Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection
With only a week and change having passed since the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we no doubt feel the question living fresh in our minds: can we ever judge a remake without considering its predecessors? The conversation about the stark contrast in critical favor between Marc Webb's release and Sam Raimi's trilogy (the second installment of his franchise in particular) buzzed loudly, and we imagine the volume will keep in regards to Gareth Edwards' Godzilla. But it'll be a different sound altogether.
The original Godzilla, a Japanese film released in 1954, reinvented the identity of the monster movie, launched a 30-film legacy, and spoke legions about the political climate of its era. The most recent of these films — Roland Emmerich's 1998 American production — is universally bemoaned as a bigger disaster than anything to befall Tokyo at the hands of the giant reptile. With these two entries likely standing out as the most prominent in the minds of contemporary audiences, Edwards' Godzilla has some long shadows cast before it. And in approaching the new movie, one might not be able to avoid comparisons to either. It's fair — by taking on an existing property, a filmmaker knowingly takes on the connotations of that property. But the 2014 installment's great success is that it isn't much like any Godzilla movie we've seen before. In a great, great way.
This isn't 1954's Godzilla, a dire and occasionally dreary allegory that uses the supernatural to tell an important story about nuclear holocaust. A complete reversal, in fact, first and foremost Edwards' Godzilla is about its monsters. Any grand themes strewn throughout — the perseverence of nature, the follies of mankind, fatherhood, madness, faith — are all in service to the very simple mission to give us some cool, weighty, articulate sci-fi disaster. Elements of gravity are plotted all over the film's surface, with scientists, military men (kudos to Edwards for not going the typical "scientists = good/smart, military = bad/dumb" route in this film — everybody here is at least open to suggestion), doctors, police officers, and a compassionate bus driver all wrestling with options in the face of behemoth danger. The humanity is everpresent, but never especially intrusive. To reiterate, this isn't a film about any of these people, or what they do.
Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection
The closest thing to a helping of thematic (or human) significance comes with Ken Watanabe's Dr. Serizawa, who spouts awe-stricken maxims about cryptozoology, the Earth, and the inevitable powerlessness of man. He might not be supplying anything more substantial than our central heroes (soft-hearted soldier Aaron Taylor-Johnson, dutiful medic and mom Elizabeth Olsen, right-all-along conspiracy theorist Bryan Cranston), but Watanabe's bonkers performance as the harried scientist is so bizarrely good that you might actually believe, for a scene or two, that it all does mean something.
Ultimately, the beauty of our latest taste of Godzilla lies not in the commitment to a message that made the original so important nor in the commitment to levity that made Emmerich's so pointless, but in its commitment to imagination. Edwards' creature design is dazzling, his deus ex machina are riveting, and the ultimate payoff to which he treats his audience is the sort of gangbusters crowd-pleaser that your average contemporary monster movie is too afraid to consider.
In fairness, this year's Godzilla might not be considered an adequate remake, not quite reciprocating the ideals, tone, or importance of the original. Sure, anyone looking for a 2014 answer to 1954's game-changing paragon will find sincere philosophy traded for pulsing adventure... but they'd have a hard time ignoring the emphatic charm of this new lens for the 60-year-old lizard, both a highly original composition and a tribute in its way to the very history of monster movies (a history that owes so much to the creature in question). So does Godzilla '14 successfully fill the shoes of Godzilla '54? No — it rips them apart and dons a totally new pair... though it still has a lot of nice things to say about the first kicks.
Oh, and the '98 Godzilla? Yeah, it's better than that.
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When Columbia Pictures decided it wasn't going forward with another Charlie's Angels movie from director McG, the young filmmaker moved onto Warner Bros. where he was supposed to helm what eventually became Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. At that studio, he made the wonderful We Are Marshall and the divisive Terminator Salvation. Middling returns on the latter (which cost $200 million just to produce) kept him from directing another film at WB, but 20th Century Fox welcomed him with open arms. Sometime in the next 12 months, McG will release This Means War for the studio and the brass on the lot must be happy with what they see thus far, because they just have him another lucrative deal.
Deadline reports that Fox has purchased an untitled pitch for a large scale space adventure for The Expendables co-writer David Callaham to pen and McG to produce and probably helm. There aren't any details regarding the plot, but we do know that Fox has been getting into the sci-fi business big time after the unrivaled success of Avatar. Since James Cameron's opus became a worldwide phenomenon, the studio has optioned Ion, a sci-fi romance with Channing Tatum attached to star and Scott Free partners Ridley and Tony to produce as well as Prometheus from Ridley and Damon Lindelof. Today's move simply continues a business plan that keeps the studio up on current pop-culture trends while opening the doors to what could be a whole new franchise.
I was never a fan of McG's until We Are Marshall showed me that he can tell a personal story with big themes in a Hollywood production. His tenure on the Terminator series resulted in a big, loud action movie; nothing more. If he can combine these talents and deliver a moving story with the kind of pricey visuals that I expect from a "large scale space adventure" then I'll be excited to see what it's all about. But with David Callaham on board, that's a big if.
In a play-it-safe professional move, Gareth Edwards - the man behind festival favorite Monsters - has taken the reigns of Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. developing Godzilla remake. Warner Bros. will co-produce, co-finance and distribute per its deal with Legendary. Legendary's Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni are producing along with Dan Lin, Roy Lee, and Brian Rogers.
David Callaham (The Expendables) wrote the original version of the script for this new take on Toho Inc.'s infamous giant lizard, but The Hollywood Reporter notes that Edwards and studio executives will look at new writers to re-work his screenplay. Edwards, who publicly acknowledged that Monsters was made to attract more (and bigger) projects, seems to have hit the goldmine.
Still, it seems like a lazy move for the innovative, DIY filmmaker. He's worked in this genre before, successfully, and has made a name for himself as a talented and capable storyteller. If I were in his shoes, I'd seek out something a bit more risky and/or original. I won't use the word "challenging" because taking on a 21st century Godzilla is no easy task. I will say that I'm more interested in the "epic sci-fi project" he's cooking up with Timur Bekmambetov. Looks like that'll have to wait, however, because Godzilla certainly won't...