Japan created Godzilla as a response to their nuclear horrors. America’s Godzilla features a military scrambling to recover a killaton warhead as if our fear is not having nukes at all.
Charging in for the precious device is Aaron Taylor Johnson, a buffed up, six packed Marine who follows the rampage of vacationing monsters as they step onto the shores of Hawaii and San Francisco. Insect-ish MUTOs, unleashed from the dawn of a radioactive Earth, compress the plot’s veins to ensure their grandiose visage is dominant in cinematographers Seamus McGarvey’s lens.
Godzilla? He’s out there with an instinctual craving for MUTO flattening and maybe nostalgia – Godzilla and his prey mashed the Earth during their period of pre-historic dominance, reawakened from a lack of nuclear oversight. Director Gareth Edwards pairs with scriptwriter Max Borenstein (with uncredited rewrites attributed to Frank Darabont) to pluck the conceptual charm of Jaws: Godzilla is screen rare.
Where Steven Spielberg succeeded in his shark endeavors, both in making his toothy fish a narrative presence and splitting human drama with a trio of genuine personalities, Edwards and Borenstein appear lost. Godzilla swims the Pacific for much of his American do over, and any sighted reprieves are whisked away by the clipping of an antagonizing editor. Cinema’s grandest leviathan has been demeaned to secondary status.
Johnson’s quiet screen aura is more of a visual framing device: Squeeze the soldier into the image to help audiences gestate on the triumphant sense of scale and mass. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) pampers viewers with expository science, his one note sense of quiet awe leading to a cemented facial expression. Barely relevant military leads (David Strathairn, Richard T. Jones) bounce around the undercarriage of an aircraft carrier to spew empty victory speeches or prop up America’s invincibility.
It’s Bryan Cranston as Johnson’s delirious and grief riddled father who extracts a sensible mystery, emotionally pierced after his wife was soaked in radioactive steam during a 1999 Japanese power plant incident. Cranston’s scenes are an admirable center in a film often thumped by squandered pacing.
Come the second half, Godzilla rummages through tropes of summer spectacles. Tanks swim through layers of panicked Californians as they seek shelter, Godzilla’s latest fare descriptive with the camera in depicting the sizable fear of looming disaster. This edition of the radiated animal’s exploits are not built on awe so much as they are an inevitable event. Godzilla is less representative of nuclear carelessness (less this national battleground appear drunk on domestic weaponization) than he is part of nature’s balancing act. It’s clever in both harnessing signs of explosive fallout to respect the origins and still adding a blast of USA pride. Godzilla isn’t our fault – he just is. We’re now amongst the second American Godzilla birthed by something outside of the country’s control.
With 20 minutes to go, Godzilla finally rises, beginning a non-tactical desecration of San Francisco, scrumming with two MUTOs who fiercely peck and poke at the giant’s hide, all while Johnson (and company) take umbrage under this scrappy collision. All the while, Alexander Desplat pumps out his score which screams enormity and eventually crowing Godzilla king with rightful, bellowing trumpets.
Godzilla is $160 million of back loaded spectacle.
Note: The following technical critiques are based on location experiences. Such reviews are not scored and should be considered as generalized guidelines given variations in projection/audio systems.
Godzilla employed the Arri Alexa Plus for its filming purposes, with resulting images deep in sharpness and fidelity. CG soaked scenarios of abandoned or crushed cities display buildings into horizon lines where needed, with subtle touches or signs visible no matter the distance. Some noise seeps into certain effects shots, although the complexity is often an acceptable excuse. Into the rampage, San Francisco is walloped by hazes of smoke and dust. While black levels recede to best serve both 2D and 3D presentations, depth is not lost. Post production color tweaking mixes in reds, yellows, and softer earth hues for a pleasingly rich palette, still hinging on the sense of pale doom.
Post conversion 3D is admirable, if rarely considered by the film making team. Consider it an accentuation rather than pop-out thrill ride. Scenes of post-city squashing damage are enhanced by the deepened frame and despite the torrent of raining debris, even the downtown animal brawls are given definitive dimension.
Theaters with booming subwoofers will best serve this thundering feature, although an IMAX screening (this review is based on IMAX and standard screen viewings) was unnecessarily vicious, bleaching the high-end and even wrapping some dialog in noise. Subtle uses still produce a vast sound stage of crumbling buildings, and the birth of the first MUTO in a controlled environment creates creaking and moaning equipment as the weight strain takes over.