As the 2014 summer movie season gets into full swing, one of the more enjoyable cinema experiences will undoubtedly be Gareth Edwards' "Godzilla". With the critical failure of the previous iteration of the franchise, this is the rare occasion where a reboot felt necessary. After much anticipation, this famous city-destroying monster is back, but is there anything new to offer?
From the opening credits, "Godzilla" is smartly laying the foundation to tell its story. Showing footage of nuclear explosions, it plays with the paranoia surrounding nuclear technology, that reached its height in the mid-20th century. Later in the movie, we find out that this explosion was a desperate attempt to eradicate a giant sea creature. As you can surmise, the attempt was unsuccessful and in a cruel bit of irony, it turns out that nuclear radiation is actually the main food source for these prehistoric monsters.
As we fast forward to the present day crisis of the film, this conundrum remains the real crux of the story. As new monsters emerge throughout the Pacific region and devaste cities, the humans must come to terms with their culpability in this reckoning. Long dormant following the end of a highly radioactive period in earth's history, or desire for nuclear technology has revived these prehistoric creatures from the stone age. No longer needing to dwell near the earth's core, nuclear hotbeds attract them with their freely available sustenance. So as we make advancements in technology, there are unanticipated side effects that cause nature to respond. In effect, the situation bares some similarities to the consequences of climate change. As Ken Watanabe declares in the film, Godzilla (the king of the monsters) is here to restore the natural order.
It's this kind of modern thinking that makes this take on "Godzilla" feel relevant and fresh. So many scenes begin with images of various flora and fauna, subtlely reinforcing this focus on the natural world. As Godzilla's fellow creatures wreak havoc around the world, you get the sense that this a disaster movie more in the vein of "The Day After Tomorrow", rather than the terrifying creature feature that you'd expect.
Of course, the film is often heart-poundingly terrifying, but in a curious way. The attack scenes are superbly conceived and executed, but they often feel like they cut away right before the big climax. It fits in with the erratic way of natural disasters, but from a narrative standpoint it admittedly breaks up the momentum. It also robs the film of that higher level of Spielberg-like grandeur and wonder that it sets up through its visuals and sound. Unfortunately, these scenes give way instead to endless strategizing by the humans, by far the least interesting parts of the film. This is largely due to the minimal attention given to the human characters, as the script gives each actor a constricting set of emotions to convey. The cast is uniformly solid, but they're prevented from giving any further depth or nuance.
In the end however, this lack of character development hardly matters in the grand scheme of things. It's clear to see that Godzilla (and by extension, nature itself) is the true star of this show. With his imposing stature and commanding face (there's even a hint of old-school cheesiness to the design), everyone is just forced to stand back and watch in awe. He's one bad mofo.
"Godzilla" may not be the perfect summer movie that we unrealistically hope for, but its strongest aspects are truly top-notch. Particularly from a conceptual standpoint, Gareth Evans has an excellent vision for the character and its fictional world. This Godzilla is highly suited for today's society, exploiting our contemporary concerns for maximum thrills. This is what blockbuster reboots should strive for.