Godzilla was first teased to audiences at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con. The short teaser video was shown immediately following the first footage of Pacific Rim. Godzilla wasn’t shown, but it was a scene of devastation that one can only assume was caused by the King of the Monsters. Fast-forward nearly two years and finally Godzilla is primed and ready to be unleashed upon the masses.
Unlike the previous American-made Godzilla film, the latest envisioning of the story and character are much closer to the original Japanese rendition. Godzilla is the King of the Monsters, and that’s exactly what this film is about. There’s a decent amount of fan service for tried and true Godzilla fanatics, but there’s a proper story behind the wonton destruction that the kaiju leave in their wake.
The best way to describe Godzilla is by comparing it to Pacific Rim. Both movies feature giant monsters invading the Earth. No matter what you thought of Pacific Rim, the movie offered a considerable amount of fan service to those who enjoy giant robots and giant monsters. Most would agree that the movie lives and dies on its fan service because there isn’t much else to hold it up. For some, the fan service was more than enough to make it a cinematic spectacle, but for others it came up short. Godzilla has just enough fan service for the diehards, but it’s wrapped up in a proper story with the depth you would expect from any good film.
While Bryan Cranston kicks off the movie with his excellent portrayal of Joe Brody, he doesn’t stick around very long. Instead, the true lead of the film (other than the titular monster) is his son, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). The film is essentially about Ford’s journey back to his family and his various tasks to aid in the battle against the biggest threat that has ever faced mankind. He is joined by his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), as the two are separated early in the film and make multiple efforts to reunite. While Taylor-Johnson performs better here than he did in Kick-Ass 2, some of his lines lack the punch they need to really get the emotion across to the viewer. It’s not a terrible performance, but it’s the weakest of the main characters in the film.
This is where the film takes a slight turn for the worse. While the story (which we won’t detail for the sake of avoiding spoilers) is far deeper and more solid than one might expect from Godzilla, there are many instances in which things happen that are just a little too convenient. Characters just happen to show up in specific locations at just the right time, or make decisions that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but setup the next scene perfectly. You obviously have to suspend belief to enjoy a movie about a giant monster rampaging the Earth, but as serious as the movie takes itself, these few scenes of extreme convenience are a bit to formulaic.
Minor gripes aside, Godzilla teases audiences throughout the film until the final showdown at the end. The cinematography on display is some of the best we’ve seen in any recent film. You see a little bit of this in the trailers and posters for the movie, with the paratrooper team flying down toward a devastated city with red smoke trailing above them. This helps to really paint the picture of the dark and hopeless struggle that takes place as the film progresses. As a side note, there is quite a bit of shaky cam featured in the film. If you get motion sickness easily, you will likely be impacted by the camera work in the movie. It’s not as bad as the shaky cam in District 9, but it will definitely be troublesome for some people.
Godzilla is not a friendly movie. It’s dark and gritty, with death and destruction happening at every turn. While the title character never actually speaks (although you get the occasional, well-timed roar), Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) helps the audience get inside the mind of the beast. You feel as though you know what Godzilla is thinking and how it will react to almost every situation. The good doctor does a masterful job of appearing frightened, yet anxious and teeming with excitement over the unprecedented events that are unfolding around him.
When it comes down to it, if Pacific Rim is nothing but fan service and the proverbial icing on the cake, Godzilla is a full, seven-course meal. The fan service is there, the story is there, the acting is exceptional in many ways, and there are very few hiccups along the way. Everything you expect and desire from a Godzilla film is almost certainly on display here. Some things come across a little too convenient, and the acting suffers a bit from time to time, but overall this is an American-made Godzilla film that will please Japanese fans, and new audiences alike.
Synopsis: The world’s most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Max Borenstein, Dave Callaham
Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
Runtime: 123 Minutes