Warning – minor spoilers ahead.
Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla opened this weekend to the fire-energy roar of $196 million worldwide, exceeding expectations of a re-boot of a franchise that desperately needed one (RoboCop – really?) The last taste Americans got of Godzilla was Roland Emmerich’s 1998 “disaster film of a disaster film.” The previous sentence and this current one are the only words I will write about that abomination.
Edwards’ Godzilla is visually impressive, (mostly) scientifically and historically viable, and most of the actors fit their part beautifully. There are a couple of narrative and technical issues that rubbed me the wrong way, but I’ll get to those in just a bit.
Cranston plays the melodramatic widower desperately trying to discover the truth exquisitely. There is so much pain and frustration in his voice, it’s hauntingly convincing. He easily has the best dialogue in the film.
Ken Wantanabe and Sally Hawkins play two scientists on the search for Godzilla and other “MUTO’s” (that’s Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects) in the wake of the Nuclear Age. Basically they’re in the film to provide exposition on the back story and give a minimal connection to what spawned the Godzilla franchise in the first place – Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Elizabeth Olsen is the wife of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character, and she is greatly underused. Criminally underused. As the younger Olsen sister (of the Mary-Kate and Ashley variety) she’s had to forge her own career path. In two years it will be Olsen and Jennifer Lawrence at the top of Hollywood.
Let’s get to the star of the movie, Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
No, it’s not Bryan Cranston, it’s not Ken Wantanbe, and it’s not the big ol’ green lizard himself. It’s the guy who played “Kick-Ass.”
Taylor-Johnson has a bright future as a potential American action star. He’s completely shredded and learned how to kill his British accent (in Kick-Ass he keeps calling them “supra heroes). But this movie wasn’t the right showcase for him. His range of emotions is extremely muted.
His character, Ford, is in both the right and wrong place at the same time. He travels to Japan to bail out his father just when a MUTO is about to hatch. He heads to Hawaii to go home to San Francisco just when that MUTO attacks Oahu. He reaches California just in time to hitch a ride on a train with a nuclear missile that will attempt to kill the MUTO. Oh, and he’s a bomb-diffusal expert in the Navy who retro-fits the nuclear missile with a manual timer so it won’t be affected by an EMP. And he’s the only one who can disarm it if needed.
That’s a lot of coincidences to swallow, even for a movie about giant radioactive monsters.
Speaking of which, let’s get to the monsters.
The MUTOs are interesting creatures. In their larval stage they can somehow absorb radiation, but once they hatch they can eat bombs. And create EMP blasts by smashing down a foot. Their origins are unknown, but they aren’t given any ulterior motivations. They feed and they reproduce, like any animal would. The MUTOs kind of look like this monster from Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones crossed with the Tumbler from The Dark Knight. Nothing more to see here.
Now onto Godzilla himself. Man it must suck to be him. Mankind has spent 50 years trying to blow him up, while he bides his time as the protector of the Earth from creatures with less noble intentions. That’s it. Humanity tries to nuke the MUTOs, and when that fails, it falls on Godzilla to clean up the mess by destroying San Francisco. Godzilla only comes out when he’s needed, but no one’s quite sure what his true intentions are. He’s kind of like Batman in that regard.
Visually, Godzilla is awesome. He looks like a Kodiak bear crossed with a Gila monster. The teeth, claws, scales, and tail are brilliantly generated and move smoothly. And that roar. Wow. There’s one instance where Godzilla roars at a MUTO, and just when you think it should end, it goes on for another 3 or 4 seconds. He expresses his dominance that way, and it’s chilling.
In terms of monster-on-monster action, this movie gets it right. It’s brutal and animalistic. I won’t get into specifics, but Godzilla kills one of the MUTOs by pulling a Col. Jessep (If you get this reference and comment on it below, I’ll definitely give you a shout out!).
The only technical issue of the film is the music and sound effects. Accomplished composer Alexandre Desplat’s score isn’t memorable, and at moments came off childish. Several times the music broke into a Psycho-esque violin shrieks, and the horror-film motif of the music didn’t work.
And as for the sound effects, one would assume a giant lizard tail smashing into a building would create a large sound of glass shattering and concrete collapsing. But not in this film. At points it seemed like Edwards was trying to make an artistic statement by NOT having those kinds of effects. And it cheapened the fights just a little bit. But the biggest knock on the sound? Again – without giving too much away, but how does a 300+ foot tall lizard monster in the heart of San Fransisco not make a sound while approaching another giant monster?
Final Verdict: 18K gold. Very well done, but it has its flaws. Hopefully the already-rumored sequel will focus on different human characters, and perhaps give us a human antagonist as well?