So, it’s finally out after all these months of marketing, teasing and buildup which means it’s time to cast my critical eye on this behemoth and review it.
As I mentioned in my review of the 1954 Godzilla movie I love monster movies and Godzilla movies in particular so I was hyped for this, more hyped than I was for probably any movie this year -with the exception of Captain America: The Winter Soldier– which obviously sets myself up for a fall but that’s the nature of loving something. The marketing for this was spot on, the trailers showed a bleak and desperate situation narrated by an angrily broken sounding Bryan Cranston with teases of the titular monster peppered throughout promising something destructively epic and bringing Godzilla to a wide audience using state of the art effects. How could it possibly go wrong?
Essentially the story involves the hatching of new monsters from eggs that proceed to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting human race which causes Godzilla to intervene and stop it -for some reason- while the military chase their tails as they try and fail to contain the situation.
The film starts off really well, showing us Cranston’s character Joe Brody losing his wife in an accident at a Japanese nuclear power plant which causes him to go a little insane and obsessively investigate this obvious -to him- cover up. He apparently looks into this for fifteen years getting him nowhere except arrested and massively discredited. I really liked these scenes and nobody does insanely strung out quite like Bryan Cranston who absolutely kills it here, I got the impression that he was to be the main protagonist in this film but his role is a very small one.
Instead, the protagonist is his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who is a bland soldier/bomb disposal guy who has an even more uninteresting wife named Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and a son called Sam (Carson Bolde). Ford is guilty of being the guy who is in the wrong place at the wrong time and spends most of the film trying to reunite with his family in true formulaic disaster movie fashion. Taylor-Johnson is just awful in this film, giving the husk of a character he plays absolutely no life at all, arguably he doesn’t have an awful lot to work with but he’s about as engaging as your average Keanu Reeves character here. Olsen doesn’t really fare much better though she seems to have the mandate of looking upset and worried for most of her screen time which doesn’t help her case. Hopefully Joss Whedon will make better use of them in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Ken Watanabe plays a Japanese scientist named Dr Serizawa -not the eyepatched guy from the original- who works for a top secret organisation tasked with studying giant monsters, an organisation so secret that they fly around in helicopters emblazoned with their logo. Throughout most of the film he sits or stands around commenting on the situation and generally being in awe of Godzilla, again not given an awful lot to work with here.
Let’s talk a bit about Godzilla since the film is supposed to be about him. Unfortunately the film is not about him, the main story is about the other creatures hatching and the threat they represent with Godzilla simply being the foil for those creatures. He’s barely in this movie and it bears his name as the title, the focus is on these two new monsters and Godzilla seems like something of an afterthought. It’s almost like Gareth Edwards wanted to make a sequel to his other uninteresting creature feature Monsters and was told he could do so for a huge budget as long as he adheres to the compromise of having Godzilla in it.
As a character Godzilla doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense in the context of the story, Dr Serizawa refers to the fact that Godzilla is hunting the monsters but we never actually find out why since he doesn’t seem to need them for food or any other purpose. It is also stated that Godzilla exists to keep the balance by getting rid of these things. Godzilla is definitely the hero in this story and seems to be driven to protect humanity in that he doesn’t directly attack anyone and all of the damage he causes is because he’s so huge that he can’t help but trash everything he steps near. Godzilla seems driven to protect humanity but we never actually find out why, what is it that stops him from attacking? As far as I can remember he doesn’t seem to fight back when he’s shot at
The worst of it is there’s a much better movie underneath the generic reuniting of a family story. Dr Serizawa is an interesting character -when we see him- being the son of a Hiroshima survivor who is constantly telling people to back off the nukes and let Godzilla handle the problem, a film focused on Serizawa and why he thinks/knows this would be much better than what we have here. This would also involve making the two new monsters an afterthought and making a film called Godzilla about Godzilla. Instead we get GI Generic and his all American family boringly retreading a cliché ridden disaster story that we’ve seen a million times.
When we actually see Godzilla he looks awesome and the giant monster battles are spectacular albeit not framed particularly well. There’s far too much cutting to what the uninteresting human characters are up to or news reports telling us that something devastating yet awesome is going on without actually showing us clearly which brings me to another problem this film has. The film is unbelievably filled with drawn out teases, we are given fleeting glimpses of Godzilla and the other monsters for so long and when the clear shots do appear they are very brief. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with building up the reveal of Godzilla through suspense but the story needs to be compelling and the characters need to be worth spending time with, neither of which is true here. Take Jaws for instance, the first hour of that wasn’t interesting because there was no shark, the first hour of that was interesting because the story was engaging. It’s a classic case of concept vs execution in this film and execution unfortunately loses by a long way.
The film was alright but not the spectacular Westernised monster movie we were promised in the marketing. The story was flimsy, the characters even flimsier and the pacing was awful, there’s some gratification to be had from the brief monster fights but even those are sloppily executed with too much cutting away from the interesting stuff. Pacific Rim did it far better. There’s just not enough payoff for what we’re forced to sit through. I would go as far as saying that I enjoyed the 1998 movie more because at least that gives some payoff of the monster and it’s more entertaining, if only to laugh at