Godzilla 2014 review

On Sunday, 1 June 2014, Thomas K.Y. and I caught an early matinee of Godzilla at the recently renovated Showcase Cinemas in Woburn, Mass. We liked the latest incarnation of the “big G,” even if the film wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been.

Gojira in San Francisco
Latest Godzilla

Plot

As with most of its kaiju (Japanese giant monster) movie predecessors, the first half of this Godzilla focuses on its human cast, including environmentally conscious scientists, grimly determined but often misguided military folks, and a young family in peril as huge monsters fight through multiple cities. That’s all you ever need to know.

Acting

The mostly American cast plays it straight, with none of the camp of the fondly remembered Showa-era’s monster mashups or the 1998 misfire. As you may have seen from Godzilla‘s trailers, Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche play nuclear physicists Joe and Sandra Brody, who are among the first to suffer from the kaiju emergence.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, who’ll be playing mutant siblings in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron, are young soldier Ford Brody and his wife Elle here. Alphas‘ David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe bring some gravitas as Adm. William Stenz and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, respectively. Their roles are mostly two-dimensional, but they provide a human’s-eye view to the massive destruction.

Direction

While the cast is solid, the pacing of the movie is not as steady. I expect kaiju movies to start slowly and build to big battles, but director Gareth Edwards teases full views of Godzilla and his “MUTO” (massive unidentified terrestrial organism) opponents for a bit too long. Yes, viewers should identify with the human cast, but I would have liked to see more of the fights and fewer teary people or futile small-arms firing.

Visual effects

That said, the monster designs are all good, and Godzilla’s latest look is properly regal. As I mentioned to Thomas, the MUTOs show that this is the first post-Cloverfield Gojira flick. Pacific Rim might have been more fun, but the newest Godzilla restores the beasts as manifestations of nature’s wrath and nuclear horrors. 

Unlike 1998’s “GINO” (“Godzilla in name only”), I rooted for Godzilla even as he and the MUTOs stomped through Japan, Hawaii, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, which didn’t look overly computer-animated or rely on shaky cam. The HALO jump seen in the trailer was also well-executed and actually had a connection to the story.

Like that movie and Cloverfield, however, there were subplots about reproduction, survival, and military secrets, and even a little humor might have helped relieve and build tension.

Soundtrack

Godzilla’s roar and the music for this movie were decent, but nothing can top the ominous 1954 theme. (To be fair, as a longtime “G-fan,” I also like Blue Oyster Cult’s song and the late 1970s cartoon’s song.)

Rating

Overall, I’d give the 2014 Godzilla, which is rated PG-13 for “mayhem,” a 7.5 out of 10, three and a half out of five stars, or a B. I do think that some critics have been overly harsh, looking for subtle acting or political statements.

I don’t know if it will be enough to reignite interest in the 60-year-old franchise, but I liked it more than other recent monster movies, and I’d love to see Godzilla take on new versions of Mothra, King Ghidra, MechaGodzilla, and evil aliens in potential sequels! Long may he reign!

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Pacific Rim review

On Saturday, 13 July 2013, I met Josh C. at the AMC Burlington Cinema 10 for a morning matinee of Pacific Rim. The kaiju movie was entertaining, and even though it might not have the most original story of the year, it was a nice change from other franchise entries.

Pacific Rim wallpaper
Giant monsters vs. robots

I’ve been a fan of giant monster movies since childhood, with the Japanese Godzilla and Gamera in their kid-friendly prime back in the 1970s. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate the more serious allegories around the rubber-suited actors and remote-control vehicles tromping through meticulously detailed urban dioramas.

Plot: In Pacific Rim, huge aliens (kaiju) invade Earth through a dimensional rift in the seabed. Humanity builds giant robots (jaegers, or hunters) in response, but the nascent world government decides to shut the program down and instead spend resources on giant walls around vulnerable cities. Let the battles begin!

As with most monster movies, the kaiju represent the result of environmental destruction, and humanity must band together to remedy the situation. There are conspiracies, setbacks, and massive mayhem, but the heroes eventually realize what must be done….

Cast: All the archetypes of kaiju films (and their siblings in anime) are present: the hotshot pilot, the grizzled veteran, the cute but kickass girl, the mad scientists, and a few more sketchy characters needed to ultimately figure out the enemy’s motivations.

Sons of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunnam plays Raleigh Becket, a onetime jaeger co-pilot who is brought back for a last stand against the kaiju. He’s a pretty straightforward hero, mentored by the charismatic Idris Elba (Thor) as Stacker Pentecost and partnered with the winsome Mako Mori as Rinko Kikuchi, who has also suffered personal loss.

More noteworthy are Charlie Day channeling J.J. Abrams as Dr. Newton Geiszler and Torchwood‘s Burn Gorman as Geiszler’s sparring partner Gottleib. Hellboy‘s Ron Perlman, no stranger to monsters or director Guillermo del Toro, nearly steals the movie as the flashy Hannibal Chau, a dealer in kaiju organs.

While there is some token character development, Pacific Rim rightly focuses on the monsters and robots. Each jaeger crew is a national stereotype (but without the jingoism of many U.S. action flicks), and there are few surprises but many thrills in the ensuing fights, both in and out of the jaegers.

Direction: Del Toro wears his love on his sleeve for the same movies I grew up on. He keeps a brisk pace to the action and avoids overindulging in romantic subplots or too much pseudoscience. Flashbacks provide exposition, and while older monster movies relied on long stretches of exposition, Pacific Rim doles out explanations throughout its runtime.

Del Toro also avoids the “found footage,” shaky-cam style that had become popular with The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Troll Hunter, allowing us to see full-body shots of the kaiju-jaeger battles, which were nicely choreographed. There are also some good human-scale duels.

Visual effects: Speaking of scale, while the monsters and robots are rendered with computer-generated imagery, they are more ponderous and distinguishable than in the recent Transformers flicks. The design of each kaiju resembles a real animal, and each jaeger design is unique. I can easily see toys or models based on these being popular.

Sure, there is massive urban destruction in Pacific Rim, but unlike Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Into Darkness, or Man of Steel, it’s a necessary part of this subgenre, and attempts are clearly made to evacuate affected areas in advance.

Musical score: The original Gojira still hasn’t been matched, but the soundtrack helped propel the action. Pacific Rim‘s action-filled opening and end credits (which I’d compare with those of Django Unchained) were also well done.

Ratings: I’d give Pacific Rim, which is rated PG-13 for violence and language, a B+, three and a half out of five stars, or an 8 out of 10. It was one of the most satisfying action movies of this year so far, and I’m glad that it wasn’t a sequel or a reboot.

I’d recommend Pacific Rim to any fan of kaiju, giant robots, or action-filled speculative fiction. We also saw several trailers, of which only the fantasy Seventh Son (not to be confused with the Orson Scott Card novels) looked interesting of those I hadn’t seen before. The next movie I hope to catch in the theater is the dystopian Elysium, and I look forward to the next iteration of Godzilla.