I love when a summer blockbuster can do things with a bit of art. Such is the case with the reboot of Godzilla, a monster movie that aims to be a bit more, often with some level of success. Director Gareth Edwards goes from the micro budgeted Monsters to this $100 million plus production, and it’s a seamless transition. Edwards goes the Christopher Nolan route in taking a previously campy product very seriously, resulting in a film that entertains not just as big budget entertainment, but also on other levels as well, including those who are reverent of the original Toho incarnation of the big fella. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Edwards has filled his flick to the brim with talent, including Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Ken Watanabe, to name a few. The main star is obviously a certain huge creature, and while the film wisely shields him for a lot of the running time (almost to the point of not giving us enough of our hero…yes, our hero, as you’ll see below), you’ll get what you’re looking for before the movie is over. There are small quibbles to be found with the script, but the direction is tight, the pacing is consistently suspenseful, and the money shots are all incredibly pleasing, so I can enthusiastically recommend this one to you all. Godzilla is one of the better summer movies in some time, and one of my favorite films of the year so far. Yup, I liked it that much.
After an opening credits sequence that teases the creature well over a half century ago, we move to the Phillipines, where Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) investigate a mining accident that’s uncovered a giant skeleton and potentially the escape of a giant monster of some sort. Then, we head to Japan where engineer Joe Brody (Cranston) and his co-worker wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) live with their young son Ford. While looking into seismic activity at the nuclear facility they work at, an accident happens and is quickly covered up. A decade and change later, grown Ford (Taylor-Johnson) is a bomb disarmament specialist in the military and married to nurse Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), living happily in San Francisco. He’s called back to Japan to help his estranged father Joe, who’s been trying to expose what really happened at the plant years ago. When they investigate a little bit too much, they witness a giant flying creature that feeds on nuclear radiation rise up and begin attacking. Dr. Serizawa is also on the scene and warns the military, namely Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn), that Joe’s research shows that there’s another creature out there looking to mate with it. Furthermore, an ancient alpha predator (you know who) has begun tracking these destructive creatures as they head toward America, setting up a huge showdown. There’s a lot of set up, yes, but it all builds to one hell of a climax, trust me there. You’ll more than get your money’s worth when all is said and done.
With few exceptions, the human characters aren’t amazingly three dimensional, but having this sort of cast helps to invest you in their plights. Bryan Cranston easily is the best in the cast, so it’s a bit of a shame when the narrative turns from his story to more that of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s. This is a fine performance by Taylor-Johnson, but it’s not a real emotionally demanding one like Cranston’s is, and he nails it. Taylor-Johnson is more or less our stock action hero, while Cranston has a more compelling role to play. Ken Watanabe is under-used as always, but he’s not completely wasted here as the one who knows about Godzilla himself. The same can’t be said for Juliette Binoche (in little more than a cameo, honestly), Sally Hawkins (whose character honestly doesn’t even need to be here), Elizabeth Olsen (who mainly just stands around looking concerned), and David Straithairn (looking serious a lot) though. They all add some weigh to what otherwise could be very silly stuff, but they don’t get a whole lot to do. Other cast members include CJ Adams, Carson Bolde, Richard T. Jones, and Victor Rasuk, but aside from Cranston, no one even comes close to upstaging our big green friend. He’s the star.
Gareth Edwards is the perfect director for this reboot, and it shows. Working from a script by Max Borenstein and David Callaham (which was given an uncredited polish by Frank Darabont, as an FYI), Edwards commits 100% to making this a serious disaster film as opposed to a cheeky monster movie. Pacific Rim, this is not. While it’s probably true that the script has a few issues, Edwards covers most of them up with some striking visuals and a consistent sense of dread, along with the aforementioned top notch choices in cast members. He also uses 9/11 style imagery in a subtle yet affecting way. Edwards wants this to be a real honest to goodness film, as opposed to just popcorn entertainment, so the infusions of art are very welcome in my eyes. As for the creatures themselves, the two villains are interesting but nothing too amazing, while Godzilla himself is everything you can hope for. Watching him in action is an absolute joy to behold. His size is immense and you really feel it, unlike most other times. The sense of wonder is there, almost in a Jurassic Park sort of a way. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey reveres the lizard, shooting him like the title character that he is. Composer Alexandre Desplat doesn’t contribute an all time great score of his, but the music fits the flick without question. The sound design on the whole is excellent, I must say. Technically, this is an excellent looking and sounding movie. Edwards and company more than proved themselves here.
Overall, unless you’re looking for something completely different, you’re likely to really enjoy Godzilla. I was damn near blown away, even with my own already heightened expectations. While I wouldn’t quite put it in my top five for the year right now, it’s definitely in my as of today 2014 top ten. I loved Godzilla and while I know that the summer movie season won’t continue on like it started here, I’m thrilled that this flick turned out as it did. All hail the king of the monsters…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!