★★★★ / ★★★★
When I heard of news that Gareth Edwards was going to direct “Godzilla,” I was elated because I knew he would be up to the task of creating an effective monster feature with highly defined suspense-thriller elements. After all, he helmed the impressive “Monsters,” a story about a photographer and his boss’ daughter making their way from Mexico to the United States while avoiding giant octopus-like aliens. In my original review of that picture, I cited Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park.” Edwards may not have had the big budget at the time but his work exhibits big imagination.
So what happens when a filmmaker with a sizable imagination is given a generous budget? Right from the opening credits, we are given a taste that the film is shaped by someone who loves images and playing with them. The black-and-white videos that have been spliced together denote curious and bizarre military activities.
Giant, fin-like structures arise in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Naval fleets and planes investigate it. There are black markers drawn on highly classified documents. Stern-looking military officials observe through binoculars from afar. There is detonation of a nuclear weapon. As Alexandre Desplat’s urgent soundtrack reaches a crescendo, we realize that the images are already telling a story even before the first line of the script is uttered. It sets up the stage for people like me—someone who has never seen a Godzilla movie.
The director gives us more than just repetitive shots of the monster roaring or screeching and destroying landmarks. Edwards’ work is an antithesis of movies like Colin and Greg Strause’s nonsensical and brain cell-destroying “Skyline” and all of Michael Bay’s painfully generic, boring, unambitious, waste of time, and maddening “Transformers” sequels. Here, while we are able to see chaos and destruction, the key is that we are given time to appreciate them. It is done through humor, camera work that does not shake relentlessly when our eyes are supposed to be transfixed on a particular point, and a sense of perspective.
One of my favorite scenes in the film takes place in Oahu, Hawaii. A monster sends a plane soaring and when it crashes onto another plane at the airport, we watch a domino effect with increasing sense of dread—one plane crashing right next to the other on the left side of the screen—slowly catching up to the middle—and then a giant, leathery monster foot appearing suddenly on the right side.
Together, the images make the eyes dance and so the sequence feels like it is in slow motion even though it isn’t. Our sense of perspective is played with using a combination of horror and glee. There is horror due to the total obliteration of the planes mixed with the sounds of screaming observers from behind the glass. And yet there is glee because of the freshness and energy in the manner by which the sequence is executed. We look forward to being dazzled in the next scene. And it does not disappoint.
If one requires a plot summary it is this: A massive skeleton is discovered in the Philippines. But that is not all. Two scientists (Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins) visit the site of interest and notice that right above the pit are two pods—clearly of unknown origin. Meanwhile, in Japan, an engineer (Bryan Cranston) of a nuclear plant grows increasingly wary of the signals that his equipments have been detecting. To his frustration, his superiors remain casual to his concerns. His wife (Juliette Binoche) and child (CJ Adams, later played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) look forward to the end of the day for a birthday celebration.
“Godzilla,” based on the screenplay by Max Borenstein, knows how to entertain the eyes, the mind, and our sense of anticipation—qualities that lesser films of its type so often lack that we have grown accustomed to experiencing mediocrity. The director gives us more than what we expect because he knows that we deserve more—that we should demand for more. That is a quality I look for in a great filmmaker and only time will tell if Edwards has a vision big enough to warrant the respect and longevity of his inspirations.