Dir: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, David Stratharin and Juliette Binoche
Synopsis: The world’s most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
The King of the Monsters is back! This time taking on a more gritty and realistic approach to the big monster. Of course the Godzilla monster has a huge fan base, and well deserved, but he hasn’t really had a well deserved outing in a long time. But it hasn’t really been directors, writers or producers fault all the time. Godzilla is a pretty difficult character to nail. He’s been a hero and a villain. He’s been a loaded symbol and an just something to take a massive amount of space. Finally, he’s a cultural icon and a punchline. But, director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) has created almost a labor of love that attempts to draw from the monster’s rich history to appeal to fans, but alienate people who are not familiar with the history and only know the name. It’s a rather ambitious and daring thing to do but Edwards somehow manages to pull it off.
The movie starts off in the Philippines in 1999. Scientists Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Hawkins) go to a collapsed mine and discover a cavern that houses not only a ribcage, but also two mysterious spores, as they call them. But they soon realize that something has crawled out and has made its way to the sea. We then go to Tokyo, where a seismic event causes the collapse of a power plant, and engineer Joe Brody (Cranston) loses his wife Sandra (Binoche) in the tragedy (NOT A SPOILER since it’s in trailers).
Fifteen years later, their son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) is working in EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) in the navy, but is forced to travel to Japan and bail his estranged father out of prison. Joe has been trying to figure out why the plant collapsed, and believes the answers are in Japan’s quarantine zone. Ford reluctantly follows his father into the restricted area only to discover that his father’s crazy theories might not be so crazy after all.
I know one of the many things people are mad about this iteration of Godzilla is the fact that we don’t get enough Godzilla screen time. Instead the movie focus on the other monsters called “MUTOs” (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). But I have to give credit to Edwards for his patience on revealing the big man himself. We get teases of Godzilla throughout the movie, first by seeing the spikes on his back in the beginning sequence of the movie. But after that, we get mostly see the destruction that he leaves behind with a tease of a tail or foot.
However, it’s not just the Godzilla monster, the whole movie is a slow burner. The structure and pacing is quite similar to the 1954 original. I think some people won’t appreciate the pacing because modern audiences what rapid pace storytelling. But, it is the pace that makes the final act mean a hell of a lot more and a spectacle to see. Moreover, it is that pace that makes the reveal of Godzilla just the more awesome. Once we get the full reveal with the roar, it is terrifying and an amazing sight to see.
But, as fun as it is to see Godzilla and the MUTOs smashing and destroying things as they fight to the death, it shouldn’t be what carries to the story despite how people feel about that. One of the things that every critic blasts in big monster movies nowadays is the human story. Now I’ll admit I liked seeing Godzilla go toe-to-toe against the MUTOs but we need to know what the people in the middle of these two behemoths are thinking and going through.
As mentioned before, the story mostly follows Ford as he becomes tangled with stopping the MUTOs and Godzilla with the military. Throughout all that, he also tries to get back to his wife Elle (Olsen) and his young son Sam (Carson Bolde). On the other side we have the government lead by Admiral Stenz (Strathairn) with the help of the scientists played by Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins. Wantabe’s Dr. Serizawa (the same name as the scientist is the original) is fascinated by the monsters, even seeing Godzilla as monster that is simply keeping the balance of nature. His sentiments fall on deaf ears as the government only sees the monsters as a threat and try to the keep the people that, unfortunately, are standing in the middle. Also, just a bonus, Wantabe does have the best line in the movie.
But possibly the strongest arc of the human story, is at the beginning with Cranston’s Joe Brody and wife Sandra, played by Juliette Binoche. It’s a bit rare to get such a strong and emotional beginning in these kinds of movies, but Cranston and Binoche performances make that beginning gut-wrenching even for a Godzilla movie. Cranston, to probably no surprise, gives the best performance as a man who has lost everything he cares about and just wants answers.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s hero character is not obviously going to eclipse Godzilla but he does a descent job of playing the human hero. Although as a man who is forced into the situation, I did hope that he would have been a little more to his character. Elizabeth Olsen, who is impressively talented, has very little to do in this.
But let us not forget the big man. Godzilla is truly a force of nature. His presence is felt every time he’s on screen and you can clearly see why everyone is in shock and awe. He’s also gone through so many different looks that seeing this version of him, it feels right. People have been complaining that his Godzilla is a bit “fat” which seems almost stupid to say considering he’s a force of nature. But his “fatness” doesn’t factor into his movements or even his attacks against the MUTOs. Briefly, the MUTOs have an interesting design themselves and play mostly the villains of the piece.
The movie does take itself seriously but there are welcomed amounts of humor that honestly surprised me. Not to the point where it takes away from the seriousness but moments that really fit into the story and feeling. But the other thing that movie does, that I’ve briefly touched on, is the movie pays a tremendous amount of the respect to the rich history of Godzilla. A Godzilla fan will catch most of the homage’s and references the movie makes. But, unlike most remakes, the movie makes the history an actual part of the overall story.
All in all, Godzilla shows that with the right approach The King of the Monsters can be the great monster that he once was and that we remember to be. The movie is a slow burner but once the action picks up you won’t be able to look away, especially when Godzilla shows up. The movie will divide fans but I hope that people will appreciate how much respect the filmmakers have put into this version of Godzilla.
5 out of 5