By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
* Spoiler Alert
After ten long years, Godzilla is back! This reworking of the megalithic behemoth from the deep marks this creature’s triumphant return to the big screen and although this version is not a Japanese take, British director Gareth Edwards shows that a touch of good character drama and reinvention is all that’s needed to reinvigorate this franchise for an American audience.
Faith is restored to loving a radioactive monster that is now symbolic of Nature’s unleashed fury moreso than its origins by being birthed by the atomic bomb. The all too quick opening sequence explains that for viewers to subliminally process. In the classic film made by Toho Studios, this beast is not only a metaphor for the nuclear devastation that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan but also a symbol of terror. This looming essence represents a raw unrestrained power. The monsters it (not he, since the gender is unknown) fought often sought to subjugate humanity because of some alien race’s desire to conquer Japan, if not the planet Earth. In later films, it became an anti-hero.
Edwards spoke to the executives of Toho Studios about his ideas to update what this iconic creature represented. After a successful discussion, they gave the go-ahead for him to carry forward. With the assistance of writers Dave Callaham and Max Borenstein, they crafted a different style of origin that pays tribute to the beast’s roots. Perhaps, this director also looked at more recent concerns, namely in how the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster can displace families, that he can have viewers relate to.
This film looks at the potentially parallel life that both father Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) have to face. The film is essentially that of a son coming to terms with his estranged father: Joe, a nuclear scientist who’s more wrapped up in his work than his family. When he sees his wife die when the facility’s nuclear stockpile breaches, he’s lost it. Fast forward to 15 years later, Ford gets called in to go bail his father out, but life is still not kosher.
The character drama that develops feels cut short because of the greater story going on. Daisuke Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) wants to study the MUTO, a hybrid cockroach, bat and mantis like creature that’s feeding on the radiation that the nuclear facility (that Joe worked at) used to pump out, and the military wants to destroy it. While some aspects of this movie seems atypical for any monster movie, just where the tale goes is everywhere. It weaves in and out of the plot where Ford is just trying to make it back to his family in San Francisco.
Serizawa and his aide Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are important to this movie, but both their roles are underutilized. Serizawa spends more time gawking and soliloquizing about what Godzilla represents than figuring out a way to deal with him. His best line is to, “Let them fight it out,” than to let the military destroy both creatures with a nuclear bomb. Perhaps more about who these scientists are will be addressed in later films. Sequels are inevitable. Edwards may well have a bible in place to chart out what future movies will entail, and that will include Serizawa, Graham and Ford becoming part of a special task force that will track Godzilla’s migratory path. But will the mighty one be considered a threat to humanity? Sadly, no. Ishirō Honda and Takeo Murata’s intent in what the Japanese Gojira represents is lost in this remake.
Edwards does succeed in turning this creature into an elemental force that any military force will no doubt want to capture, if not control. The reinvention of what this beast represents works, but is this the type of Godzilla everyone wants? Only time will tell if audiences will take to Edwards show-running the next chapter of Mighty G’s adventures. As long as Toho approves, most fans will watch the new set of movies made to feature this atomic recreation and upon leaving the theatre, glow brightly as a result.
3½ Stars out of 5