It can be hard some days to wash the taste of the 1998 Godzilla movie from your mouth. But Gareth Edwards may have done that with one very enjoyable, if a little flawed, reboot of the classic Japanese franchise.
Mild spoiler warning. No major plot points are given away.
Godzilla mostly focuses on the Brody family and how kaiju (Japanese for “strange creature”) have affected their lives. It starts with Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and how his wife is killed by a kaiju at a nuclear power plant in Japan. 15 years later, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor Johnson), Joe’s son, has moved on with his life and has a wife and son. Joe continues to live in Japan and study what killed his wife. This leads Ford to look at his father in a new way and help stop Godzilla and Muto (villain of choice for this movie).
The human element of a monster movie can be a tough one to figure out. It needs to be there, but can’t be the main focus of the movie. I paid $10 for a movie ticket and I want to see big things destroy buildings. Godzilla balances the monster and humans effectively, but then tries to take the focus away from the kaiju and make you feel for the humans near the middle-end of the film. The final product ends up derailing the pacing late in the movie. A simple plot of Ford wanting to fight Godzilla and Muto for his father was a great motive for Ford and would have driven the human element effortlessly without taking screen time away from Godzilla. But instead, we keep transferring back to Ford’s wife (Elizabeth Olson) to see how she is doing and we could care less if she survives. She is there to add a sense of purpose to Ford fighting/helping Godzilla against Muto, but that purpose doesn’t have any weight. It creates for a nice ending but kicks the momentum in the shin when everything starts to get going. The ending is a tad strange as all the humans are happy….but didn’t a few million people just die? It feels tonally off.
Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Wantanabe) is our main exposition man and catalyst for big monster battles. He gives us the history of Godzilla and how it has affected the world, which integrates classic Godzilla lore. Fine and dandy, but the wordless opening credits did a better job of that and prepared the audience for what was coming. His exposition of Muto on the other hand was welcomed. Serizawa feels like an essential part of the film during these scenes. But once Muto has appeared and we know everything…Serizawa seems to keep coming back for some reason. “Let them fight,” he says to an American General when Godzilla is almost at San Francisco. Thank you for the catalyst for the final battle Wantanabe. This IS a monster movie though, so things will be a little contrived as points for the sake of entertainment. As long as the audience is entertained, who cares?
Gareth Edwards (the director) used the Jaws method of monster reveal. We see bits and pieces of Godzilla as we lead up to the big reveal in the first act, but never the full beast. Even after Godzilla has been fully revealed, we never see Godzilla fully again. Part of him is always blocked by a building, smoke, or Muto. It plays with the audiences perception of size and leaves them wondering how large Godzilla actually is. The big battle at the end is filmed perfectly. Fights are done at eye level or below eye level of Muto and Godzilla. This keeps the audience looking up to the kaijus and making us feel like ants compared to them. All of this leaves a great deal of mystery as to how powerfully Godzilla actually is. Godzilla is a force of nature and humans shouldn’t know his full capabilities. And when the King of Monsters was finally revealed, I got chills.
Alexander Desplat’s score is a thing of beauty. The brass mixed with violin sell that Godzilla is a destructive force that can be graceful at times. It’s mixed well though, so the big bombastic notes during the fight never overshadow the cracks from the punches. There are very few quiet moments, other than Godzilla’s big reveal. This is one soundtrack I’ll be buying.
Muto, a new creation for this movie, has a great look. The motivation for why Muto is destroying everything in sight is a classic one, but Max Borenstein (screenwriter) adds a couple of twists to keep it fresh while also paying tribute to the classic Godzilla plot points.
The CGI is very lifelike for giant monsters destroying a city. Andy Serkis, motion capture extraordinaire, consulted with Godzilla, which makes the fluid and lifelike motions the kaiju use comes as no surprise. Even when green screens are apparent, the seamless addition of the CGI keeps the audience in the audience in the scene and the believability intact. This greatly helps later in the movie when Ford is running around with the army. Most monster movies have the humans in one place, and the monsters fighting in another. Keeping them both within the same block adds a sense of urgency to Ford’s actions and makes the kaiju feel bigger.
The acting is quite good for a monster movie. Bryan Cranston is his normal brilliant self and brings a great sense of tragedy to his character. Aaron Taylor-Johnson does his best to pick up the mantle of main character, but doesn’t have the range that Cranston has. But he’s portrayal of Ford is likable and heroic which keeps us rooting for him as he runs around a destroyed San Francisco. Elizabeth Olson is given nothing to work with other than reacting to the destruction around her. Ken Wantanabe is solid, but is too serious at points. A few of his lines drew laughter from the crowd when it was supposed to be a tense moment.
Keep an eye out for a few hints to classic Godzilla monsters. I noticed one but there could be more. In case you were thinking there is an after credits scene, there isn’t. There wasn’t one at the preview screen I saw, but there could be one released for general audiences. I’ll update if there is one.
Godzilla gets 4/5.
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