He is big, scaly, and a truly fearsome creature. When enraged he breathes a kind of white-hot fire that can incinerate everything in its path. One small step for him can flatten one giant building for mankind, and in Godzilla (2014) he might be humanity’s only hope for some sort of survival.
Such a difference seventeen years makes.
Director Gareth Edwards is known in certain circles–namely ‘fan’ and ‘industry’–as the dude who made an inexpensive creature movie called Monsters using store-bought software and his home computer. That film was shot on prosumer cameras and managed to convey a scale far exceeding its modest budget. Still, it must have been some sort of gamble to hand him the reigns of another attempt at making Godzilla relevant again, especially in the age of TV series likes Game of Thrones and movies like Pacific Rim and the Transformers series.
Mr. Edwards, working with material by Max Borenstein (screenplay) and Dave Callaham (story) goes big with Godzilla. Wide shots that rival anything Chris Nolan has put on screen in his Batman trilogy, large monsters that are always placed in perspective to the humans so that we get a sense of exactly how puny the humans really are, and set pieces that finally justify the large scale destruction of cities.
The lead character–and trust me at almost 400 feet tall with a 550 foot tail, Godzilla is the lead character in this movie–does not appear until mid-way through the film. And that is when things really get going. You see, even though this film begins in 1999, with the lives of scientists Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Sandra (Juliette Binoche) Brody, on his birthday no less, and tells of how a freak accident leads to her death, and his 15-year-long obsession with the truth about what happened the day his wife died, that stuff is largely irrelevant to the bigger picture. That their son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) grows up to become some kind of bomb expert who is thrust into the centre of the activity that makes up the bulk of the movie doesn’t really make him that much more interesting either. He has his own family now, with a wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son (Carson Bolde) but all of that is an attempt to humanize the terror of experiencing the destruction wrought by giant radiation-swallowing creatures. And honestly, I didn’t really care what happened to the human family. Their struggle was completely irrelevant to my experience of the movie.
As the token Japanese presence in the movie Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his British…’sidekick’ seems the most accurate word for her (Sally Hawkins) take great pains to explain throughout the film, this is a battle between forces of nature far larger than humanity can ever control. In that sense, the battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs that bring him out of hibernation is nature’s way of restoring balance. That is a big idea, and an interesting one in the face of all the talk that goes around about humankind destroying the planet. But seriously, the most enjoyable parts of the movie are the ones where Godzilla turns up and kicks some MUTO ass.
The big guy looks amazing, and awe-inspiring. And the fact that so much attention is given to the details of his appearance, while Bryan Cranston is put in an ill-fitting wig that looks like it was purchased at a bargain store clearly shows that the creatures in this feature were always more important than the humans. Performances are uniformly stilted with the Most Pointless Presence award going to Ms. Olsen’s character. Seriously it really annoyed me that after all is said and done, in the wake of massive destruction, this lady has dust on her jacket but her face looks dewy fresh.
That said, sequences like the HALO jump sequence, the piecemeal reveals of Godzilla, the train sequence, and the climactic battle are amazing and truly justify the price of a movie ticket.
Final Analysis: This is a big summer movie that could have used a little more creature and a little less human. Mr. Edwards has made the jump from his home computer to a server farm rendering gorgeous large frames in style. This movie looks great, and feels big through and through.
My Advice: If you’re a fan, or curious about Godzilla at all, you have to watch it on the big screen. Don’t bother with 3D though, it is needless overkill.