Friday, June 6, 2014

GODZILLA (2014)

Written by Max Borenstein


Directed by Gareth Edwards


Where & When:  CineStar at The Sony Center,  Berlin, Germany. May 20, 2014  2:00PM


Godzilla, the undisputed king of the monsters, first started its reign of terror on Japanese audiences back in 1956. This campfest became a box-office sensation there. Raymond Burr, a little-known actor at the time, was spliced in to an English-language version a few years later and an international star was born. Although this giant sea creature's appearance came across slightly more cuddly than frightening, by today's standards anyway, it worked well enough to scare and excite viewers to spawn countless sequels, spin-offs and rip-offs including a much reviled Hollywood remake in 1998. Another attempt to revive this creature is now out by director Gareth Edwards and his "Godzilla" remains faithful to the spirit of the original film. This behemoth is modern-looking yet recognizable and made even more impressive in 3D with some pretty spectacular action sequences to keep you on the edge of your seat. While all of the thrills and destruction are just right, what is lacking, however, is a compelling human element to keep you engaged despite a classy cast of actors displaying some first-rate panic on their faces.

Many years after the U.S.testing of a hydrogen bomb on a island in the Pacific, what appears to be a massive skeleton is discovered in a collapsed mine nearby in the Philippines. A scientist (Ken Wantanabe) has been called out to investigate and finds that a large egg seems to have recently hatched and whatever was inside has gone out in to the ocean.

Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), is an American managing a nuclear plant in Japan. High-strung and focused mainly on his work, he even forgets the day is his birthday. Lucky for Joe he has a lovely wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche) who also works at the plant and a sweet young son that remembered. A strange seismic disruption causes panic at the nuclear facility and Joe and Sandra race out to find answers. As Sandra and her group go down to the reactors to check their condition, a major explosion occurs which could release radiation in to the city unless the area they're in is shut off. Torn between saving thousands of lives or his wife, Joe makes the difficult and tragic decision.  Despite his personal sacrifice, the reactors are destroyed by some unknown force, which is officially blamed on an earthquake, and the city becomes uninhabitable.

Fifteen years later, Joe's son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is now a Marine and has just come home to San Francisco to be reunited with his lovely wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and his sweet young son. Not long after the family celebration, Ford receives a call informing him that his father had been arrested for trespassing in the contaminated city in Japan. Reluctantly, he heads out to bail out his old man who is obsessed about finding out what really caused the nuclear plant's destruction. While Godzilla doesn't make it's presence known until about half way through the film, a M.U.T.O. or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism emerges to terrorizes the city in the meantime. After another giant winged monster (this time female) appears looking for her mate and a convoluted explanation that all of these massive creatures are in search of nuclear energy to feed on, the human race is simply in the way as Godzilla and the monster couple battle for dominance.

The creation of Godzilla arose from the residue of the atomic bombing in WWII and the horrific aftermath which had left the Japanese shaken and uncertain of the future. The later films focused on other weighty topics such as the fear of alien invasion and threats to the environment. This Godzilla has pretty much steered clear of making any political statements with pure entertainment being the ultimate goal. However, the director Gareth Edwards, whose only previous film was the low-budget 2010 horror flick, "Monsters", has made a point of taking his version very seriously and with great respect. This is the first produced screenplay for Max Borenstein and while he's able to create some magic with setting up the impressive monster battles, his script fails to enlighten the flesh and blood characters. In fact, my biggest gripe with this film is the treatment of the cast.

The terrific actors used here are not the typical faces usually found in your average action-thriller yet they are spectacularly and shockingly wasted, particularly the glorious Ms Binoche. I don't even know why the Oscar-winning actress (who famously turned down the role that went to Laura Dern in "Jurassic Park") even agreed to be in this as she's given only maybe ten minutes of screen time that offers her no opportunity to properly utilize her gifts. Recent Oscar Nominee, Sally Hawkins, who was so brilliant in "Blue Jasmine" is equally underused here as an assistant to Mr. Wantanabe's nearly mute scientist. While Mr. Cranston has a slightly more substantial part but he's so ridiculously overheated that there are moments where his skull seemed ready to literally pop off.

With the aid of state-of-the-art CGI, this "Godzilla" becomes the monster of our times. This creature impressively smashes and thrashes to win the day but the overall feel is far too hollow and generic, making the film have as much depth as a video game.