Godzilla vs. Mega Expectations

February 28, 2014 by stevengill

It’s difficult to make a good film when a force of nature is the main character. Just look at “The Day After Tomorrow.” Eesh. But it certainly helps when your force of nature is beloved by millions around the world.

Godzilla, everyone’s favorite destruction enthusiast, returns to theaters in May. Here’s the newly-released trailer!

Some fans of “Cloverfield” and “Pacific Rim” may be saying “Been there, done that,” but that mindset could be a bit off the mark. Sure, monster movies are prevalent these days, but the new Godzilla’s approach appears to be rooted in one of the genre’s more intriguing tales – the original 1954 “Gojira,” which was a dark parable about the consequences of using nuclear weapons.

Godzilla, or Gojira in the beginning, started as one big metaphor for nature’s wrath. Somewhere along the way, he also took on the role of charming defender of Earth. I enjoy both styles, but I certainly see the inherent problem for modern adaptations – you just can’t make everyone happy. The 1998 “Godzilla” starring Matthew Broderick tried and failed to do just that. To the filmmakers’ credit, they tried pretty hard.

“Ferris Bueller’s Godzilla Adventure,” as I like to call it, incorporated elements from many of the Japanese films, including the dark origin story, cautionary lesson, campy, goofy fun and even mysteriously conceived offspring. There were plenty of inside jokes, nostalgic callbacks, and explosive set pieces. It was an impressive production. It also sucked. The film was terribly miscast (except for Jean Reno, of course), too punny for its own good and reinvented the giant lizard too much for hardcore fans. Roland Emmerich, the director, even admitted he never liked the original Godzilla movies and only agreed to make a reboot if he could take several liberties with the mythology.

Luckily, in all of the areas where the 1998 film failed, the 2014 film seems destined to succeed. Here are some of the reasons the new movie might not be terrible:

Yeah, those helicopters are going to accomplish a lot.

The cast: Golden Globe and multiple Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, Oscar winner Juliette Binoche, Oscar nominees Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe, and rising stars Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. On paper, this is a solid cast. Having Bryan Cranston, an actor known for both comedic and dramatic roles, at the center of it also allows the movie some emotional range. Another good sign: no “Simpsons” voice actors. The 1998 film famously features three of them.

The director: Gareth Edwards has a light film resume. The 2010 film “Monsters” is the only movie he directed before “Godzilla.” It’s good, though! “Monsters” follows a man and woman trying really hard to avoid giant octopus aliens that have made Earth their home away from home. While the octopus things are definitely an important plot point, they don’t actually factor in much to the central story. The movie’s intimate direction keeps a human focus with the camera close to the two leads the whole time. When the aliens do show up, it’s a big moment, literally and figuratively, because most of the movie is on a smaller scale. This is exactly the kind of approach a modern monster movie needs. Plus, Edwards has worked closely with Toho Co., Ltd., the company behind Godzilla and Mothra movies, to make sure everything turned out right.

The monsters: Besides Big G, at least two other monsters have been rumored to appear in the film. The trailer confirms this, showing brief glimpses of a bug creature and a flying creature (Rodan??). A fight among these brutes is almost a given. Though many of Toho’s monsters, including Godzilla, started their city-crushin’ careers as solo artists, monster battles eventually became a staple of the films. Godzilla should be feared and admired all at once – just like nature – and multiple monsters provide a perfect vehicle for this. The new design and roar for Godzilla are also welcome throwbacks after the weirdness of 1998’s Iguanazilla. Since the new film is marking the 60th anniversary of the franchise, it should be celebrating everything that makes Godzilla iconic, not reinventing the wheel. Luckily, it looks to be on the right path.

Of course, there are still plenty of reasons to worry. Gareth Edwards is a newbie director given a pile of cash. Can he really rein in the urge to fill the screen with explosions and rubble that would bury the story and characters? Few big budget directors have that restraint. Also, the new trailer seems a little cliche-ridden. The Golden Gate Bridge and Statue of Liberty destroyed again? Really? The statue shown in the trailer is actually a replica in Las Vegas, not New York, but its half-mauled exterior is still eye roll-worthy.

Can a modern Godzilla movie really be good? We’ll find out this May. Until then, I’ll be waiting with bated, possibly radioactive breath.


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