Move over “Cloverfield” the king of all monsters has retaken his throne. The 2014 remake of the Toho studio classic “Godzilla” is a breath of radioactive air when it comes to monster movies.
Putting the horrendous 1998 Roland Emmerich directed “Godzilla” clearly in its review mirror, the reboot was constructed with a clear eye cast back to similar monster movies of the past. The pacing of Gareth Edwards movie is much more akin to ‘Jaws” or “Jurassic Park” in which the monster is seen infrequently in order to build the world around it, raise the stakes of the creatures appearance on film and build suspense.
Edwards creates a more grounded monster movie from the get go. The films credits read like a highly redacted document from the 1950’s. This little touch adds to the sense of realism the movie wants to portray. Why would you not hide the fact that a 300-foot tall monster existed and you failed to kill with a giant nuclear bomb?
Still the film tries hard to evoke a human story in order to get the audience involved. Edwards does this at the expense of showcasing more monsters and their epic battles. The films primary drawback is that we don’t see the titular creature for almost an hour. While some may throw their hands up at this, the films human segments are filled with wonderful acting from a post “Breaking Bad” Bryan Cranston and soon to be “Avenger: Age of Ultron” co-stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen.
Cranston and Johnson play a father and son whose lives are intertwined with those of the monsters wreaking havoc on film. Cranston’s Joe Brody was working at the nuclear power station when the first mutated beast emerged. The creature’s emergence not only took out the station but also killed Cranston’s wife played with huge emotional depth by Juliette Binoche.
It is the strained relationship between Johnson’s Ford Brody and his father and Joe Brody’s quest for the truth that drives the story forward. However, it does come of as a bit mechanical. Edwards and the screenwriters want you invested in the mystery surrounding Godzilla’s origin and the stakes for the characters that must interact with him on your behalf. The film capably handles that burden but the more explaining and character development devoted to Ford Brody, his wife Elle (Olsen) and his father the less and less I cared about talking on screen and more about when we were going to see some monsters clawing at each other.
It isn’t until 45 minutes into the movie that you catch your first glimpse of a monster or how Godzillaphiles call them M.U.T.O.’s or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms. From their the film hits the gas pedal as act two begins to show the destruction that such large animals would have on our planet.
The action in the second act takes place mostly of screen. You are treated to a shot of Godzilla and the monster sizing each other up in Hawaii only to have the rest of the battle reported via an expositional newscast. You catch glimpses of the badass Godzilla laying some WWE style beatings on the MUTO only to be reminded that there is a human story that you have to care about. Where as other directors would provide you with an omnipresent view allowing you to view the world from the human POV as well as the monsters, Edwards’s choses to tell the story from a very grounded POV.
We as humans are inconsequential to these massive animals. This is exemplified by the HALO jump the US forces use to embed themselves into the fight. The soldiers fall right in front of these godlike creatures and are nothing more than gnats for the titans locked in battle. It is that choice to tell the story from Ford Brody’s point of that makes the third act so good. We only know what they know. We only see what they can see. That gives the film a wonderful and surprising humanity, but it also leaves us feeling – for the most part – disconnected with Godzilla.
Godzilla truly shines when the monster is unleashed. The destruction is truly a sight to see. The filmmakers took a 360-degree photo of San Francisco and rendered the city for Godzilla and the two M.U.T.O.’s to tear apart. It was refreshing to see this type of monster movie take place in a city that isn’t situated on the east coast. It adds a flare of authenticity, as Godzilla is a Pacific monster.
However, with a great musical score and creature sound effects the rumble of your seat in the theater makes this a movie you must experience in the theaters or with a great surround sound. Do yourself the favor catch the IMAX screening, it is the only place to truly feel like you are looking up at this massive alpha predator that is Godzilla. The film is solid but uneven in parts. Judging by the reaction from the crowd after the credits rolled, the sequel is just beyond the horizon. The king of all monsters is here to stay. Now if only he could find a worthy opponent to challenge his reign.