By Kyle Osborne
According to Hollywood folklore, the titular character in the film that invented the phrase “Summer Blockbuster” was quite temperamental and wasn’t very cooperative.
The mechanical shark in “JAWS” was meant to be seen a lot more frequently than what the final cut revealed, but due to problems getting the damn thing to work, his appearances were infrequent. It was a happy unintended consequence, because the very fact that the shark appeared rarely gave each scene that much more impact. And not knowing when he’d pop up made the wait that much more anxiety ridden.
So, it’s no surprise to learn that director Gareth Edwards, who has just helmed one hell of an amazing “Godzilla” movie, is a lifelong fan of “JAWS” director Steven Spielberg. And like his mentor, Edwards makes you wait for nearly half of the two hour running time before you get to see the leapin’ lizard in all his glory. It’s almost too long to wait, but what a pay off! This is the best looking, best sounding, most realistic Godzilla since his 1954 screen debut. Virtually every moment the monster is onscreen is thrilling.
The film begins in 1999, where a nuclear power plant outside of Tokyo is about to blow. A husband and wife team of scientists is played by Brian Cranston and, for a brief moment, Juliette Binoche. They have a school aged son at home. A series of seismic waves has been pegging needles and piquing the curiosity of Cranston for some time, and when the plant starts to rumble and spew radioactive stuff as it crumbles to the ground, Binoche is trapped inside, leaving Cranston a widow.
Fast forward to the present day, Cranston’s now grown son is an Army officer who has just returned from deployment to his home in San Francisco, greeting his wife and child oh so briefly before getting a call from Japan. His Dad has been arrested for trespassing on the long abandoned grounds of the old nuclear plant. Dad smells a conspiracy, but everyone else thinks he’s a kook. When son (played with All-American earnestness by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) arrives to bail out Pop, the movie kicks into gear.
You may know that I am a militant anti-spoiler critic. And since much of what happens next was a surprise to me, and not revealed in the trailer, I will not go into many further details. But for those who say that there are no human characters to care about, I strongly disagree. The people in this film keep it grounded and realistic.
What I will say is that there are amazing set pieces, incredible stunts, and probably some of the very best visual effects I’ve ever seen. There is a genuine sense of joy at seeing Godzilla do his thing. I loved his entrance, but I loved his exit even more. It actually drew applause at the screening I attended.
Are there some corny lines? Sure, a few, and they’re usually delivered by Japanese actor Ken Watanabe. Does the movie get a little heavy-handed with its message that we cannot control nature, but rather, we are at its mercy? Meh, not really.
I used the word “realistic” twice earlier, and I really found that word returning to my brain over and over. For a movie featuring a 355 foot monster—yeah, it is very realistic. As many times as we’ve seen the poor old Golden Gate Bridge destroyed in movies, it really looks like the actual bridge is tumbling, its cables snapping like kite strings.
Although the film is rated PG-13, parents who are used to ignoring the rating should be aware that there are some intense, potentially disturbing scenes that may jangle even an 8 or 10 year old.
Did I want to see more of Godzilla. I confess that I did. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely.
And I’ll leave you with one teeny-tiny non-spoiler: Godzilla isn’t the only monster in this movie.
Godzilla is rated “R” and is about 2 hours long. I recommend screening it in IMAX 3-D.