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It has been ten years since Godzilla’s last on screen appearance in the film Godzilla: Final Wars. The character turned 50 then. What exactly has he been doing the last 10 years? Resting perhaps. Hibernating; storing his energy, gathering his strength for one of the more enthralling and epic adventures of his existence. Now at 60, he’s back in top form and better than ever. Maybe that decade long break was a good thing.
British film director Gareth Edwards of the 2010 film Monsters fame, presents a thoughtfully shot, wonderfully acted, and respectful motion picture based on the Toho creation. Edwards’ indie sensibilities seemed to have come in handy in presenting us with an American Godzilla flick done properly; worthy to be placed among the ranks of the Toho series’ best featuring the kaiju king. How, you might be asking? For one, focus on the human element as opposed to heavy special effects, does much here to give the film weight, which is necessary for us to suspend our disbelief enough to take the premise of such a story seriously. The film takes itself very seriously and asks us to do the same. It is the human piece that was the doorway into this story because if we don’t care about them, the film does not work.
In many ways this film felt like an exercise in classic filmmaking, which is to say filmmaking of an earlier time, from an earlier generation, where subtlety and careful crafting of a story produced genuine suspense and thrills. Sure, we live in an age where stories are force fed to us with a kind of go-go-go rapidity, but there is no such feeling here. Yes, things get moving a little briskly, but it is done in a way that does not feel rushed. The experience is much like savoring an appetizer before getting into the main course, which is followed by dessert. Make no mistake dear Fusers, there is dessert here. Believe me.
In order to make sure the dessert of this film and other treats were kept intact, I think that having things withheld from us until just the right moment was a key factor. How does a film titled Godzilla, work with the focus not on the monster? You build up slowly to the reveal of this monster and what he can do and other things. You don’t show us everything off the top, right? Otherwise everything after that is less interesting. Everything here, and I mean everything, is always interesting and even surprising.
A big surprise was that Godzilla was not going to be alone. This was going to be a kaiju battle film. The trailers and TV spots smartly chose to withhold that piece, making for a much more satisfying experience for me. I certainly missed any visual of another kaiju in the ads if there ever was one. Again, this was a nod to old-school filmmaking and/or film advertising. If you’re behind the making and marketing of this film, you generate curiosity and excitement and then deliver the goods when audiences come to see the film. Here I was thinking it would be a film like Godzilla’s very first appearance back in 1954, where he came to terrorize the city all by his lonesome. Rather, he would be a protector of the city, which fits in mighty nicely with all the hero films we’re getting these days.
As mentioned earlier, this is a wonderfully acted film. The unsurprisingly amazing Bryan Cranston is a standout here as Dr. Joe Brody. He does great, varied and nuanced work for the amount of screen time he has. Every moment counts with him and he makes you care about what is happening. You absolutely believe him. Another standout is Elizabeth Olsen, who really surprised me as Elle Brody. I haven’t seen too much of her work, but she has even less time than Cranston and is no less compelling to watch. She was one I wanted to see a bit more of. Playing the lead, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Elle’s husband, Ford Brody. He is solid as the straight-laced military family man. I very much appreciated that he wasn’t the all-out macho action hero and that the understated aspects of his performance were very strong. I must also mention another great actor, Ken Watanabe. He is fantastic in this film rounding out the spectrum of actors between himself and Cranston who give this film a considerable amount of heart.
This wouldn’t be a proper review I don’t think, if I didn’t talk about the character of Godzilla, the reason we watch this movie. He is absolutely gorgeously rendered. Much like the dragon Smaug from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the level of detail is staggering. The updated look is perfect as it recognizes the previous incarnations, but pushes forward enough to give us a version that today’s audiences will be pleased with when they finally do see him. The MUTO, another kaiju, is nothing to sneeze at either. Wonderfully designed with believable physical movements and interactions with the surrounding environments, you buy that these giant monsters caused the destruction you see.
Speaking of destruction, it was nice to welcome the city of San Francisco to the group of American cities to play host to the climactic battle sequence, which is that dessert I mentioned earlier. I found it refreshing to see a city that wasn’t New York or Los Angeles, get some Godzilla-sized destruction. There is also probably one of the most beautifully executed, most poetic halo-jumping sequences I’ve ever seen, which is a scene I could see myself watching again and again on home video. Scenes like this are just one of many pleasures of the film. There are also a few treats for those true Godzilla heads out there. As a fan of the monster myself, I can say that I totally geeked out. Hardcore fans will undoubtedly do the same. Check this one out, Fusers. You won’t be disappointed.