The King of Monsters is back. There’s a good chance I’ve seen every Godzilla movie ever made, so it’s safe to say I have a strong sense of the character and what a good Godzilla movie has. You can breath easily, because director Gareth Edwards has made one of TH, best Godzilla movie since the 1954 classic. It’s certainly the most impressive from a technical standpoint. His last film Monsters (2010) showed his talent in the character department and the monsters were handled extremely well (probably why he got this job). Many of the Godzilla movies are campy and quite terrible in the story department, but the monster designs and the sense of fun was almost always there. Edwards has a strong cast to utilize and plenty of toys to play with here.
Bryan Cranston, Walter White himself, plays an engineer whose wife is killed in a nuclear accident in 1999. Fast forward 15 years and his son Ford, played by Aaron Taylor Johnson is in the Navy and married to Elle (Elizabeth Olsen). Cranston hooks us in as we see he’s dedicated his life to proving that this nuclear accident is something else….something unexplainable. Cranston does strong work here and plays the most human character of the film. His scenes are the most impactful emotionally. He’s the only truly real character in the entire movie, and there’s a reason for that. Eventually the film falls on Aaron Taylor Johnson’s shoulder’s. Some will argue he’s a stone actor, but I can assure you that, for better or worse, it is entirely intentional to make his character a surrogate for the audience. Kuleshov yo!
What’s intriguing about the film is the perspectives we get as an audience. Initially the framework is that of a Spielberg nuclear family, but there’s a shift into alienation and I was so confused as to what went wrong. Ford becomes a vessel for us to see the action in the story and the familial engagement is abandoned. And then it became clear. The perspective shifts from familial to Godzilla’s, or a higher deities’ perspective. This is a HUGE risk that pays off if one views the film from it’s thematic perspective. It’s a sacrifice of classic character arcs for larger thematic ideas. It pays off in spades. Think The Thin Red Line. Yes, really.
Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife centers a solid character outside the main action and works as another key POV. Btw, go back and watch a fantastic movie from 2011 called Martha May Marcy Marlene. She was robbed of an oscar that year! Her and Ford’s relationship is supposed to be the string that holds the emotional center of the film together, but Edwards slowly unravels and subverts it. Luckily it never fully breaks emotionally. The character work here is fascinating on a thematic level. It’s an art film that plays with conventions of Spielbergian filmmaking with shades of Terrence Malick breaking through. BUT of course the star of the movie is…. Godzilla.
Edwards teases us with his presence much like the shark in Jaws or the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. His presence is always felt and glimpsed in the humans ant like POV’s. Even the well constructed action scenes placed throughout that don’t have him are caused by his presence. We can expect plenty of explosive mindless action throughout the summer (sigh…) so appreciate the spatial construction of action here. It’s rooted in tension and takes cues from Spielberg’s flicks, notably Jurassic Park. Edwards directing is something to behold for a first time Blockbuster director. There’s some script issues, and you can harp on the characters lack of nuance for dayssssssss, but Edwards makes even those seem minuscule compared to his major feats. Not since Batman Begins has a first time blockbuster director brought art and entertainment to such a high level.
The dark grey color palette meshes with the warmer colors too cover the screen like a magnificent Japanese painting being painted right in front of our eyes. Edwards knows how to use cause and effect and where to place the audience’s perspective through action. Long shots put the monsters in perspective, and then cuts literal POV’s realign us with an understanding of scale. When the third act comes you’ll be greatly anticipating seeing Godzilla fight and understand his thematic and literal size…. Oh and yes it is amazing and fun to watch him throw down with these other monsters.
I cared more for what happened to him than the poor little humans, which is kinda the point. I cheered during his battles like a little kid. I do have a minor issue with the monsters that he’s fighting. The design of them is a bit too busy for me. The older monsters he fought had designs that were simpler and had more of a classic monster look. Godzilla’s design is soooo great though. You prob know this, but he’s a metaphor for man’s tampering with nature i.e. The atomic bomb testing. This films leans more into showing us man’s insignificance and relationship to an all powerful nature. Godzilla is an otherworldly being apart of our nature that comes back to restore balance.
Once it lets loose my 10 year old mind went wild. Edwards manages to find a sense of fun and pure awesomeness to parallel the melancholy he’d been building up. It’s classic spectacle while also minoring in the form and philosophy of a Malick film! So many blockbusters don’t even attempt to be something new or fresh. It’s more impressive to shoot for something ambitious and be flawed than to simply perfect something simple. Godzilla is a shockwave to the franchise blockbuster. The use of perspective is something I’ve rarely seen done this well. The thematic ideas stand as tall as the king of monsters himself. The stage is set for sequels and I’m psyched. Godzilla is an ode and subversion to Spielberg. Close Econounter’s familial story and wonder? Check. Jurassic Park and Jaws creature feature? Check.
Edwards shoots for more spectacle, thematic gravitas and awe rather than explosions and special effects. It’s an art soaked summer film that even when it stumbles you have to gaze in awe at. You can’t help but get a huge smile when you see Godzilla. A roaring ambitious, melancholic summer film that signals the beginning of a new blockbuster auteur.