Last night I went with a friend to see Godzilla 2014. I have spent months anticipating this movie. The trailers looked beautiful and to pull in the acting of Brian Cranston, Juliette Binoche, and David Stratham is not to be sniffed at. The director, Gareth Edwards, had only a single film to his credit (Monsters) but it is a delightful film in its own right.
That still left me a bit hesitant. The biggest fans are also the harshest critics. An example of this would be how very angry I would have been if Godzilla 1998 were a Godzilla movie. Really, it is just a mistitled film about a giant lizard rampaging in New York.
So you can imagine my delight when this film exceeded my expectations to become the best movie of the whole franchise. How so? I’m glad you asked.
5. The Special Effects and Godzilla’s Design
This is the first movie to truly make Godzilla look real. Ironically, the next best film in this respect is Godzilla 1954 which did use cutting edge techniques for its time. Godzilla 1998 did have beautiful effects and would count on this list were it a Godzilla movie. But this film brings it to a whole new level. There was not a single time in the whole movie where I questioned the realism of the monsters. This is not a cartoon drawn over a live action background. It is a lovely film with the best rendering of Godzilla ever.
4. The Acting
Godzilla films are not known for their spectacular acting. Godzilla 1954 and Godzilla 1985 have some fine acting and Raymond Burr has such an amazing on-screen presence that I think he could read the phonebook and we would be spellbound. The other films in the franchise are cursed with some laughable acting at times. Godzilla 1998 also had weak acting but I don’t hold that against the franchise as it is not a Godzilla movie.
This film has many OK acting moments and some good ones. Brian Cranston is compelling as is David Stratham and Ken Watanabe bring a great deal to their roles. While this is not the best acted movie ever, there are no moments where I feel uncomfortable because of the acting. Compared to other Godzilla films, this is the best acted of all time.
3. The Monster Battles
Every monster movie has to deal with the temptation to have too much fighting and not enough character development. Godzilla 2014 did an amazing job of keeping the action fresh and intense. I have never seen a monster movie that starts a fight and then it drifts into the background because we are following the human characters. It left me on my seat anxious to see what the humans are doing AND anxious to see how the monsters are doing. It made it exciting every time there was a cut back to the monsters. Excellently done.
They also did not commit the sin of making the monsters part of a WWE Monster Smackdown. The battles were realistic to what the creatures might be actually able to do. In this respect, Godzilla 2014 is equal to Godzilla 1954 and 1985 which also kept it realistic, but Godzilla 2014 took a lot more risks and pulled them off. If Godzilla 1998 were a Godzilla movie, it would have failed miserably on this account because there is no way you would lose a critter that big no matter how well it hid. Thankfully, it is not a Godzilla movie.
2. The Story
This is by far the strongest Godzilla story of all time with only Godzilla 1954 being in its category. There are almost no plot holes and the consistency of the story is a true accomplishment. Gareth Edwards does an amazing job of keeping this story about interesting people in an interesting situation. Many a writer/director has fallen into the trap of believing these stories are about monsters when they really should be about people. The monsters are simply the interesting situation the people find themselves in.
In Godzilla 1998, the characters are never compelling enough to really care that much if they died so when they are nearly stepped on, I am OK with them. Fortunately, it isn’t a Godzilla movie.
1. The Plausibility
No other monster movie I know of takes such pains to have a consistent and believable plot. All of my concerns going in about plot weaknesses going into the film were addressed. This film found a way to be fully in the Godzilla cannon complete with nuclear arms being a central theme and yet had a realistic picture of how two sets of monsters were no known to the public. Even Godzilla’s radiation breath, one of his most fantastic abilities, seems to fit in this story.
Maybe the real power of the film is that even when I have to suspend disbelief, it is not a chore. I WANT to suspend it and enter into the story.
This film is the strongest of the whole franchise and will sit well with the great films that have come before it. It was a pleasure to watch and I look forward to seeing it many times to come.
P.S. As a side note, Godzilla 1998 isn’t really a Godzilla movie. The creature in it is a monster, it just isn’t Godzilla.
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