Godzilla 2014 is the Hagler vs. Hearns of giant rampaging colossal beast movies—only three rounds of action but who’s complaining? (For those too young to remember, Hagler vs. Hearns was ranked almost universally as the greatest fight in history.) This movie successfully strives to embody the awesomeness and indifferent grandeur of nature. And, of course, to entertain in a big way. There’s a passing reference to humankind’s arrogance but not the preordained guilty verdict of our species for capital crimes against the planet. The motto here isn’t—I hate humanity! (Avatar) It accomplishes its mission so powerfully that it hardly matters if the King of Monster’s appearance is more brief than many would like. It’s no cameo appearance; the big man is the closing act and he owns this show.
The intensity of Brian Cranston’s performance, likewise too short, is similarly satisfying. Fifteen years after his wife’s death in a collapsing nuclear power plant in Japan, for which he blames himself, he remains an obsessed man, investigating the minutia of the incident. His room is decorated in a classic paranoia motif, clipping and documents papering the walls. He refuses to believe the event was the accident the authorities claim it was. Recognising seismic patterns, he rants wildly about a repeat of the original disaster. In real life, the wild man accusing government officials of lying and proclaiming imminent apocalypse is half right. In the movies, he’s the oracle.
I’ve heard comments about the lack of non-stop heavy-metal action in Godzilla. That may be true but there is always the sense of impending action even when cities are not crumbling; the pace leaves nothing to be desired and there is always something happening. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Cranston’s estranged son, Ford Brody, learns that dad wasn’t such a nut after all and does more than his part to save the world, not to mention showing his softer side saving one little kid on a train to oblivion. He may lack dad’s fire-in-the-belly ferocity, but, after all, he’s a military man. His unemotional bearing is appropriate. (John Lennon fans should check him out in Nowhere Boy, a poignant bio-pic of the artist as a young man). If there’s not enough action for you in Godzilla, maybe take up base jumping and other adrenalin rush activities.
Obviously, Gareth Edwards, the director of Monsters, is a director who respects the apocalypse genre. There is such meticulous care shown in every detail, especially in the credible portrayal of people as people, and such an absence of the kind of goofing off on the job that appears in so many other special effects extravaganzas, that one is compelled to hold his skills in awe, like Spielberg’s in his making of Jurassic Park.
As everyone knows by now, Godzilla has a warm-up act, a couple of malicious pterodactyl-like creatures, one with wings. What they lack in size they make up for in attitude. The King is a class act next to them.
On a final note, one of the real stars of the movie is the Godzilla roar, one of the most gut-wrenching, thunderous bellows ever to strike fear into the hearts of an audience. Sound designer, Eric Asdahl, was hired to update the classic sound effect. He’s not revealing the secret but he testifies that he experimented with thousands of sounds before hitting on “a winner”. It will shiver your timbers.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
Runtime: 123 mins
Country: USA, Japan