Godzilla Movie Review
“Let them fight.” A line delivered by Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) referring to a giant monster battle that may elicit cheers or jeers from audience members. Depending on the sound you make from that line, will probably tell you what you think of GODZILLA. For the record, I cheered.
The newest monster movie installment, that has seen at least 28! previous incarnations, is directed by Gareth Edwards who gave us the effectively insightful independent film MONSTERS in 2010. Edwards returns to the source material for the founding Kaiju films that will hopefully wash out the bad taste from the horrific Roland Emmerich directed, Matthew Broderick starring 1998 version. By delivering a more intimate, human perspective in GODZILLA, Edwards is able to invest in story and build suspense. While he doesn’t always achieve this perfectly, GODZILLA still manages to be a smashing good time.
As the opening credits roll, newspaper clippings introduce evidence of a possible military cover up through nuclear testing, the existence of a giant creature beginning in 1954 (the release date of the original GODZILLA movie directed by Ishiro Honda from the Toho Company, LTD). Following the Brody family (a name I’d like to think is a nod to another sort of monster movie, JAWS), the film tracks husband and wife, Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Sandra (Juliette Binoche), scientists who are directly involved in unusual seismic occurrences that destroy their nuclear power plant, killing several in Tokyo. Fifteen years later, their son, Lt. Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is all grown up with a wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and child of his own. After sneaking back to their abandoned home inside the quarantined zone, the father/son duo of Joe and Ford finally discover the top government secret of a giant hibernating creature known as MUTO (a mix between Landstriders from THE DARK CRYSTAL and the bugs from STARSHIP TROOPERS, but a LOT bigger). Unfortunately, MUTO breaks loose and runs-amuck looking for his mate. In the process, awakening deep in the belly of the ocean his predator known as, “Godzilla.”
While the reasoning behind these creatures and their sudden emergence may seem outlandish upon closer scrutiny, the story kind of works through the conviction in which it is told. Casting respectable actors like Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche and David Strathaim, bring a weight to the film that might otherwise be laughable. Their talent gives the world a believability that helps the viewer invest in the story. However, all these award winning or nominated actors also become a bit of a detractor as the focus on a couple of the characters becomes a waste of time when compared to the biggest star of them all.
Director Gareth Edwards artfully displays the insignificance of man in spite of our harnessed power by cleverly keeping many of Godzilla’s features and actions just out of view. While some may sneer at the lack of Godzilla’s presence, I’ve always found less to be a more effective way to tell a story. The monsters are usually in the background, pushed to the corner of the frame, or viewed through broken windows with their destruction in the forefront, giving more gravitas to their impact. This is never more apparent than in a paralyzing scene in which a small military team parachute from a plane. Switching back and forth forth from Ford’s point of view to a wide shot, the horror and fear is appropriately built as the the thick clouds darken the view until they open up to the outline of the battling monsters. When Lt. Ford drops past the head of the King of the Monsters, he looks as small as a tear falling into the carnage left beneath them. It’s important to note that the special effects, sound mixing and ominous score are in top form, helping build GODZILLA rather than distract.
By keeping the action hidden, the suspense of the final fight and its destruction of major cities becomes far more impactful, a lesson the tiresome MAN OF STEEL could have learned from. The new GODZILLA is probably the best Godzilla movie you’ve ever seen, but be warned, for the most part it is still just a basic Godzilla movie. On the other hand… it’s A GODZILLA MOVIE!
There is absolutely no reason to see GODZILLA in 3D. While the conversion is technically fine, the extra depth doesn’t add anything to the movie experience. My advice is to catch the film on the big screen but save your money on the 3D.