MRR Review: "Godzilla"

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American nuclear weapons testing results in the creation of a giant radioactive monster called Godzilla, a seemingly unstoppable, dinosaur-like beast awakened from its slumber to wreak destruction on its creators. How can this monster be stopped?
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Rating: PG-13
Length: 123 minutes
Release Date: May 16, 2014
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Genre: Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

There is something to be said for a monster that is still such a hot property after making its debut well over half a century ago. Godzilla has always been a reflection of the world's anxieties while also serving as an entertaining big-budget escape. There have been over two dozen "Godzilla" movies produced by Japan's Toho Studios since the 1954 original as well as productions from other countries, including Italy and the United States. The newest American "Godzilla" production continues in the "Godzilla" tradition but with an obvious commitment to quality and a degree of effort that the cinematic world of "Godzilla" has not seen for years or possibly even decades. Fortunately, the positive buzz around this "Godzilla" release appears to be well-founded. Director Gareth Edwards, along with a capable cast and a talented special effects crew, deliver a movie that is both worth the "Godzilla" legacy and its inevitable box office success.

When the first "Godzilla" movie came out of Japan in 1954, the terrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in the memory of the country and the world. As the Cold War was heating up, nuclear horror weighed heavy on the international consciousness. Japan, after facing unimaginable destruction during World War II, was the only country to see what a nuclear bomb could do first-hand.

The world's fears have changed in the past 6 decades, and 2014's "Godzilla" references them in a way that is more direct than in past monster movies. While "Cloverfield" alluded to modern anxiety in a roundabout way, "Godzilla" explicitly refers to recent events such as Japan's 2011 Fukushima disaster, leaving little doubt that this is a monster for the 21st century.

The human element is strong in "Godzilla," thanks to a cast of actors who are popular box office draws and some of the most talented actors in the world, such as Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen and Juliette Binoche. Cranston gets plenty to do here as obsessive engineer Joe Brody, who is bent on uncovering the true cause of a nuclear accident. It is surprising to see Juliette Binoche as Brody's wife, since the French actress usually works exclusively on more serious films. When they appear together, the combination of Cranston and Binoche is an incendiary acting powerhouse that is rare in action films. Rounding out the movie's central family is Aaron-Taylor Johnson as Brody's son Ford and Elizabeth Olsen as Ford's wife.

However, apart from the unusually gripping human dynamics, "Godzilla" really begins to roll as the destruction begins. Years after Cranston and Binoche investigate odd occurrences at the fictional Janjira nuclear power plant, the monsters start to wreak havoc. The main monster is the massive lizard-like creature himself. English director Gareth Edwards is famous for his independent film "Monsters," and this Godzilla is a chilling and incredibly rendered movie monster with detailed and disturbingly believable features for a beast well over 300 feet tall. The other destructive creatures, the Mutos, are appropriately disgusting insect monsters.

Even before the action starts in earnest, "Godzilla" is suitably entertaining, but movie-goers who are mostly interested in excitement and intensity will be very pleased with how everything plays out over the movie's 2-hour running time. The monster movie destruction is not relegated to just one city or geographic area, with special effects taking place in Japan, then moving across the Pacific to the Hawaiian islands and ending in California. While seeing cities destroyed and people panicking is nothing new, the direction, the CGI and the cinematography make this "Godzilla" feel vital and disturbingly realistic. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey put no small amount of work into giving "Godzilla" an unnerving feel, reportedly using vintage equipment to create the movie's unique look.

"Godzilla" is about apprehensions of the modern world but also about the unstoppable forces of nature, unabated by the best efforts of humanity. This theme may be well-explored throughout the history of movies and literature, but it is difficult not to feel the majesty of nature's power by the end of "Godzilla."

There are some compelling reasons why Warner Brothers and Legend Pictures have put so much at stake in this 2014 rendition of "Godzilla." Multiple CGI-heavy blockbusters demand the attention of multiplex-goers every season, and a massive, influential community of movie bloggers and message-board posters stand ready to pick apart any major release. Perhaps most importantly, the public knows all about Godzilla movies at this point, both the good and the bad. In short, he studios know that a "Godzilla" movie in 2014 had better be good.

At this point, it is hard for any movie to rise above the usual onslaught of big-budget summer action films. However, "Godzilla" delivers on all fronts, with lovingly rendered effects, interesting subtext and an uncommonly strong cast.