Godzilla Blu-ray Review
Godzilla fans have been waiting a long time for something to come along and wipe from their memory the utter disappointment of the 1998 film starring Matthew Broderick. Thankfully, director Gareth Edwards has managed to successfully reboot the franchise, respecting the roots of the timeless character while adding a unique take on its origin story. Godzilla benefits immensely from a clear vision, a coherent story, a massive budget, and the technological advancements of the past sixteen years or so since the last big screen iteration.
Godzilla’s story pays homage to the original canon while adding some interesting twists. In this rebooted canon, Godzilla was not created by the nuclear tests of the 1940s, but rather has been living at the bottom of the ocean since the time of the dinosaurs. After the U.S. government discovered the creature’s existence in 1954 (the year the original film released in Japan), it tried to destroy Godzilla with nuclear bombings. No evidence was found determining the creature’s fate, and the government created Project Monarch to secretly monitor the ocean for any signs of the organism.
Fast forward to 1999, and Project Monarch scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) discover a massive skeleton in the Philippines, containing a dormant egg of what will later be identified as a parasitic species to the Godzilla species. One egg has recently hatched and seemingly escaped its confines as a result of the mining, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. This gigantic parasitic species, dubbed MUTO by Project Monarch, feeds on radioactive energy, and makes a beeline for the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, where Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) work as technicians. While Sandra is inside the reactor, the MUTO breaches its interior, releasing radioactive steam that kills her and her team as the plant collapses completely.
Fifteen years later, the MUTO creature is still in hibernation, feeding off of the radiation from the Janjira plant and being closely monitored by Project Monarch, who has been fearful of killing the creature – lest it release the colossal radiation that it’s been absorbing all these years. Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is now an EOD officer for the US Navy, living in San Francisco with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and his son. Joe, who Ford has long though crazy due to his obsession with what he believes is a government cover-up, is arrested in Janjira for trespassing in the quarantine zone. Soon after the MUTO creature awakens, destroying the Project Monarch facility and attacking Honolulu, Hawaii. Godzilla rises from the ocean, following the MUTO’s movements. Serizawa, who has long studied Godzilla, believes that the creature is here to restore balance, and that the armed forces should not interfere in the ensuing battle.
Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla offers a much more serious tone than the 1998 Roland Emmerich take on the character. Combined with the very convincing visual effects and camera shots taken from bystander perspectives, such as a soldier skydiving toward the kaiju, a child inside of a school bus, or from the window of a skyscraper, the film feels believable. CGI advancements allow Godzilla to stomp through the ocean, topple buildings and bridges, and overturn aircraft characters with surprising realism; audiences will be able to suspend disbelief enough to become absorbed in the film’s story.
While Godzilla 2014 is by far the best of the US-developed films, it’s certainly not without its shortcomings. As is the case with many disaster films, the human characters are mostly flat and uninteresting. Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody is the film’s best human character, but unfortunately he’s not in the movie as long as the trailers would suggest. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is stuck with largely uninspired dialogue, mostly barking orders and looking angry. Juliette Binoche and Elizabeth Olsen are both talented actresses, but they aren’t given much to do here. Ken Watanabe grounds the film, as his character provides much of the exposition and it’s obvious that the actor has respect for the source material.
While some fans may complain that the film doesn’t have enough Godzilla, the way that Gareth Edwards builds up to his reveal is very well executed. The climactic battles near the end are extremely cool, though it may have been a mistake to have them take place at night. These scenes are quite dark and difficult to see, and I had to watch the film twice before noticing certain details in the action sequences. In fact, many of the scenes featuring the creatures take place at night, which almost makes me think that the director wasn’t completely confident in how realistic the final CG would look in broad daylight. In the film’s extras, he expresses his surprise at how well done the final CGI shots were, so this could very well be the case.
The Godzilla Blu-ray disc packs a solid amount of extra features. There’s archival footage showcasing the nuclear bombing on the Godzilla creature, as well as faux documentaries discussing the government cover-up. Beyond that, there are behind-the-scenes features looking at the film’s production and CGI integration, as well as the history of Godzilla and cast interviews. There’s a lot to dig into if you’re into this sort of thing, and I found it immensely interesting to watch the computer graphics evolve from rough storyboard models to incredibly complex, photo-realistic shots.
In short, this is a great revival of the Godzilla franchise that any fan will want to pick up. It’s an exhilarating summer blockbuster with a fair amount of substance and some fantastically realized destruction sequences. If you’re expecting two full hours of monster battles, you might be disappointed, but what’s here is a dramatic improvement over Godzilla’s last outing on the silver screen.