This of course brings us to Godzilla (1998), the much reviled Roland Emmerich attempt to revive Godzilla for English-language audiences. There are even snide jokes made about it by the Japanese in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). I probably have more favourable things to say about Emmerichs Godzilla than almost any other reviewer. It was clearly made on the coattails of the success of Jurassic Park (1993) and is informed far too much by that film. IMHO though it serves well as the mass destruction film it was intended to be; just not as anything that stands in the lineage of the Japanese Godzilla films.
The new Godzilla has been placed in the hands of Gareth Edwards, a British director who came from a visual effects background mostly work for British tv documentaries and specials. What made everybody pay attention to Edwards name was his debut film Monsters (2010) about two people passing through a zone that had been taken over by mysterious alien creatures where Edwards evoked an extraordinary sense of alienness. What was remarkable about Monsters was the fact that Edwards shot it on a $14,000 budget including conducting all the visual effects himself, where he produced exceptional work on a par with that being churned out by the big effects houses. It is clearly this that had Edwards given the directors chair for Godzilla. Notedly he is working with a budget ten thousand times the size he had on Monsters (and only for his second directorial outing too).
The thing that should be stressed is that Godzilla 2014 is not a sequel, remake of or related to Godzilla 1998 (although, aside from a slightly different origin story, it could easily have worked as a sequel not a connection one suspects the producers were eager to play up given the public reaction to the Emmerich film). Nor is it necessarily related to any of the Japanese films in terms of continuity it exists more like Never Say Never Again (1983) does to the canonical James Bond films, more as the same character, slightly different interpretation.
In pre-publicity, Gareth Edwards made the intriguing statement to the effect that he didnt want to do just another remake of the original a la Godzilla 1998 with Godzilla as rampaging aggressor but something akin to one of the Godzilla vs ____ sequels with Godzilla facing another monster. This is an approach that leaves the film with some problems. In that Godzilla 2014 is essentially a reboot and is thus required to offer up an origin story for its title character, it becomes a conceptually stacked story requiring the introduction of not one but two monsters and then finding reasons to have them trading punches. Edwards answer to this is to barely dwell on Godzillas origin at all and assume that audiences are already familiar with the title character. This does lead to a puzzling set-up where we barely even get to see anything of Godzilla for the better part of the first hour of running time even then many of the shots are limited to giant feet, its bulk partially glimpsed between the canyon of buildings or the ridges on its spine seen protruding as it moves through the water. (Indeed, the films poster Godzilla with his back turned could not be more perfectly chosen). We get a big monster appearance about twenty minutes in as the Muto emerges from its cocoon but even there Edwards seems to initially be leading our expectations up to the appearance of Godzilla and then subverting them by producing something different. (As everyone seems to be asking, the Muto creatures are not taken from any of the Japanese films and are original to this film, although do incorporate occasional design elements of other creatures).
The problem with the 1998 film was that it worked perfectly well in every way except when you looked upon it as a Japanese Godzilla film. The same could often be said here, although Godzilla 2014 pays its respects far more to the Japanese films. It feels a very different film in many ways. The Japanese Godzilla films without exception regard the human factor as a necessary irrelevance. We get a few stock figures of scientists, psychics or military running around, but mostly the films make a beeline as quickly as possible for what they are interested in seeing the men in big rubber suits beating the crap out of each other and trashing model sets. By contrast here, we get much of a standard disaster movie complement of characters Aaron Taylor-Johnson even gets to run through the middle of the film carrying a lost kid. The complaint you could make about the film is that is assembles a very excellent cast Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn for roles that dont need them ie. could be filled by anybody. You could also quibble with the films use of the actors [PLOT SPOILERS] in that, despite the pre-publicity giving the impression that he was the headline name, Bryan Cranston is killed off not long into the film, while Juliette Binoche is killed after only a couple of scenes.
This difference is perhaps most noticeable in the lighting and colour palette the film uses. Cinematographically, none of the Japanese Godzilla films are very complicated clean, clear set-ups that have rarely varied since the 1950s. Most of the Japanese films have the cameras up around the same height as the monsters watching them brawl. By contrast, Gareth Edwards (and Roland Emmerich too) seems to prefer placing his camera down at street level and looking up taking in the awe-inspiring scale of the monsters. The texture and depth of the effects is impeccable. What comes through most of all is the vastness of scale and degree of devastation wrought by the monsters trampling major urban centres it is something that Edwards almost makes into a work of art. Some of the shots looking through cities in roiling clouds of smoke lit up with flashes of lightning have an almost painterly beauty to them you are reminded of some of Joseph Turners landscapes.
In this respect, Godzilla 2014 often resembles Gareth Edwards Monsters more so than it does any of the Japanese Godzilla films. The most distinctive images to come out of Monsters were the sheer alienness of the creatures that inhabited the films borderland zone, of vast inexplicable leviathans striding across the landscape. There are times that Godzilla could almost act as a prequel to Monsters. The area around the Janjira plant is turned into another walled-off borderland zone (although the image that looms over these scenes are echoes of the recent Fukushima disaster). In particular, some of the shots of the Muto emerging from its cocoon, unfolding its insectoid legs and towering overhead, and especially the scene with Aaron Taylor-Johnson on the bridge looking up as the Muto strides overhead could have been transplanted straight from Monsters. What we dont get here is much in the way of the two monsters trading punches and the frequently absurd wrestling tactics employed in the Japanese movies kicking rocks at one another, dropkicks, bodyslams, picking up each other by the tail and swinging them around their heads and so on. The battle between the two creatures takes place on a scale of unimaginable size, is relatively slow moving and more concerned with the mass destruction surrounding the fight indeed, what we have feels more like Pacific Rim (2013) than a Japanese Godzilla film. Nevertheless, Gareth Edwards does deliver the goods you feel like cheering the first time when we see Godzillas dorsal fins lighting up and he unleashing his radioactive breath, while his final ingenious move in obliterating the Muto has the whole audience applauding.
The Japanese Godzilla films are: Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954), Gigantis the Fire Monster/Godzilla Raids Again/The Return of Godzilla (1955), King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962), Godzilla vs the Thing/Mothra vs Godzilla (1964), Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Monster Zero/Invasion of the Astro Monster (1965), Godzilla vs the Sea Monster/Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966), Son of Godzilla (1968), Destroy All Monsters (1968), Godzillas Revenge (1969), Godzilla vs the Smog Monster/Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971), Godzilla vs Gigan/Godzilla on Monster Island (1972), Godzilla vs Megalon (1973), Godzilla vs the Cosmic Monster/Godzilla vs the Bionic Monster/Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974), Terror of Mechagodzilla/Monsters from an Unknown Planet (1976), Godzilla 1985 (1984), Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla vs Mothra (1992), Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1993), Godzilla vs Space Godzilla (1994), Godzilla vs Destoroyah (1995), Godzilla 2000 (1999), Godzilla vs Megaguirus (2000), Godzilla Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002), Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003), Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) and Godzilla: Resurgence (2016). Godzilla (1998) was a prior English-language version. This film was also later spun out into an animated tv series Godzilla: The Series (1998-2000).
(Winner for Best Special Effects at this sites Best of 2014 Awards).