Hello, and welcome back, everyone! So, a couple weeks ago, the summer movie season got off to a weak start with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a weak opener that many were hoping the upcoming release of Godzilla would rectify.
If you’re one of the few unfamiliar with the source material, Godzilla is the iconic lizard monster popularized by the campy 1950’s and ‘60’s kaiju films from movie studio Toho. American filmmakers had previously attempted to bring ‘Zilla stateside, but unfortunately in the form of Roland Emmerich’s horrendous interpretation. Directed by newcomer Gareth Edwards, and starring a fantastic roster of actors, this new take on the legend was released to magnificent hype, some may say to the levels of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. With all the word of mouth, I suddenly got hopeful that it would start the season off right… but unfortunately, this really didn’t hit the mark. It’s just about as weak as any other movie released this month so far, but the sadder fact is it isn’t even the least bit enjoyable to watch.
After beginning with a disastrous incident at a power plant in Janjira, Japan fifteen years earlier, the film follows a military lieutenant, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who travels back there to find his distraught father (Bryan Cranston) obsessing over that fateful event in the past. After a disastrous series of events takes place, in which a strange creature nicknamed MUTO is hatched, Brody is approached by two scientists (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins), who inform him of another creature named Gojira, a dinosaur dating back to prehistoric times that the governments had been trying to destroy since the era of the Cold War. When these two titans finally clash with each other, it isn’t long before whole cities are leveled and devastated by this conflict, all the while, the US army attempts to bring down a potentially greater threat from the MUTO that I won’t dare spoil.
I genuinely wanted to like this movie much more than I did, and I’m completely conflicted as I respect what this is. It’s not only a fond tribute to Toho’s legendary film series, but also a love letter to classic Steven Spielberg creature features like Jaws and Jurassic Park, the latter films of which Gareth Edwards clearly has a great admiration and understanding of. However, as sincere as his intentions may have been, the big difference between Godzilla and Spielberg’s great features is that it offers very little in actual substance, and is quite clumsily directed as well.
The editing of this movie is frantic, jumping from location-to-location and various timeframes with little discipline and consistent pace to them. This can be especially jarring after harrowing scenes like the Janjira plant explosion, only to have them rush fifteen years ahead, something that ruins any emotional connection we’d like to make. This movie just doesn’t allow a moment to sink in, and let us absorb the full effects of a situation, something which I will expand upon later in this review. The movie is played to be incredibly joyless and stoic, and I can’t exactly blame the studio for wanting to make a more serious version of the very campy series, but the result just feels incredibly lethargic as a result. I wasn’t expecting this to be Pacific Rim, nor should I have expected that, as this is its own thing, but a little more liveliness would have gone a long way.
Perhaps the movie’s greatest failing is in characterization. This is the main element that separates this movie from the Spielberg classics it wants to emulate. Even though the monsters were the real stars of those movies, and neither of those movies were acting showcases either, there was still a genuine connection to be had with the human characters, there was a lot of personality and likability to them, and they were so engaging that you didn’t mind the waiting for the creatures to enter the movie, and the actors still put their 100% percent into the material. Godzilla fails to have that same benefit because of the fact that these characters simply have no identity. They are one note figures who are thoroughly uninteresting, lack personality or memorability (Seriously, I can’t remember a thing about them), and are a sad waste of this movie’s cast. Most of the movie tends to focus on Brody, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who I’ve frankly never cared for as an actor), whose performance is wooden to the point of bringing the movie to a halt. By focusing so much on him, all of the other potentially interesting characters are swept under the rug, leaving nothing but glorified cameos. Give Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche some credit, at least they elevate their weak material, but why is Ken Watanabe relegated to constant exposition dumps? Why is Sally Hawkins always standing around directionless, especially with a character that could have been erased from the film entirely? And let’s not forget about David Strathairn, who I frankly tend to forget was even in the film at all.
Of course, like I said, this is meant to be a creature feature. Great! I am totally okay with this, and at the very least, the action that would come of it would provide some nicely needed energy to the experience. What I am not okay with is this: If you’re going to make a movie like this, have the guts to see it through all the way when those action beats roll by. This is another reason the editing is so misused, because rather than let these sequences play out naturally, it instead prefers to skip straight to the aftermath, or cut straight back to the human characters. Most of the time that we do get to see these monsters is always from a secondhand perspective, and for all of a few seconds, a minute if they’re lucky. I can’t imagine who would think “Yeah, I’d much rather cut to Elizabeth Olsen’s schtick than witness a potentially awesome fight sequence in Honolulu.” That’s just a tease that’s more frustrating than fun. Again, I realize they want to build suspense, and I wouldn’t be ripping this apart if the human characters were interesting at all, but they’re not. Even the disaster of the situation, which should hit hard, is muted because of the fact that… I don’t care! I have made no connection with these people. This film has given me no reason to, so what’s at stake here? Also adding to the “homage” factor is how the filmmakers are trying hard to make Godzilla akin to the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. The comparisons are so blatant that I kept expecting the “When dinosaurs ruled the earth” banner to fall from the top of the screen anytime Godzilla roars.
For me, this movie fails in so many areas. If you like it, if you can get into it, great for you! You’re not alone, and I’m not going to judge anyone for that. This is simply one of those instances where I have to accept the fact that I’m going to be in a minority situation. I do hate the fact that I hate this film, and it’s still not as bad as Emmerich’s catastrophe, but these flaws are just too distracting for me to ignore.
Even my rating for this film is going to have a lot of complicated connotation to it. Personally, Godzilla feels like a one star movie to me, but for all intents and purposes, I will generously bump it up to two stars, solely thanks to the effects artists, sound designers, and various other technicians who make it look and sound like a much better movie than it actually is. In the movie’s defense, it’s HUGE! The effects supervised by Jim Rygiel (of The Lord of the Rings fame) are absolute eye candy, the stellar sound work by Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl rival some of the duo’s career best efforts, all the while, in one of the most inspired composer choices in years, Alexandre Desplat provides the film with a wonderful score that serves as a throwback to classic disaster flicks, and is a lot more interesting than any Zimmer clone knock-off would have been.
Aside from that, though, I don’t have much to remember it for. Here’s hoping that How to Train Your Dragon 2 will save the summer.
** / *****