Over the past few years, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of giant monster movies. Films such as The Host, Monsters and Pacific Rim have ignited the passion in the movie going audience to see more films like this. As such, it was only a matter of time before a new Godzilla movie was made. This was also a good way for America to make up for the complete butchering of Godzilla done by Roland Emmerich in 1998, giving the world a proper Godzilla film. I am happy to say that this does feel like a true Godzilla film, although there are still a few problems.
The plot of the film centers around the discovery of a creature known as a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) in the Phillipines in 1999. When the creature woke up, it headed towards a nuclear facility in Japan, leading to the destruction of the reactor and the death of the wife of Joe Brody, one of the engineers at the plant. 15 years later, the same activity that preceded the destruction of the Japanese reactor is discovered by Joe, with the reluctant help of his son Ford who’s a bomb disposal expert, and another monster is unleashed. There is only one creature who can stop these new monsters, a creature discovered in 1954 with all the nuclear tests in the Pacific during the Cold War aiming to kill it, Godzilla. The film takes a while to introduce Godzilla, with it being nearly an hour in before we see Godzilla and the only major scene with him taking place in the last 20 minutes but a lot of the character stuff works really well. Whilst the stuff with Ford and his wife isn’t really that interesting, all of the stuff with Joe works really well along with the stuff with the main scientist Dr Serizawa (named after the main scientist of the original Godzilla). I also like the theme of nature restoring the balance created by the damage of humans. All of the stuff with the MUTO’s started because of human interference and Godzilla comes in to solve the issue, seeming to be on the side of the humans, in a way that’s reminiscent of the later end of the original Godzilla run. There are also a lot of parallels to other disasters, with the opening of the film being very reminiscent of Fukushima. The main problem with the delayed presence of Godzilla is that there is a lot of unnecessary teasing. There are numerous points in the film where there could have been a fight between the monsters but it cuts away. The first time that happens it works, building up more of the aftermath but doing it over and over again really doesn’t work. That said, when the fight between Godzilla and the MUTO’s does happen, it is incredible, but I’ll get more into that when I talk about the technical aspects of the film.
The cast of the film is a mixed bag. The clear standout in the film is Bryan Cranston, who does wonders with the material he has in the film. He really sells the man torn apart by guilt and loss and doing everything he can to show that what happened wasn’t his fault, he works really well with all of the other actors, it’s just a brilliant performance. There’s also great work done by Ken Watanabe. He clearly shows a lot of respect for Godzilla as Serizawa with a deep knowledge of the creature and his backstory of being the son of a Hiroshima survivor gives him great motivation for not wanting to see the use of nuclear weapons near a populated area and for humans to not get involved. It feels like the perfect Godzilla film could be made if Joe Brody and Dr Serizawa were the main characters. Instead, the main performance comes from Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody and he doesn’t come across well. Whilst he works well opposite Bryan Cranston, doing his best work early on, as the film continues his performance gets more and more bland and he just becomes really forgettable. There are also a lot of actors who are wasted with Elizabeth Olson, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn not getting much to do, although Strathairn and Binoche do really good work with the limited material given.
The real standout element of the film though comes through the technical details. Gareth Edwards’ direction and Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography bring a great sense of size and scale to the proceedings showing off every detail of the monsters and the destruction. This is best seen in the final fight scene which is incredibly well shot with every single aspect of Godzilla being put to great effect and we see every detail of the fight in great detail. This is helped by the incredible effects. The design and effects used to create Godzilla need to be praised the most, especially the fact that it is designed to recreate the feel of a man in a suit. It also shows the destructive power that Godzilla can create just by moving, mainly Godzilla creating a tsunami through his swimming. If there is one technical aspect that doesn’t really work, it’s the design of the MUTO’s. They just feel like every other American monster created in the last few years, just being another version of the Cloverfield monster and, whilst I wish that Godzilla fought a more recognised enemy, I know that there is a rights issue that prevents that from happening.
Overall, I thought Godzilla was excellent. Whilst there is too much teasing and a lot of the actors are wasted, the plot really works making Godzilla a threat and presence to contemporary audiences in the same way the original Godzilla was a representation of nuclear war, the performances by Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe are excellent and when Godzilla does turn up, everything falls together perfectly to create a really satisfying experience that left me grinning all the way through the final action scene.
My Rating: 4/5