A proper Godzilla film, warts and all.
There’s no denying Gareth Edwards, the director of 2010 indie kaiju flick Monsters, brought a lot of Godzilla love and respect to this American reboot. This Godzilla is likely to be the most successful Godzilla movie in the series’ long history since the 1954 original; it succeeds both as a great kaiju flick that will please the hardcore G fan, and as a mainstream summer disaster movie that should draw in the crowds.
That’s not to say this Godzilla is flawless. Part of what makes these flaws forgivable, though, is that they mirror those so often seen in the original Japanese movies, however hard it tries to avoid them. For instance, for all the star power and effort brought to the human stories, the dramatic scenes end up feeling mostly like filler compared to the monster fights. Second, as always, humans accomplish little of significance except surviving the giant monster onslaught, and the military threatens millions of innocents with their incompetence.
Edwards and crew made an interesting choice when they decided to set up Godzilla as an antihero in this film. This is in line with the Godzilla of the Shōwa series, which is most likely the Godzilla American crowds are familiar with. I do wonder, however, if this was the best choice for a reboot. American audiences would have benefited from witnessing the full devastation that Godzilla can bring before we started rooting for him. The result is a surprisingly toothless and even weak Godzilla, when all is said and done.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Smart” title=”Boy, the Juliette Binoche fans are in for a surprise.”/]
I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that they somehow convinced Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston to act in a goddamn Godzilla movie. I’m reminded of Raymond Burr’s presence in the 1954 original. The movie starts slow, building its human element before tossing a lizard-shaped wrecking ball at it. So far so good.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Shocking” title=”Oops, so much for Juliette Binoche.”/]
Boy, that didn’t take long. I get that the movie wants us to empathize with Brian Cranston’s despair, but Binoche barely had time to act. Still; her name’s on the poster, so I guess that’s her main job done. I remember reading that Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption) retooled the script at some point, working in a scene that clinched Cranston’s participation. Guess it was that final scene with his wife. I gotta admit, it was a good one.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Scary” title=”The demolished power plant silently reminds us of Fukushima.”/]
It’s become such a cliché for American movies to reference 9/11, so it’s a weird breath of fresh air to see scenes that are reminiscent of the devastating tsunami that struck Japan and the nuclear crisis that followed, instead. It’s also a nice touch that the first country affected by the kaiju crisis is Japan.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Shocking” title=”Oh, damn, so much for Bryan Cranston too.”/]
Wait… what? I’m not sure what happened here. I usually like this kind of shocking plot twist, but I’m not sure that was very smart. For starters, Cranston’s death is as anticlimactic as it gets. Second, he was the emotional core of this movie so far. He could have very well stuck by Watanabe’s side for the rest of the movie, and we would have felt an emotional continuity with the opening scenes. Instead we get to follow his son, with whom we have very little reason to connect.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Puzzling” title=”Oh yeah, almost forgot Godzilla’s in this one as well.”/]
So far, we’ve spent a lot of time witnessing the emergence of the MUTOs, but very little learning about Big G himself. Surprisingly, when he is introduced, it’s through a bit of quick exposition over stock footage of nuclear explosions. That would have been fine if this was the second or third movie in the rebooted series; but for a first reboot, it’s kinda jarring. Part of the problem is that Godzilla is not an antagonist in this movie, but the antihero. And this being an American movie, there’s just no way we’ll watch him ravage entire cities if we’re gonna root for him, lest the director be accused of writing a pro-terrorism movie or something.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Cheesy” title=”‘We call him ‘Gojira.””/]
Oh, nice one! The line came across as forced and cheesy, but it still made me smile. Nice little bit of fan service there. So I guess just like in real life, his real name is ‘Gojira,’ and the Americans just mispronounce it ‘Godzilla.’
[do action=”moment” emo=”Geeky” title=”Guys? You’re gonna think I’m weird, but I actually miss the rubber suit.”/]
I’m gonna get crucified for saying this, but I’m not sure about this CGI Godzilla. I mean, I like the design and the beefed up silhouette, but there’s just something missing to its CGI movements. Some shots really communicate his massive size, but when we get to wide-angle body shots or face shots, there’s just a lack of mass to the 3D graphics. Rubber suits have their limitations, I know… But I can’t help but feel special effects still haven’t caught up to the mix of animatronics and CGI that Jurassic Park pioneered.
Dat roar, though. Oh man did they ever get that one right.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Facepalm” title=”True to Godzilla tradition, the military has an idiotic plan.”/]
So… Both Godzilla and the MUTOs feed off radiation, but the US military’s plan is to basically throw a food bomb at them. Oh, but it’s not a small food bomb like the one they fed to Godzilla in the 50s. No, with this one they’ll die crushed under all that food. Yeah, I see no way this could go wrong. None at all.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Cool” title=”Godzilla swims under military escort.”/]
This is my favorite shot in the entire movie: Godzilla, only his back spikes above the water, swims towards his prey with US destroyers by his side. I love it.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Exciting” title=”Godzilla visits the Golden Gate Bridge.”/]
A fantastic giant monster scene, with a bus full of screaming children, a number of warships, and a handful of tanks, all trying not to crap their pants as Godzilla heads straight for them. My only disappointment is that the movie held back on the destruction, presumably because it’s hard to root for an antihero who slaughters children on his way to work.
[do action=”moment” emo=”LookingGood” title=”The HELO jump.”/]
Yeah yeah, we all saw it in the trailers. It still looked damn good, especially since now we have Ford to root for as the soldiers plunge towards the giant monster mayhem below. I’m glad they kept the 2010 music, too. I’m also grateful that the whole scene makes perfect sense in the context of the story.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Creative” title=”The Big G gets an assist from the little guy.”/]
A typical problem of any Godzilla movie is making the action at ground level somehow relevant to what’s happening to the giant monsters. Here the movie manages this perfectly by having Ford burn up the MUTO eggs, thus drawing the MUTOs away from Godzilla when he’s clearly struggling to overcome two opponents at once.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Exciting” title=”Taste atomic breath, bitch!”/]
Surely I’m not the only one who squealed when Godzilla’s back spikes began to glow blue from tail to back. What a way to dispatch the final MUTO, too!
[do action=”moment” emo=”Disappointing” title=”Godzilla, having had his power nap, will now mess up your city. Wait, nope, he’s leaving.”/]
I expected Godzilla to turn around and really mess up San Francisco, so we could end on a message that humanity should never have the arrogance to think they can control Nature. Nope, Godzilla just got up and left us alone, being so kind as to not tsunami San Francisco Bay on his way out. Again, Godzilla’s rampages are a part of the character, so it’s a disappointment to see them pull back on this to ensure he’s perceived as a protagonist. Bummer.
If you're a Godzilla fan, feel free to bump this rating to a 'Rewind.' It's a legitimate Godzilla movie, warts and all, and Edwards pulled some kind of miracle by making something that feels both faithful to the Japanese movies and appealing to modern American audiences. That being said, there's a lot of pointless human drama, and not as much Godzilla as you'd expect. It's alright, though: sequels are coming.