At the moment I’ve never seen the original Godzilla or any of the Japanese versions but I have seen the terrible American 1998 version; leaving this film with not much to do in order for it to be better. Thankfully, this film washes that Jurassic Park looking Godzilla out our minds for the most part and introduces a more beastly looking monster.
15 years ago in Japan, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) becomes concerned with all the seismic activity occurring around the power plant. He sends his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) down inside the plant to check it out, but looses her in a dramatic sequence that prevents the whole city from becoming contaminated. Present day: Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) lives on without his mother in his life, but started a family of his own with Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) in San Francisco. After a series of events Ford reunites with his father and ends up at that very power plant that was destroyed by what the media claims to be an earthquake causing the city to become contaminated. Soon they find out that Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) has been watching a massive creature grow to full form in its protective sack, and through their ignorance believe their mechanism can detain and kill the creature when it hatches. Dr. Serizawa was hugely mistaken; the creature breaks free and wreaks havoc but Dr. Serizawa believes a more power creature will return to restore nature back to it’s natural balance and that creature is Godzilla.
From what I’ve read, Godzilla was the Japanese response to Hiroshima atomic bombing, the monster they created had scars all over reflecting the suffering they went through and reaps destruction on the city much like the bomb. In this version, Godzilla is seen as an ancient beast that lives a lonely existence, but returns to restore nature back to it’s natural order. It was a very interesting decision, because I was expecting to see the usual Godzilla pounding through a major cities buildings sequence. Godzilla is never looked at as a irregular animal, but as something that should co-exist with humans but in seclusion. Which if you look deeper into it you can see it as this film telling American’s “Hey, Godzilla is a real creature, and an icon in cinema. You should be more accepting of his presence and the monsters he fights”. I’ve heard plenty of times from people who haven’t even seen the movie say that they don’t want to sit through a movie with monsters fighting. The director may have realized this and attempted to give a more realistic approach to the story.
Which brings me to Godzilla’s plot-line; which surprisingly doesn’t have a lot of Godzilla. The film focuses a lot on the human’s fascination over these massive monsters and their arrogance that they can control the final outcome. For a majority of the film we are only teased with Godzilla, we hear a mighty roar from the beast but the film cuts to a T.V showing a news report or a door will close in the midst of a fight. The MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) had more screen time than our anti-hero. Which has left many displeased with the director Gareth Edwards’ decision to hardly show what they paid to see, yet many people love Jaws. Which is confusing because Edwards was inspired by Jaws’ slow build to final reveal and Godzilla tackles this quite well. I’ve seen the film twice now and I wasn’t bothered by the slow build. Sure it would have been great to see more Godzilla, but the enemies he was facing weren’t all that interesting or powerful. To be fair if the male Muto didn’t fly the movie would have ended on Hawaii during their first encounter.
Well enough of Godzilla, let’s talk about the characters. Bryan Cranston channels into his inner Walter White here, meaning he brought a lot of emotion and intensity despite the limited screen time given. The first time I watched this film I was bothered by Edwards decision but soon after I read that Cranston was a late addition to the cast and by allowing him more screen time wouldn’t have benefited the film. Sadly I agree with this statement, however due to the emotion he brought to the screen, nobody else in the film was able to match this besides Godzilla himself. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was solid as Ford, but he was far too calm and didn’t bring a lot of power behind his emotions. Although I’m hearing that’s just the type of actor he is, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I expected for him to raise the bar after Cranston. Elizabeth Olsen continues on her run of films she’s been appearing in and adds to the human side of things here. She’s not given a great amount of screen time but when on screen, her performance remains believable. Ken Watanabe was the only main Japanese actor and delivers that masterclass “Godzilla” line, asides from that he’s just kind of there.
The script could have been far better because asides from Cranston; the other cast didn’t have much to work with, but handled what they were given to the best of their abilities. This brings me back to the slow build up to Godzilla, the films characters aren’t worth investing in and that’s a main reason why that approach bothered some people. For a film that focuses much on the human side of it, one would think it would be exceptional and though it doesn’t reach that level of quality. The film remains interesting because the cast itself is different from what’s normally seen in this type of film.
The thing that makes great is Godzilla great is the final battle sequence in “San Francisco”. (I live in the bay and by learning that it was all shot in Canada bothers me. I hate you Hollywood with your elaborate sets and technology). Through Ford being a lieutenant, we get to see an epic jump from a plane through clouds, down to San Francisco that’s currently being destroyed. The red hue used here is majestic and sets the mood for destruction. Accompanied the 2001: A Space Odyssey Monolith scene’s music giving it such an eerie mood. This is where the film stops teasing us with Godzilla and reveals his true power, giving everyone what they came to see with dazzling interchanging cuts from Monsters to humans.
Overall, despite not seeing a lot of Godzilla or fights between monsters. The film benefits from it’s interesting approach as to why Godzilla is making his return, incredible action sequences, and somewhat interesting characters. For a summer blockbuster, the film delivers more heart than most and knows exactly what it’s set out to accomplish.
My Rating: ★★★★ / ★★★★★
Dir. Gareth Edwards
IMDb 7.2/10 – Rotten Tomatoes 73%
“The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight.”