Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Max Borenstein (screenplay), Dave Callaham (story)
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence
Genre: Giant monster science fiction
Runtime: 123 Minutes
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, and David Strathairn
In a summer filled to bursting with what looks to be more SF, action, and special effects than the usual blockbuster season, one movie plenty of filmgoers have been looking forward to is Godzilla. While the last time the iconic Japanese movie stalwart fell into the hands of a U.S. film studio the results were lackluster to say the least (1998’s Godzilla from TriStar) my hopes were high this latest incarnation would hit much closer to the mark of what folks have loved about the great big lizard for sixty years.
As a fan of director Gareth Edwards first film Monsters, I was pretty certain everyone’s favorite Kaiju would be in capable hands. On a quick side note: I’m not sure why Monsters receives a bit of a bad rap. Granted the creatures (or I should say monsters as that’s the title) don’t appear until late in the film, and even then only occupy the screen for a short time, I thought the movie was rather nicely done considering the small budget and held an interesting story and premise.
As per my usual mode I’ll be keeping this review spoiler free since I’m of the mind, unlike people who are professional film critics, readers are best served with an idea if they’re going to enjoy the movie and feel their eight to twelve bucks will be well spent rather than ruining any surprises a film may contain in the hopes of being clever and pithy. I will point out the trailers will lead you to believe you’ll be seeing one sort of Godzilla film while in truth you’ll be in store for something completely different. I can say I was happy with the old switcheroo though.
For long time fans of Godzilla there’s a lot to like in this reboot. Edwards obviously has a feel for the classic Toho films (although, thankfully we don’t have an appearance by the Smog Monster…) as there are plenty of nods to the 1954 original throughout as well as during the opening credits we’re treated to supposed 1950s film of the first appearances of what the Japanese have always referred to as Gojira. Add to this a good dose of giant monster mayhem in many of our favorite locations. Mass destruction of major cities? Check! Airport devastation? Check! I love giant Kaiju trashing airports for some reason. Train passengers finding themselves trapped in the path of an oncoming big baddie? Check!
There’s even plenty of up close, eye to eye encounters too.
The special effects are nothing short of stellar and, in an age of rampant metropolitan devastation (The Avengers and Superman to name just two) the sheer devastation level surely won’t disappoint. As blockbuster summertime spectacle Godzilla is sure to please.
This is not to say the movie isn’t without some problems though. I don’t know why there seems to be some unwritten rule Godzilla isn’t allowed to be seen within the first reel (yes, I know they don’t use reels anymore so let’s say thirty minutes) of any film sporting his name. While I’m all for establishing backstory and narrative it doesn’t make much sense to me why we can never get a movie which breaks out the big guy early – even if we have to wait a while for his return. At least the audience doesn’t have to sit through the usual nonsense of a G-Team, or mutant superheroes, or a floating tank equipped with a freeze ray as we have in the past for many of the Japanese offerings.
The human element of this Godzilla outing is a bit underbaked as well as characters are introduced who we’re obviously supposed to care about but, in reality, come across as utterly one dimensional and disposable. A cast of headliners such as Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn don’t have much to do, or occupy so little screen time, leading you to wonder what the point of casting them was in the first place. Cranston is especially a head scratcher; I can’t understand how an actor who was fantastic in Breaking Bad can always seem to appear on the big screen and play either completely deadpan or, as in this case, like a recent graduate of the Nicolas Cage School of Acting. I swear Cranston nearly chews as much scenery as the title character.
Most of the human focus is on Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as Cranston’s Navy ordinance expert son Ford, and Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife Elle. Every turn of the plot has either or both of them in the thick of things – as we come to expect with most movies of this type – and at least their performances don’t sink to the show stopping level of last year’s Pacific Rim but it’s surprising to see them take up so much screen time while other more bankable names sit on the sidelines.
I also found a few too many “kids in danger” scenes for my liking. Yes I know they’re included to pump up the tension level but it really got to the point I was expecting to see Gamera show up to protect the little tykes. Obviously we know kids aren’t going to be killed in a Godzilla movie for crying out loud, not even off screen, and I counted no fewer than four of these types of scenes – with a cute dog thrown in for good measure – so it was a touch irksome to see this continually pop up.
Yet no one is walking into Godzilla expecting to be wowed by anyone’s acting chops or see small children get squashed; we’re there for action, adventure, and to walk out of the theater with a big grin on our faces. While I would have liked a good ten minutes more of Godzilla himself and a bit less of Taylor-Johnson and Elle pining to be reunited there’s still enough spectacle to be entertained. Sure the science in Godzilla doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and plot holes of the size the Kaiju could easily pass through abound, I certainly don’t think to approach the movie with the same mind set I may another film in a different genre. Honestly we know the idea of giant monsters is pretty silly in the first place so the analytical side of the brain shifts to autopilot and the little kid mentality kicks into high gear.
Godzilla is loads of fun, never takes itself too seriously while also avoiding the pitfall of camp, and ends up being a good two hour roller coaster ride which is sure to entertain even the most diehard Godzilla fanatics! This edition of Godzilla might be a little on the scarier side for younger viewers since there are quite a number of creepy and/or suspenseful moments so you might want to avoid bringing along the eight or nine year olds even if this is a giant monster flick. For the rest of us though it’s good to see the King of the Monsters return in style!