Godzilla review: This monster lizard is way better than its 1998 version
Godzilla is no Superman, or Batman. Our favourite giant mutant lizard is menacing, it elicits great fear, its size is unfathomable, but a superhero it’s not.
By Nikhil Subramaniam
Godzilla is no Superman, or Batman. Our favourite giant mutant lizard is menacing, it elicits great fear, its size is unfathomable, but a superhero it’s not. Godzilla is not a sequel-churning franchise, but it should be and 2014’s Godzilla sets it up wonderfully.
Godzilla’s fascinating mythology demands multiple takes on the subject. It seems scarcely believable that the story ends with humans defeating a massive, destructive lizard. But that was the premise of the last movie, a disastrous effort released in 1998. That narrative is what we have been fed time and again with Godzilla, Gozira or Gojira, whatever you may want to call the monster. But it was time for a new monster.
With the new Godzilla, a reboot of sort, we finally have that. That’s because Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla leaves you wanting more. Edwards is not a familiar name to most movie-goers, unless you attended a bunch of indie film festivals in 2010, when his debut film Monsters earned rave reviews and left viewers, including yours truly, slightly shivering. Having watched Monsters long ago, it had dropped out of my mind, but Godzilla serves up those memories in spades with massive action sequences, some stunning visual effects, palpable tension in between the action and the uneasy feeling thanks to director’s penchant to reveal things painfully slowly. And there are decent performances from the non CGI cast too, though let’s face it they are only in this for the dialogues and some comic relief.
The humans in Godzilla are Bryan Cranston, an engineer with a nuclear plant in Janjira, Japan. This is 1999 and the mood is suitably low-tech (read: Floppy disks), but Cranston’s Joe Brody is convinced of something fishy going on underground, which is being mistaken for seismic activity. No one believes him, when the quake hits and in the ensuing chaos Joe’s wife Sandra, played by Juliette Binoche, is killed as the plant is turned to rubble.
That sets the base for much of the movie. The story moves forward 15 years since the fall of Janjira to Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Joe’s son who is now a bomb technician in the US navy. He’s returning home to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) but has to leave immediately for Japan to release his dad jailed for trespassing into Janjira and the nuclear plant in order to find an answer to his questions. All this seems like fairly standard movie stuff. Nothing out of the ordinary here, one character is hell bent on finding ‘the truth’, while other is on a redemption arc. But the events that unfold soon after Ford arrives in Japan, sort of makes humans irrelevant.
In the 15 years since its collapse, the nuclear plant has actually been a womb for a massive prehistoric creature, which feeds on radiation. It’s being monitored by Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) an expert on the subject and involved with these creatures for a long time. The one trapped in Janjira is said to have escaped from deep under the earth’s crust, where its kind has lived since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Their only source of energy is nuclear radiation. It’s a slightly unbelievable premise, but once you see these monsters emptying cans of radioactive material into their hungry mouths, Edwards’ take becomes less sci-fi and more nature-driven. This point is hammered home in scenes where Serizawa is trying to humanise the monsters.
The creature, named MUTO for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object, escapes the nuclear plant after feeding on its nuclear fuel for 15 years and goes looking for another of its kind, which has also been stowed away secretly. As you can imagine, with two mega-monsters – one of the MUTOs is over 300 feet tall – in the picture, America’s cities are just sitting ducks. The tsunami sequence which takes out much of Honolulu is stunning to say the least. All the while we are led to believe that Godzilla, which is swimming underwater and generally being elusive, is just like them, intent on destroying cities to feed on nuclear fuel, but we find out later that MUTOs are actually prey for Godzilla.
Edwards has mastered the art of leaving viewers salivating for more. For a long time, we only get glimpses of the monster, just a ridge on its back, a teaser of a tail, so that when we finally see the entire 350-foot behemoth, it’s a rude shock. If you thought the MUTOs were massive, wait till you hear Godzilla scream the pants off you. It’s possibly the loudest scream and growl in movie history and truly gives you the chills. The climactic multi-monster action scene will possibly go down in history as one of the best of its kind, thanks to the athletic camerawork, the insane angles and the sheer insanity of monsters laying into buildings like they are tiered cakes.
But there’s another angle to this movie, a subliminal message. This film is also about nature one-upping humanity, seemingly paying back for centuries of abuse. about humanity’s quest to be fully nuclear reliant, from power plants to ammunition. It’s this thirst that has brought them to this point. But a monster movie needs a hero and here’s a hint: in this one it’s not the humans.
The opening minutes of the film show organisations and governments working since the 1940s to keep these creatures under wraps, by masking their murder with nuclear tests. The Godzilla and the MUTOs are direct descendants of these creatures, let loose on the earth by underwater explosions. So in more than one way, this is the doing of men. The message is clear: Don’t mess with nature, however weird it may be.
Godzilla has long deserved a movie like this Godzilla. It’s not a typical monster movie and is possibly the best of its kind in recent times. But don’t go in expecting all-out action. If you are willing to enjoy the tension, the slow burning build-up before the action-packed climax and are willing to see a fresher take on the subject, you will want to watch this one, possibly more than once.
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