It’s hard to believe that in this age of endless superhero blockbusters, it was a Godzilla reboot that turned out to be one of the most buzzed-about blockbusters of the summer. It’s a film nobody really wanted, or thought would be a good idea, but a series of excellent trailers showcasing the skills of director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) and star Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) were enough to convince even the skeptical (myself included) that the film could be worthwhile.
And it is. It works well as both an homage to the Godzilla films of old, while being modern enough to entertain present day audiences who want a heaping helping of CGI destruction.
The film follows a family, the Brody’s, as their lives run parallel to the secrets of the massive monsters buried under the oceans and Earth’s crust. The father, Joe (Cranston), works at a Japanese nuclear power plant in the late ’90s, and watches his wife die as a result of a massive, localized earthquake with seismic patterns that seem structured, not random.
Over a decade later, Joe is piecing together conspiracy theories about what happened in Japan while his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), has grown up and is now a Navy bomb disposal tech with a pretty young wife (Elizabeth Olson) and a child of his own. Ford flies to Japan when Joe is arrested for trespassing in the quarantine zone, trying to reach his old files. The two are taken to a secret base run by scientist Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Wantanabe), and it’s where they encounter “It” for the first time.
And no, “It” is not Godzilla. The earthquake-causing monster is referred to as the “MUTO” as the film progresses, an acronym I don’t remember how to spell out. While judging by the trailers, many would think that Godzilla is the villain of the film, that isn’t the case. He’s destructive yes, but he exists as a force to fight other monsters, and ultimately protect the world from further harm.
Godzilla’s savior role forces his reveal to be pushed, way, way back during the film. This has led to many complaints about how the burn is too slow. The film is called “Godzilla,” it needs more Godzilla for christssakes!
I found the opposite to be true. The best parts of the film are the lead-up to the discovery of the MUTO and the hints of Godzilla himself. I loved how even when the monsters clash for the first time, most of the action is unseen. In one of the movie’s best scenes, right when the first monster fight begins, Ford’s son watches the action unfold on the local news on a tiny 20 inch TV. The massive, Michael Bay-style blowout is saved for the very end of the film, and that’s a good thing.
The film gets a bit less interesting as time goes on, and its talent isn’t utilized enough, unfortunately. Cranston in particular has a criminally short amount of screen time, and when he does appear, he’s the highlight of the film by a mile. Rather, Taylor-Johnson is given the weight of the story, and though he’s a fine actor and does a good job, I wish we also saw a bit more from his wife, Elizabeth Olson, other than hysterics. She’s too skilled an actress for such a one-dimensional role.
I love the monster design in the film, and I like how Godzilla is pretty much a CGI-enhanced version of the “guy in the suit” from the original films. He doesn’t need to be a T-Rex, and he’s the right balance of scary, powerful and still a little bit campy. His final fight with the MUTO is downright incredible, and a near-perfect love letter to the old monster fights I watched as a kid in black and white Godzilla films, right down to the camera angles and creature noises.
Still, out of the three major monster movie releases of the past few years which also include Pacific Rim and Cloverfield, Godzilla may be my least favorite. Not to say it isn’t good, but I thought Cloverfield’s delivery vehicle of “found footage” was a great shake-up for the genre at the time, and Pacific Rim had the perfect cheesy/badass tone all throughout the film. Godzilla starts out as practically a horror movie, but then shifts nearly all the way into camp and cheese by the end. There are no twists and turns in the story whatsoever, unless you went in expecting Godzilla to be the bad guy.
Godzilla is certainly enjoyable and I have no problem with it being turned into a running franchise now that it’s found worldwide success. It just need to manage its talent and tone a bit better, but other than that, it was worthy reboot of a beloved icon, and that’s something Hollywood rarely gets right these days.
3.5 out of 5 stars