Let me start this review by reminding people that I was in the minority when it came to Monsters, the cinematic feature debut of Mr. Gareth Edwards. I thought that the film was good, but not great. Edwards had the potential to do much better, I thought. When the news came that he’d been handed Godzilla, I was as excited as anyone else. And as the hype machine started to gather speed I was definitely eager to be wowed by this movie. I paid extra for IMAX tickets, I picked the best seats available, and I slipped on the 3D glasses.
And two hours later I walked out of the cinema with a feeling of disappointment.
What’s the plot? Well, after a fantastic credit sequence, we get to see Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) trying to figure out what to do about tremors that he fears may cause problems for the Japanese nuclear power station he works at. Those tremors do cause problems. Major problems. Fast forward by fifteen years and Joe is still obsessing over just what happened. The area is, apparently, dangerously radioactive, but Joe thinks that something is being covered up. When he’s arrested for trespassing, while trying to access his own home (abandoned in the middle of the disaster, it has some of his work/research that he desperately needs), it’s up to his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), to travel to Japan, pick him up and try to keep him out of further trouble. Ford had just started to enjoy some leave time from the military, settling down with his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son (Carson Bolde), but picking up his dad will soon be the least of his worries. It’s not long until a MUTO – Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism – shows up and starts to make a mess, to put it mildly. And then, well, it’s only a matter of time until the titular creature makes an appearance.
Godzilla is not a BAD film, and many fans of the big guy have expressed their absolute delight with the final product, but it’s a film that highlights just how small the bag of tricks is that director Edwards is working with. Most of the movie can be summed up in this way – camera looks at character, character looks awestruck, camera then moves to reveal part of whatever is inspiring reaction. Seriously, remove every shot just like that and you could probably shave ten minutes off the runtime. Some have complained about the slow build, but that really didn’t bother me. Patience is a virtue, and it’s fair enough to make people wait and wait for the main event. It’s a shame, however, that an early trick/gag of cutting away from some monstrous action is then repeated on so many occasions that you start to suspect that the whole thing is one big leg-pull. The big third act was interrupted a few times, each time cutting away to scenes that seemed painfully boring compared to what viewers knew they were missing out on.
It’s also a shame that everything felt as if it was taking place in a large studio lot, as opposed to a city full of people. I know that evacuation measures were put into place, but I find it hard to believe that the location of the final battle would be cleared out so quickly. The end result is something that feels impressive, but also feels as if it is taking place in a vacuum. This is a failing highlighted by just how potentially great the mid-point sequence in Hawaii is, but that set-piece is one of those just used to tease the audience on the way to the grand finale.
The acting from everyone concerned is just fine for the film. I thought Taylor-Johnson was decent enough as the rather bland military man who ends up stuck in the middle of a monster mash, Cranston is the human highlight of the cast, but isn’t around for long enough, and Olsen has to look concerned a lot of the time, which she does. Ken Watanabe gets a few choice lines, he’s a man who knows what Godzilla is and how he should be respected, while Sally Hawkins hangs around beside him and isn’t given all that much to do at all. And then there’s David Strathairn, who does well as the Admiral trying to save as many lives as possible. While nobody, Cranston aside, is on their best form, complaining about the acting in a Godzilla movie is like complaining about there not being enough sex and violence in a Pixar film. The two don’t really go together, so just sit back and enjoy it for what it is.
The other main stars are pretty superb, it must be said, with Godzilla looking the best that he’s ever looked. He may be a CG creation, but he feels real, he has weight, and his appearance mixes new touches with the established, classic template. Similiar praise can be heaped upon any other creatures onscreen, although it’s a shame that the main MUTO feels a bit too much like a blend between the creature from Cloverfield and Super 8.
The script by Max Borenstein is okay, bringing a seriousness back to the franchise that was missing in the much-maligned 1998 movie (a film which most like to dismiss, but I enjoyed). But giving the movie a serious tone and forgetting to include ANY sense of fun are two very different things. Aside from one cheeky gag – a big showdown being played on a news report – the film is a pretty po-faced and humourless affair. Thankfully, it does include plenty to appease fans, and at least consistently tries to deliver spectacle on a grand scale.
Last, but by no means least, I have to mention the superb audio work. The score, by Alexandre Desplat, is almost flawless throughout, and I’ll happily admit that there have been few sounds to impress me in the cinema half as much as hearing that mighty Godzilla roar.
Even if you end up as disappointed as I was, this is a film to see on the big screen, accompanied by a superior sound system. Although it falls down on a number of main points, there are also still many great moments in the movie. Edwards has done what he set out to do. Put Godzilla back on the big screen, atomic breath and all, in a movie that gives him the respect he deserves. Maybe next time he’ll also respect the audience a little bit more.
While waiting for the Bluray further down the line, quench your kaiju thirst with this collection - http://www.amazon.com/Godzilla-Collection-Yuriko-Hoshi/dp/B000VXWK86/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1400613055&sr=1-2&keywords=godzilla