Monday, May 19, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

This article is intended for people who have seen Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla.

The "Transformers" franchise created a space for Robots vs Robots movies and "Pacific Rim" attempted something similar for the Robots vs Monsters sub-genre. With Gareth Edwards' fantastic "Godzilla", we are back to where we started: Monsters fighting Monsters; the resulting film is majestic and awe inspiring.

Unlike "Pacific Rim", which couldn't help but give its monsters a purpose, that of taking over Earth, "Godzilla" shows great restraint and makes the motivations mostly primeval. While it undoes issues which plagued "Pacific Rim", "Godzilla" retains the ones which affect the "Transformers" films, with humans once again becoming more or less inconsequential in the ongoing war. Turning the military's efforts into a chest-thumping montage of patriotic orgy and dumb bravado is actively eschewed throughout the film. The science is not just inoffensive, it is actually rather serviceable. Thankfully, not too much emphasis is laid on the conspiracy which the organization Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins' scientists work for maintains.

Bryan Cranston's record of forming a great onscreen partnership with actors named Aaron takes a serious beating in "Godzilla". Killing off his character Joe Brody is both surprising and sensible, but the film loses its sole compelling human character by doing so. The apathetic blandness Aaron Taylor-Johnson brings to his Brody Jr. removes every possibility of wanting to root for him. Spending 14 months disposing ordinance explosives, he returns home to his wife and son, attempting to rekindle his seemingly hurried marriage. Even before they have done enough to get over the awkwardness, the film puts them on different continents and keeps them separated till the very end. This, I believe, renders the love story utterly powerless. It doesn't seem to matter one way or the other if they eventually get together.

It's a rare disaster film that derives no pleasure at the sight of skylines turning into rubble. Bear in mind that if the scene at the Nuclear Reactor in Janjira is any indication, "Godzilla" is more than capable of whipping up great emotions. Yet, the film prefers to remain a little withdrawn. But on at least two occasions, "Godzilla" tries to play out the immediate and after-effects of the attacks by splitting members of a family. It hopes that the subsequent sight of a family reunion would elicit empathy the way J. A. Bayona's tsunami tearjerker "The Impossible" does.While Ford gets the closure which his own father yearned for and was not fortunate enough to experience, the family drama involving him holds no weight whatsoever.

What works best in "Godzilla"'s favor is its deliberate pacing and how it stages its big action set-pieces. All the complaints of the film not showing enough of Godzilla are completely unfounded. It cleanses the palate by cutting away from the monster action on a telling frame and shifts to the human attempt at curbing this catastrophe. By doing this, it sort of blurs the passage of time, giving the appearance that the battles have been in motion for hours together. "Godzilla" makes us sit in anticipation, consistently making our wait worthwhile. The action is as delightfully coherent as one can expect it to be. To further help its cause, "Godzilla" has some of the most iconic images I have ever seen in a film of its kind. I keep going back to the shot of a heavily impregnated MUTO walking over a street adorned with paper lights which resemble the eggs gestating in its belly.

It's a globetrotter that deftly manages to stitch its expansive story in a neat, cohesive structure. It puts the characters across the world so there's a semblance of human element to the action scenes, irrespective of where it's happening. Edwards gives a clear nod to "Jurassic Park" on several occasions. The Spielberg influences are plentiful - reflections on a glass, the wonder-struck faces, - right down to the Daddy issues. 

While continuing to function as a nurse in the middle of a calamity is definitely something not to be taken lightly, it often appears that Elizabeth Olsen's character is reduced to a token female presence. Thinking about her makes me realize how sad most characters are. Gareth Edwards' film doesn't consist of characters whose prosperous lives are suddenly put in danger by the arrival of these unexpected creatures. They are sad and real people sleepwalking through their unremarkable lives and the degree of excitement this perilous event brings along is as good as it will ever get for them. I think I admire that about it.