The Bailey Review: GODZILLA (2014)


SYNOPSIS:
An epic rebirth to Toho's iconic Godzilla, this spectacular adventure, from Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures, pits the world's most famous monster against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity's scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence. 
Gareth Edwards directs "Godzilla," which stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson ("Kick-Ass"), Oscar® nominee Ken Watanabe ("The Last Samurai," "Inception"), Elizabeth Olsen ("Martha Marcy May Marlene"), Oscar® winner Juliette Binoche ("The English Patient," "Cosmopolis"), and Sally Hawkins ("Blue Jasmine"), with Oscar® nominee David Strathairn ("Good Night, and Good Luck.," "The Bourne Legacy") and Bryan Cranston ("Argo," TV's "Breaking Bad").


REVIEW:

Godzilla is the single greatest creature movie since Jurassic Park. 

I said it.
I stand by it.
Let's talk about it.

From the opening credits of the film, where vintage footage of nuclear bomb "tests" are shown, we are immediately engaged in this world. We see glimpses of Godzilla's scaly back right from the get-go. The surprise isn't that there is a giant, God-like lizard monster living underwater. We already know that, which is great. Now we can focus on the lives of the humans in this story, one where there just happens to be an epic creature living in the Pacific.

Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is a nuclear physicist and engineer at the Janjira power plant in the fictional Japanese town of the same name. On the morning of his birthday, he leaves in a hurry with his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche), who also works at the same power plant as a nuclear regulations consultant, because something unusual is taking place at the plant. In the car ride over, Sandy tells Joe that in their hurried state, he neglected to notice the birthday sign their son Ford made for him. He feels guilty only long enough for us to know he loves his son, but that there might be some way cooler Godzilla things going down at Janjira which the audience will love even more. Good man, Joe.

At the plant, we're introduced to Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), a lead scientist who has been monitoring seismic activity in the area, as well as Godzilla's whereabouts. The seismic activity is forming a pattern and getting stronger with each minute, until it is finally strong enough to take down parts of the power plant, like watching a sandcastle crumble unexpectedly. Sandy and her team are trapped on one side of the plant where a chemical leakage has occurred which could kill thousands of people in Janjira if it escapes. Joe races to her end of the plant, but is forced to make a decision of waiting for his wife to appear or sealing the door which would contain the leakage, trapping her and the others inside.

He chooses the latter, which is somber, but since we never had enough time to see these two really interact, we're left with little empathy for the situation. The best film to showcase this type of decision is James Cameron's The Abyss, when Ed Harris' character is forced to let his ex-wife drown in front of him in the hopes that he can carry her body through the ocean deep and revive her once he's back in his vessel. If you haven't seen that film, do it. But, I digress.

Fifteen years after the Janjira disaster, the entire town is still a quarantine zone. Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is now grown up, married to a nurse named Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), with whom he has his own son, and works as an explosives ordinance disposal technician with a Lieutenant ranking in the US Navy. He and his father are holding on to what little of a relationship they have left, but it's difficult since Joe has become obsessed with monitoring the seismic activity in the abandoned Janjira town. He's convinced the government is hiding something which led to his wife's death. Joe asks Ford to join him in revisiting their old home and defunct power plant to test his theories on radiation levels and so much more. Ford hesitantly agrees. 

While scouring the ghost town, they realize the air is safe to breath, and animals are roaming free. They really are hiding something here! That crazy Joe was right! You go, Joe. However, before Joe and Ford get too close to the truth, the Japanese police force captures them and takes them to a secret test facility for questioning. It is learned that Dr. Serizawa and his partner Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) now work at this facility, and are finding seismic patterns which resemble that of fifteen years ago. Fearing that history might repeat itself, and recognizing that Joe could be an asset in learning what's going on, they unveil what they've been hiding to Joe and Ford: a giant egg sac of some specimen which they have been feeding radiation to for the last fifteen years. Nothing could possibly go wrong doing that, right? As scientists, they want to see what happens when it hatches, but Joe knows this is a terrible idea, and convinces them to destroy the egg. 

However, what's inside isn't killed, and it escapes, revealing a terrifying new movie monster we will be sure to talk about for many years. This creature destroys the facility, kills a bunch of people, and flies away to find other sources of radiation in the world to keep itself alive. Now, the military knows it must intercede. Eventually, the new monster makes his way to the United States where Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn) leads the charge in throwing everything we have at the flying creature. Bullets and bombs don't work, and the creature has the ability to send out a shockwave which will shut down any electrical power for miles, including air strike jets. What will we do?!

Godzilla knows.

1. Get out of the water.
2. Find the creature.
3. Beat the living shit out of it and destroy as much of civilization in the process. 

The rest of the film follows the dual story of Ford's volunteered involvement with Admiral Stenz' men and whether or not the military should put themselves at risk or follow Dr. Serizawa's suggestion to let the Godzilla do what he clearly knows how to do.

This film is so much fun. It embodies everything that was great about the original franchise and ups the ante on every level. The acting is great, despite some pretty corny dialogue at times, the visual effects are astounding, the sound design was scary, and the music score by Alexandre Desplat was one of the main highlights of the experience. The movie clearly drew influence from Jurassic Park, and even seemed to pay homage to some of the tropical helicopter scenes and that pivotal scene where the T-rex sticks his little arm over the fence wire to see that it's not charged before ripping the enclosure down. But it was because it took what was great from everything that came before it and added new elements that makes this film a must-see theatre experience.

Director Gareth Edwards' previous feature, Monsters, was a fantastic character study in a slice of life journey of two people amidst giant, unexplainable creatures. Everything that worked in that film was brought over to this one. The film is about the people. It is about not knowing answers to why things are happening, but watching them play out and hoping for the best. Godzilla is only a friend for the reason that he's not an obvious foe. We don't need to know more than that. Let him be Godzilla, and let's see how the humans deal with the circumstances. 

Also, 3D is definitely the way to see this one. As with all my reviews to date, the team behind it was Stereo D. They most recently did the astonishing work on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Need for Speed, and are behind the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past. They also did Pacific Rim, which was the most recent example of how great it is to see size enhanced when 3D depth is added. The depth and sheer size of Godzilla demand it be seen this way. Gareth Edwards shot the film in 2D, knowing that it would be converted in post-production. Stereoscopic conversion has gotten so clean that it's near impossible to distinguish them from films shot natively in 3D. 
Be ready to see this film on opening night with a packed house, and then again multiple times with new groups afterwards. The audience will be very audible during the fight scenes between the monsters, laugh when it's funny, and get scared where there's Jaws-like tension. It's maybe the most fun I've had at the movies this year, in addition to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I also reviewed for this site. It feels great to know that Roland Emmerich's Godzilla can finally be locked away forever, because there's a new king in town, and he roars supreme.

This review was written by contributor Darren Bailey, actor and founding member of Thousand Pounds Action Company. Feel free to follow his personal adventures via Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to Thousand Pounds Action Company through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

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