When I first heard director Gareth Edwards talking about how he was making a very “serious” Godzilla film, I didn’t know how accurate that statement would reflect in the final feature. I have to admit I worried: let’s face it, this trend of taking fantasy/sci-fi/comic book based stories “too seriously” has caused too many attempts to flop drastically (Man of Steel). But Edwards not only succeeded on his premise, but also delivered a film with some serious…amazing fun. His latest effort is a big visual achievement, with delightful monster size thrills that will -literally- shake you on your seat.
Godzilla’s sound design took three years in the making. Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn (Lord of The Rings) had quite a challenge on their hands: they even tried recording animal sounds mixing them together to create the iconic beast’s roar. Van der Ryn said they used an special Japanese microphone, the Sanken CO-1000k, to capture sonic information beyond the 100,000 hertz (human perception), so they could work with sounds “no one has ever heard before”. The result is guttural, primal and filled with emotion, injecting even more energy to a beast that feels more fleshed than anything I’ve seen on screen in a long time (even some real life actors). And the soundtrack sets the perfect background, with minimalistic yet eerie unsettling sounds, in the tradition of films like Jaws or Psycho.
The visuals are nothing short of spectacular. As audiences we usually feel we have seen “everything” when it comes to CGI, but what’s extraordinary here is that not only the effects look incredibly realistic, but that the camera puts you right in the middle of the action. P.O.V shots, instead of being just a gimmick, actually do wonders when used to look at the size and magnitude of the monsters and the mayhem they cause to us tiny-bitty-humans just by walking by.
But besides all the bells and whistles, the most impressive part of this feature is how smart the emotional aspects of it work, even before any monster arrives. The original Japanese film (Gojira, 1954), depicts a monster destroying a city as an allegory to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. And in this case Edwards evokes many natural (and human caused) tragic historic events as the core of action. It works so effectively: you could take the creatures out at all and it looks and feels like scenes we have seen at newscasts covering tsunamis, earthquakes, war, terrorist attacks, and more. As the global community we have become thanks to media accessibility, those images are engraved in our subconscious and just the thought of them is far more scary than any Kaiju.
But at the end, is this film as “serious” as its premise describes it to be? I am more than happy to say no, in the best way possible. This film sense of nostalgia and just pure fun-for-the-sake-of-it is as big as its namesake. It doesn’t worry too much about exposition, or even giving its main characters too much of a back-story. You have enough big caliber actors here (who deliver) to make you care about them with just a few lines. Brian Cranston is his usual amazing. Ken Watanabe makes you believe he is watching a monster every time he’s looking at the ski/sea/out the window/etc. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, unlike the unsure teen he played on Kick-Ass, is a leading man with both charm and confidence, even though the script sometimes depicts him more like a superhero than a real human being. My main peeve here is regarding the female roles, they are not given much to do and are not nearly as empowered or interesting than their male counterparts. Elizabeth Olsen is a great actress, and as much as I enjoyed her performance as a mom/nurse, I would have liked to see her do more than just run around looking scared.
Godzilla is a great action packed film, with state of the art visuals and sound that make you believe that big monsters are both scary and delightful to watch, with enough of a human drama to make you care for the beasts not to crush too many humans on their way (at least the ones we care about in the story anyway). As a Kaiju film at its best, this one definitively roars.