STARRING: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn
DIRECTOR: Gareth Edwards
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Toho
RUN TIME: 123 min
RELEASED: May 16, 2014
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Japanese Godzilla fans are apparently calling foul on this new movie for making the title character too fat. To that I say, pshaw. This is an American Godzilla, folks. He eats McDonalds hamburgers, drinks Starbucks coffee, and loves him some Real Housewives of New York. DEAL.
But while the big guy may be looking, well, bigger than some fans are used to, this latest film manages to be a breath of fresh air, especially for American fans who last saw him in the 1998 Roland Emmerich adaptation. While it certainly has its share of flaws to atone for, by and large it should give audiences what they want to see.
Long story short, the world has come under attack by a pair of giant parasitic monsters who feed off of radiation. Thus Godzilla, who in this film is cast as Earth’s defender rather than its destructor, rises from dormancy to fight them. Amidst the chaos, the recently discharged Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is separated from his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son. Thus, Brody must reunite with his family, but also help the armed forces defend America from annihilation.
Godzilla is an easy movie to criticize, for a variety of reasons. So let’s start out on a positive note: Both Godzilla and his monstrous opponents look great, and the movie makes you believe in them. One of the elements that’s helpful in this respect is that the movie is somewhat conservative with their camera time. You still see them quite a bit, obviously. But the movie attempts to rely more on storytelling, as opposed to the spectacle of seeing giant monsters fighting. This is helpful not just in terms of making the film appeal to a wider audience, but keeping the movie magic alive. We don’t actually see a big, epic battle between Godzilla and the bad guys until the film’s climax. That the build up leaves the audience craving the big collision, and that allows us to keep our disbelief suspended. The wait was a risky move, but it’s one that pays off in the end.
Bryan Cranston is in roughly the first 40 minutes of this movie. You’d think nothing bad could come of that, but Cranston and his character, Brody’s father, actually set the bar too high for everyone else. Fifteen years earlier, the Joe Brody character worked in a nuclear reactor in Japan with his wife. An incident involving one of the parasite monsters causes the destruction of the reactor, and his wife’s death. He then devotes his life finding out exactly what caused the tragedy, thus alienating his son Ford. Joe Brody has more depth, and is also performed better, than any of the characters he interacts with. Thus, when he leaves the movie, there’s a huge drop in quality, and it almost becomes just another monster flick.
From a performance standpoint, Elizabeth Olsen might have stood on level with Cranston, but she essentially plays a stock damsel in distress character. The same can be said for Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays a very generic hero soldier type. (Oddly enough, these two will play siblings in Avengers: Age of Ultron.) You’ll root for him, though to his credit, that’s more Taylor-Johnson than anything present in the writing. Ford’s motivation in this film isn’t an uncommon one for disaster flicks. He’s separated from his loved ones and is desperately trying to find them. But oddly enough, he doesn’t get to have a big moment at the end of the movie where he saves/finds his wife. That’s not a statement on whether she survives or not. It’s a critique on the notion of our hero not getting to accomplish his main goal in the end. Instead, the matter is taken out of his control. Granted, he does a hell of other heroic stuff along the way. But not allowing Ford to accomplish his main goal definitely takes some of the edge off the end of the movie.
Aaaaaand then we have the various plotholes and conflicts of logic/reason that you’re bound to find in a lot of disaster/monster movies. Godzilla has no shortage of them, but I’ll stick to the major ones…
Questions from Godzilla:
- Why is this guy from the Navy (David Strathairn) giving all the orders? I understand we need some kind of military authority figure for the monster expert (Ken Watanabe) to talk with and spout exposition to. But why the U.S. Navy? The whole thing started in Japan, right? And at one point a Russian nuclear sub is destroyed, isn’t it? And these monsters are easily capable of stomping their way across the globe, aren’t they? So where’s the U.N. in all of this? Why is this whole thing being coordinated by the Navy? Is it because Godzilla rose up from the ocean? It just doesn’t make sense…
- At one point, the military plans to kill all three monsters with an extremely powerful nuclear weapon, which they bring into San Francisco. The idea is that the radiation would lure the monsters to into the trap, and the impact of the blast itself would kill them. This plan itself is incredibly flimsy, as no one seems to even be sure the blast will actually kill these things. What’s more, if the blast didn’t kill them, it’d likely make them stronger than ever. Talk about an all or nothing scenario. This was the best plan they could come up with?
- Near the end of the movie, the big bomb goes off in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. Not that far off the coast, actually. And at the time, the two parasite monsters aren’t around to absorb the radiation. And yet, in the aftermath we see downtown San Francisco is not a nuclear wasteland. That’s curiously convenient, isn’t it?
- How is it that giant radioactive monsters can sneak around? The Nostalgia Critic had a similar complaint during his review of the 1998 Godzilla film. Near the middle of the film, the military “loses sight” of one of the parasite monsters. A short time later, the other monster is able to break out of a nuclear waste facility in Nevada (and I mean literally break out of the structure), apparently without anyone noticing until they actually check the appropriate locked cell. How? Can these things somehow go into stealth mode?
In the end, Godzilla should satisfy those looking for a giant monster smackdown in the middle of a major city. The end pay off is largely worth it, despite the attempts at character-driven storytelling falling mostly flat, and the wait for the big fight being frustrating at times. It don’t see it being one of the highlights of this summer movie season. But if you’ve got some spare cash to burn, you could definitely do worse.
Front page image from latimes.com. Image 3 from denofgeek.com. All other image from rottentomatoes.com.
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