Midweek movie review: Godzilla

If you plan on watching this year’s Godzilla, don’t for one second attempt to use your brain. The film provokes an endless series of “But why’s?” in regards to science, biological behaviour and character motivations. Godzilla is dumb, no question about it, but it’s also gratifying if you like this sort of thing. It doesn’t quite envelop you in the fun or thrill you with continual all-round escalation like “robots vs. monsters” Pacific Rim did last year, but this midyear blockbuster is pretty solid nonetheless in terms of offering giant beastie carnage.

If you are interested in the plot of this franchise reboot, here’s the rundown: Man’s dabbling with nuclear power since the 1940s has awoken monstrous creatures that eons previously burrowed down into the earth to feed off its radiation. Now they’re back on the surface of our world, causing chaos in iconic tourist destinations for the most part. The Navy (with David Strathairn as admiral) and scientists Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins, are frantically formulating plans to destroy the gigantic creatures. Meanwhile, the Brody family, with dad Joe (Bryan Cranston) and son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), are tied up in events. Fifteen years previously they suffered a tragedy tied to the monsters and a cover-up to keep their existence secret.

That’s it really. The end result mixes good and bad for an undemanding monster-centric disaster flick.

The good:
Godzilla himself. I challenge anyone not to break out in a grin when the “King of Monsters” appears for the first time in all his bulky glory. The filmmakers have gone back to the original Japanese character models, as well as the character’s god-like treatment. Godzilla doesn’t feel like a sleek CGI-creation, which adds to his credibility, and he’s easy to rally behind… even if his final scene pushes the hero aspect a bit too far.

Bryan Cranston. The Breaking Bad star provides the only convincing (and therefore affecting) emotional gravitas in a film stuffed with shock- and stern-faced humans. Taylor-Johnson may technically be the human star of the movie – and he’s a likeable enough, if bland, guy – but it’s Cranston who makes us care with his character’s heart-breaking tale and his own performance.

The serious tone. Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy provided a very good indication about how exactly Godzilla could have played out – with annoying, wise-cracking and speed-talking humans scuttling around under the monsters’ feet. Thankfully, there is none of that in Godzilla. The cast on the whole comes from more pedigreed fare, and they play their roles as scientists and military tacticians with sincerity. There are no smug winks at the audience in this respectful tribute to the original Godzilla films.

Running time. In the era of the three-hour blockbuster, Godzilla actually avoids the bloat and sticks to 120 minutes. Some may feel that it takes too long to get to the monsters, but personally I thought a pretty good balance was struck, as the latter was a bit too bloodless and repetitive for my liking.

Moments of striking cinematography. Two in particular stand out – a military squadron parachute drop into the city, and a low-angle shot of Godzilla appearing out of the mist in an Asian quarter strung with lanterns. I also would love to rewatch the information-dense opening sequence to absorb all the early hints bundled with the credits.

The bad:
Utterly pointless 3D. Normally, even with a conversion, there is at least one moment where use of the format stands out. Godzilla doesn’t even have that. It’s a complete waste of money in 3D.

The dumb. As already mentioned, so much of Godzilla is stupid, with logic running as low as the creatures stand high. Radiation doesn’t work like that, EMPs too; and the beastie courtship process seems highly unlikely. If you let your brain function you’ll probably find yourself asking questions like “Why would the creatures not just stay at such a radiation-rich place?”, “Why are the children on the bus so calm?” and, my favourite, “Why, if you’ve shot something 80 000 times with guns and had no effect, do you persist in doing so?”

Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe. I actually like both of these actors a lot, normally. Here though – and it chiefly has to do with their poorly written, irritating characters – all they do is stare wide-eyed and frown respectively. Olsen, in particularly, is saddled with a character who is panicking about her husband, Ford, one second, and blissfully neglecting her phone the next.

The tsunami scene and its aftermath. It’s very well done, and gripping, but after watching The Impossible – and remembering any similar real-life disasters – it doesn’t feel like something to enjoy guilt free.


That’s it, really. I doubt we’ll still be fondly remembering and discussing this Godzilla in a few months time, but it satisfies for now. Plus it has the added benefit of at least finally rinsing the taste of the 1998 Roland Emmerich turkey from our mouths.

3.5 stars out of 5.


Anonymous said…
I enjoyed the movie but I didn’t care for any of the human characters. Clearly Edward’s is a man knows how to create cool effects and he even brought some look and feel of his previous movie Monsters into this one. Aaron Johnson was a weak lead, they should’ve made either Cranston’s or Watanabe’s character the lead. I still don’t understand why Elizabeth Olsen decided to appear in the movie, her character could’ve been played by an unknown actress; maybe she liked the big money since her previous work were all small indie flicks.
Let’s hope they improve on the human characters for the sequel.

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