Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, CJ Adams, Elizabeth Olsen, Carson Bolde, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Richard T. Jones, Victor Rasuk, and more.
Directed by: Gareth Edwards Screenplay by: Max Borenstein Story by: David Callaham Cinematography by: Seamus McGarvey Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Premise: In 1999, a mining operation in the Philippines inadvertently awakens something that ends up causing a disaster at a nuclear plant in Japan. Fifteen years later, the same portents once witnessed by Joe Brody reappear as he and his son enter illegally into the quarantine zone in the they once lived in. Yet these portents herald more than he or his son could ever imagine. (Rated PG-13)
1) Acting - Total Thumbs Up: Aaron Taylor-Johnson showed both tough and vulnerable sides as Ford Brody. Ken Watanabe's expressions spoke volumes as the reserved Dr. Ishiro Serizama, contrasting with Bryan Cranston's portrayal of Joe Brody, who physically and vocally demanded answers to his questions. Kudos to CJ Adams as he did much to set up the stage at the beginning of the film.
2) Special Effects - Total Thumbs Up: Superb work in both CGI and normal special effects by the special effects department. The dig in the Philippines, especially the section of tunnel with the vertebrae - amazing. The awakening of Muto also deserves heavy praise. But so does the less obvious yet as impacting scene where we see how the 1999 Japanese town had changed in fifteen years - even keeping in mind the climate and materials used there and how they actually decay things in Japan versus someplace like New York.
The near misses with the creatures for the humans were seamless and really tied together well. But you never want to be the flea that gets noticed by the dog -- there are several scenes showing us why this is so. The sequences on and by the train bridge were totally outstanding. The burning tank? Priceless.
Godzilla himself differs from the traditional and the updated Japanese look, but all the important parts as well as the general 'look and feel' are there. Rather than go with other famous monsters we've seen in the "Godzilla" franchise, the filmmakers made the smart move and created some new ones. And they looked fantastic. The egg sac sequences alone were very cool.
All the explosions, near misses, collapsing buildings, falling airplanes, and more, were excellently done. The cool smoke and debree effects, especially those that made Godzilla appear to have ninja skills? Fabulous.
3) Plot/Story - Total Thumbs Up: I may be mistaken, but it seemed to me that those who put this film together totally get what "Godzilla" films are about. Any fan of the old and even recent Japanese "kaiju" (monster) films will be ecstatic. All the little things that make "Godzilla" movies what they are were present in this version. The details are mostly non-tangible things, but without them, the film wouldn't be a true "Godzilla" film. Things like the presence of children at major junctions; the belief he's here to help and isn't just some random creature, the bizarre yet inescapable feeling that he's helping humans and even seems aware of some of them, as if a link has formed between the creature and the humans struggling below. They even tied the story to the original 1954 black and white film. Major kudos, guys, for getting it right.
For the most part, the plot is pretty solid. Monster films aren't known for strong plots, so this was a lovely surprise. The only glaring hiccup had to do with the train with the missiles, but with the awesome scenes they did there because of it, the slip is easy to forgive. (Still, how do you lose track of a giant monster?) Add in some well done multi level family subplots, and the movie had more depth and range than you'd normally expect from a "kaiju" film.
There are a ton of little moments where reality and what we know are one way, then a second later, it isn't what we know anymore. Nice shocks to the system to remind us how quickly things can change.
4) Stunts - Total Thumbs Up: Giant monsters go hand in hand with stunts - it is inevitable, because as we all know, if you're a soldier firing a machine gun or rockets at a creature a zillion times your size - there'll be consequences - awesomely visual consequences. And the ones presented here were executed perfectly.
5) Locations/Cinematography - Total Thumbs Up: The film did a great job with the locations. It was fitting that the first amounts of death and destruction happened in Japan. The look and feel of each of the locations grounded the viewers immediately, so as the film hops from country to country, even city to city, the audience has no trouble knowing where it's all happening. All the special touches with regards to the EMPs, the train bridge, China Town, and the plane jump, ratcheted the whole work 'up a notch'.
There's a plethora of amazing shots in the film throughout.
6) Music - Total Thumbs Up: The score by Alexandre Desplat was perfect for the film. While he didn't sneak in any obvious snippets from the well known Japanese "Godzilla" theme, he still captured the essence of the music of the time and used it to add more flavor to the experience as a whole. The "2001: A Space Odyssey" like sound used for the military insertion into San Francisco couldn't have been more apt.
Conclusion: If you've ever enjoyed any of the Japanese monster films, be it those with "Godzilla", "Mothra", or "Gamera", this is a must see for you. For those who've never seen one, go! You're in for a fun treat.
Rating: 4.25 out of 5 (Hubby's Rating: Worth Paying Full Price to See Again!)