Movie Review #757
Directed by Gareth Edwards. Screenplay by Max Borenstein. (Story: David Callaham.) Produced by Bob Ducsay, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, and Thomas Tull for Disruption Entertainment and Toho Company, presented by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures. Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Carson Bolde, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, and David Strathairn. Credited cameos: CJ Adams, James Pizzinato. Uncredited cameo: Paul Chirico. Premiered in Los Angeles, California on May 8, 2014. Distributed by Warner Bros. in wide release on May 16, 2014. Also to be released in Japan on July 25, 2014. Rated PG-13: intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence. Runs 123 minutes.
The Japanese company Toho has produced a total of 29 Godzilla movies. They’re basically the James Bond of “monster movies,” therefore, and they’re a staple to pop culture in Japan as well as in America. But Godzilla has never really been as costly as James Bond. Converted to American dollars and adjusted for inflation, the Japanese Godzilla films present a budget of around $350 million. In box office revenue, the series hasn’t even grossed a billion dollars.
Now we welcome the gigantic beast into Hollywood, where in some cases, a single movie can exceed a billion dollars and think nothing of it. 2014’s “Godzilla” reboot won’t inhale that kind of cash, but I for one find it astonishing that the movie is budgeted at $160 million. Folks, that’s almost half of what the Japanese series cost, and this is one film. What’s great about this big-budget movie is that it puts $160 million to good use. Director Gareth Edwards helmed another monster movie back in 2010 (simply titled “Monsters”)–a modestly budgeted, independently produced film. My point? “Godzilla” offers bleeding awesome special effects and 3-D stunts, and at the same time, it offers a director who understands that movies are about creativity and story, not just money.
“Godzilla” is a riveting, thrilling movie. Screenwriter Max Borenstein accomplishes the same principle of suspense that made “Jaws” so successful: We don’t see the titular creature until at least an hour into the film, but there’s tension built from the repeated mention of the monster. Of course there’s also anticipation just from the fact that we know what’s coming and we want it to happen. The second half of the movie is composed of the much expected scenes, in which Godzilla is pitted against two equally dangerous, preying mantis-like beasts. For some of this time, the movie does run low on its fuel. The story seems to repeat quite a bit in this area. Your best bet is to weigh how much you enjoy watching three gigantic reptiles annihilate city after city in 3-D. It’s fun, but it fills the entire last hour, and there are a few dull spots. During the last 20 minutes, however, the movie has our full attention. This is where “Godzilla” proves to be more than simply “back up on its feet again.” This finale is by far the most entertaining portion of the film, and I’ll freely admit that when the movie came to its triumphant close, I clapped.
There’s a reason I compliment the dramatic buildup in “Godzilla”. The characters are well-developed, and the performances are rather believable. I’ll mention Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, and Bryan Cranston in particular for their exceptional deliveries. But this movie isn’t paramountly about acting, and there’s no getting past the fact that “Godzilla” looks and sounds (for lack of a better word) nice. Before we get any sense of the characters, the setting, or the story, we’re introduced to a brilliant title sequence. Kyle Cooper designed the titles, and if his work on the openings in “Se7en”, “Spider-Man”, and “Sherlock Holmes” tells us anything, it’s that there’s no better man to be doing his job in Hollywood. He sets the scene perfectly, along with the music from Alexandre Desplat. Indeed “Godzilla” has already demanded an Oscar for its achievement in music, as well as one for its visual and sound effects. Of course we’d hope for quality special effects in a $160 million, 3-D Godzilla movie, and perhaps we’d expect it. We’d also expect so many effects that there just isn’t any room left for entertainment. But that’s not the case here.✴
– Alexander Diminiano