If you’ve seen Gareth Edwards’ directorial debut – the no-budget, guerilla style sci-fi indie hit, Monsters – then you know that the director favours the slow build, holding back his monstrous reveals, and the new Godzilla is no exception. Treating the King of Monsters like the royalty he is, Edwards has Big G show up fashionably late so as to make an even grander entrance. And by the gods, is it ever grand.
You will be completely excused for any fist-pumping histrionics, perhaps even peppered with a “whoo hoo” or two, when the monster finally stomps into full view, wreathed in flame with a dangerous glint in his eye and a skull rattling roar in his throat. Oh and chubby thighs. Gone is the runway model sleek, snow plow-chinned version of Roland Emmerich’s 1998 atomic-powered turd of a reboot, as Edwards and his army of digital wizards draw heavy inspiration from the early days of the monster’s rubber-suited 60 year legacy. And it works amazingly well, as this Godzilla lives up to his street rep as a heavyweight powerhouse, instead of just a frantic lizard who is good at hide and seek.
And from the moment Godzilla appears, he simply owns the movie, turning the film’s final act into an epic, adrenalizing fist-, tail- and jaw-fight of towering proportions where everything just explodes off the screen like the nuclear allegory that the character was originally intended to be. But this is also where a problem comes in.
By adopting a measured approach early, Edwards and screenwriter Max Borenstein allows the film to teasingly bubble up anticipation to delicious levels, so that the eventual payoff is all the more sweeter. But when those jaw dropping bigger moments finally happen, they handle them so capably that you can’t help but think that you would probably have had no issue with just having your eyeballs broiled by two hours of bombastic monster mayhem. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly applaud them for taking this better paced route and avoiding the CGI spectacle fatigue so prevalent in these types of modern big budget blockbusters, and I certainly wish more filmmakers would show this level of restraint, but there’s just no getting around the fact that for two-thirds of the time, Godzilla is, at best, a co-star in his own movie. And some people won’t like that.
So what is there for these people to see until the Big G takes the spotlight? Well, plenty actually, most of it through the eyes of one family consisting of Joe Brody (the always good Bryan Cranston, chewing as much scenery in the early part of the film as Godzilla does later), his estranged son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson stuck in vanilla action-hero mode as a Navy bomb expert) and Ford’s wife Elle (the usually impressive Elizabeth Olsen, who here seems to be cast purely for her ability to widen her eyes). Fourteen years earlier, Joe and his wife (played briefly by an underutilized Juliette Binoche) had been engineers at a Japanese nuclear power plant, which was destroyed by a unexplained natural phenomenon, claiming the life of Joe’s wife. Now still maniacally obsessed with finding out what really caused the destruction of the plant, Joe has alienated everybody around him. But when similar conditions once again start developing at the now quarantined site, Joe ropes a reluctant and disbelieving Ford into finding out the truth.
I’ll shirk away from any spoilers (especially as the film toys with your expectations a few times, flipping the monsters’ origins around a bit), but lets just say that soon they, and the rest of the world, are up to their eyeballs in MUTO – which is not an euphemism for human effluent but may as well be. These Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms are a pair of giant, radiation-powered, savagely unnerving beasties who would see the Earth turned into their very own personal nesting ground, much to the dismay of humans who enjoy their place at the top of the food chain.
Most of the film’s first two acts involve Joe, Ford and co discovering, running away from, and then futilely trying to stop theses MUTO’s from laying waste to everything around them, all while Ken Watanabe’s monster hunting scientist mumbles about the arrogance of man and how nature has it’s own way of restoring balance. Hint: the balance is big, green and likes to take long walks on other monsters’ faces.
Edwards seemingly finds little difficulty in going from what was essentially a DIY shoot in Monsters to a film of this gargantuan scale, staging action sequences that aren’t just thrilling, but also eye-wateringly beautiful to look at (despite the useless 3D not helping to accentuate this one bit) thanks to the work of cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. And all while composer Alexandre Desplat holds up his end of the audio-visual mix even more impressively with an infectiously boisterous score.
But as successfully as the director has adapted to the macro, he sometimes fumbles on the micro. The script falls prone to some cliched emotional blackmailing and has a few rather silly and illogical moments, and as mentioned before, the humans – despite getting the most screen time – often fall short in terms of audience engagement. Not to mention the fact that Godzilla’s motivations for actually getting involved in this fight feels as half-brained and clumsy as some of his earlier movies.
Despite these ticks in the wrong column though, I still found myself enjoying Godzilla quite a bit. Edwards has returned the character to his rightful place at the top of the monster rankings, as a heroic force of nature. The film has its missteps – most of them by decidedly human feet – and marginalizing its (literally) biggest star may test the patience of some viewers, but in the end, it’s a rip-roaring – emphasis on roaring – good time that sees a cinema icon finally being given his due by Hollywood!
Last Updated: May 15, 2014