengers film. Aaron Taylor-Johnson comes across as believable in the role of a military officer. He grounds his performance as a man who's had the effect of an absent father in his life, and his reactions emerge from that. His character is also asked, for the sake of the story, to be courageous (or reckless, depending on your point of view), and he accomplishes that.
The new Godzilla succeeds where the Emmerich version did not. While the human element of the story is overwhelmed at times by the monsters- to be expected in something of this scale, and while there is a somber tone to the story, Edwards has crafted a film that still touches on the central themes of the franchise- man's arrogance and the punishment nature can inflict in the face of that arrogance. It gives us a monster we can still cheer for, and as a disaster flick, it rampages gleefully.
Somewhere, Roland Emmerich is no doubt wondering if he can have a do-over.