If there’s one movie I’ve been looking forward to this year more than anything else, it’s Godzilla. Not Captain America, not Spider-Man, not Guardians of the Galaxy, not even X-Men. Godzilla. I love Godzilla, I grew up on my local blockbuster’s selection of Godzilla vs. movies and unlike all the other examples on this list, there hasn’t really been a big budget Hollywood Godzilla movie, at least not one that actually featured Godzilla. But then I remembered why I try to avoid getting overly excited for…well anything; It’s a good way to get disappointed and unhappy. So I did manage to contain my expectations. So…how’s the movie?
Well, I’m not gonna lie and say it’s not flawed. It has a lot of issues that keep it from being perfect, even at what it wants to be. And no, before you ask, it’s not as good as Pacific Rim. But, and this is important, what it gets right, it gets so ridiculously, inhumanly right, that it approaches perfection for those moments. And overall, it is a highly satisfying experience, even while I wish it had more of the title character.
The story is surprisingly complicated at the setup, especially given how simple it ends up. Back about 15 years ago, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is a nuclear engineer working at a Japanese power plant, which suffers a meltdown (hey, topical) which kills his wife and forces himself and his son to flee. Back in the present day, his son has grown up into a surprisingly boring soldier (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Brody has become a…meltdown conspiracy theorist, convinced that the military is covering something up. Since this is a movie, he’s right and it turns out the military is trying to conceal a giant egg of a monster called a Muto, that feeds on radiation.
Surprise, surprise, it wakes up and starts heading for the east coast of America where its mate is and, surprise, surprise again, where son Brody is keeping his even more boring wife and child. Fortunately Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, the best part of this movie under 8 feet tall) thinks he has a solution: An ancient alpha predator who evolved to hunt the Mutos. He calls it Gojira.
If there’s one thing this movie does incredibly well, it’s the scale of everything. Much of the events are seen from the human perspective, and that does wonders to make everything that’s happening seem so much bigger and more impressive than it already is (and it’s already pretty huge). The first slow reveal of Godzilla takes nearly 10 minutes and is incredibly paced and the Muto’s first awakening reminds me of nothing so much as the reveal of the tripods from War of the Worlds.
Unfortunately, way too much of the human perspective makes it so the story is primarily made up of, to use a technical term, s**t I don’t care about. The soldier trying to return home storyline is well presented, but painfully generic and neither the screenplay nor Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance are doing it any favors. It also manifests as a constant lack of the actual monsters. Yes, I get that it’s going for a Jaws stye ‘Nothing is scarier,’ but I could definitely use more of the actual monsters.
What’s more depressing than the boring soldier storyline, is that there’s a much more interesting storyling in the background. Ishiro has apparently been studying Godzilla for a long while and understands him, to the point where he at one point has the military moving their ships in formation with Godzilla (it’s so stupid and so cool). That seems like it might make for a much more interesting story than the solider. And it definitely doesn’t help that unlike Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe is actually capable of expressing an emotion.
Still, I said I do like the movie, and when it works, it works like gangbusters. It may take forever to get there, but the final battle between the two Mutos and Godzilla is flat out the best action scene I’ve seen all year, and will probably go down with the 3rd act of The Avengers and the Hong Kong battle in Pacific Rim as one of the best action sequences in the modern age of cinema. The movie is well paced, the story flows, even while it’s not exceptionally interesting and while barely in the movie, Bryan Cranston is great. The Mutos aren’t terribly original as far as Godzilla enemies go, but they look great and Godzilla looks as good as he’s ever looked. The editing and special effects are incredible and the sound design is Oscar worthy, with what might be the single best new take on the Godzilla roar ever.
Ultimately, it’s a movie I’m a little torn on. It’s notably imperfect, aiming for sequels and kind of frustrating at points. But the good parts work so well and it’s such a thrill to watch that I’m inclined to be really nice to it. It’s miles better than the 1998 abomination and pretty damned solid as a monster movie. It might not be perfect, but it left me pretty happy and that’s all you can ask really.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and yes, Godzilla does the thing. Spine light up and everything.
– good action
– great monster design and special effects
– amazing sound design and music
– not enough monster screen time
– Aaron Taylor-Johnson is awful
– Ken Watanabe doesn’t get his own story