Monster Mash; Godzilla reviewed

BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA

url-1Back in the ‘50s, gargantuan sea-creature Godzilla made a name for himself in sci-fi cinema. An icon of movie monsters, he left devastation in his wake and battled other towering beasts, such as Mothra, Hedorah, Gigan, and even King Kong. Then, in 1998, filmmaker Roland Emmerich brought the King of the Monsters to New York City. After watching the movie, it was clear that Godzilla’s legacy deserved so much better.

Now, Hollywood has Godzilla wreaking havoc once again. Director Gareth Edwards, who made the low-budget film “Monsters” back in 2010, was given the chance to helm this next outing of one of the most fearsome creatures to stomp on the big screen in his film, “Godzilla.” Although the movie has a few noticeable flaws, it can take solace in the fact that its roar is louder than that of Emmerich’s film.

In 1999, at the Janjira nuclear plant near Tokyo, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a supervisor at the plant, tries to warn everyone there about strange, patterned tremors that may be linked to something that’s not earthquake-related, but something much more dangerous. The plant soon suffers an explosion and radiation leak, which results in an evacuation and quarantine of the area.

Fifteen years later, Joe’s son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is living in San Francisco with his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olson), and their young son. Ford soon receives a call from Japan to go assist his father after he’s arrested for trespassing in the quarantined zone. With information obtained from the closed-off area, Joe teams up with a group of scientists and a US Navy team to help track down two MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) that have awakened and are causing destruction. Joe and the rest of his team soon come face-to-face with another threat when Godzilla, after being awakened by a deep-sea expedition in 1954, resurfaces to fight the MUTOs.

Although you don’t really go to a movie like this expecting decent human drama, there really should have been at least some adequate character moments, especially considering the cast includes talent like Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe. In the case of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, it would have helped if he brought to this movie some of the personality from his lead role in the “Kick-Ass” films, but making it work for the grim tone of “Godzilla,” as opposed to the comedic tone of “Kick-Ass.”

Bryan Cranston, however, is the standout in the cast. With his scenes, Cranston is able to generate a sense of fear with his dire warnings of an unknown threat. His feelings toward the loss he has suffered from the accident at the film’s beginning is where pretty much all of the film’s emotion comes from, and I wish the story material offered the other cast members the chance to do more with their characters.

The screenplay by Max Borenstein doesn’t have much character development, seeing as many of the people in the film are mainly just there to perform whatever duties their character requires, be it a scientist, nurse or soldier, without much else to go off of. Given how most of the first hour is dedicated to these characters, it would have helped for the story to provide a stronger reason to care for them while they were in the middle of the monsters’ warpath. That doesn’t mean they do a bad job with the roles they are given. It just means that there could have been a little more to them.

The fights between the MUTOs and Godzilla evoke a similar sense of awe that I felt last summer when watching the robot-monster battles of “Pacific Rim,” as well as the creature-feature destruction of 2008’s “Cloverfield.” Before the final fight, whenever the monsters engage in combat, we only see glimpses of the brawls, so as not to spoil us right away with the monster-on-monster action. By the time it gets to the last showdown, we’re ready to see Godzilla pummel his enemies.

Much of Godzilla’s screen time is saved for the last half hour, leaving the MUTOs to receive more scenes than the titular monster. Although this can get a tad frustrating at times, seeing as it’s Godzilla we paid to see, it’s also a clever tactic. Seeing the MUTOs several times throughout the film allows us to whet our appetites before we finally get to see the King in all of his roaring magnificence.

In the first fight scene between Godzilla and one of the MUTOs, the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey frames Godzilla in a tantalizing way that, in a couple of shots, he takes up a significant portion of the screen, but we don’t see his head. Up until this sequence, all we’ve seen are his back spikes protruding from the water was he swam. At the start of the fight, we have a shot from inside an airport as we see Godzilla stomp in from the right. A few seconds later, we get our first real shot of Godzilla in all of his glory. That’s the most of what we see of him until the last half hour, but it was all worth it to see him on the big screen.

Director Gareth Edwards has the potential to become, or maybe already is, our next great filmmaker of giant-creature movies. With “Monsters” being his directorial debut for film, it was highly impressive to see what he accomplished with a minimal budget. It’s refreshing to see that Hollywood noticed his skillfulness in making an independent monster movie and gave him the chance to prove himself with a bigger project of a similar genre. It’s evident that his creativity for sci-fi special effects has carried over to mainstream territory.

Although I wouldn’t mind “Godzilla” being a stand-alone movie, the film ends in such a way that could open the doors for a sequel. If it can bring better-written characters to go along with the outstanding creature visuals, I’d like to see Godzilla resurface from the ocean depths again.

Final grade: B