Review: ‘Godzilla’

Godzilla Poster

Godzilla | Gareth Edwards | May 16, 2014

After Roland Emmerich’s pitiful take on beloved Japanese monster Godzilla in 1998, we all needed some time away from the monster to refresh our palettes and give the beast some time off. 15 years seemed like a lifetime in the world of Hollywood, but it was the right decision. This time around, it actually felt like the right time for a new Godzilla movie.

Gareth Edwards, director of the 2010 film Monsters, was the man chosen to direct the latest installment of the green monster. His focus is just as much on the people that are affected by the beast’s arrival, as it is on Mr. Godzilla himself. This is something that has split viewers pretty much equally down the line, with some adoring Edwards’ show less technique, and some vehemently asking “where the hell is Godzilla” during the taxing build-up. Patient you must be, as Edwards takes his sweet time getting there.

The difference maker for Edward’s version is the effort to develop the characters that we meet. The film begins with an introduction to the Brody family. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are Americans working at a power plant in Japan, where they’re raising their son Ford (young Ford played by CJ Adams). One day, mysterious activity arises at the plant, affecting their lives forever.

We flash forward to the present day, where grown-up Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is back from the Navy returning home to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their son Sam (Carson Bolde). The mysterious events of the power plant many years ago still affect their lives, straining the relationship between father and son. Joe is still so obsessed with the events, that he ends up getting arrested in the quarantine zone of the plant, forcing Ford to go to retrieve him in Japan. You know where this is headed.

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The strength of Edwards direction is in the way which he shows us the interactions of the monsters: artfully from the perspective of the human eye on the ground. It’s almost like the handheld camera approach we see so often now, only done better. He makes us earn these scenes, making us patiently await their arrival, and ending them almost as soon as they begin. But when they finally do kick into gear, they’re electric. I, for one, appreciated the wait and see approach, but I can understand why some viewers would find this problematic.

The story crafted by David Callaham was turned into a script by Max Borenstein. They, along with Edwards, make a great effort to make the viewers connect and feel for the human characters that we meet. For the most part, they do a serviceable job with Joe and Ford Brody. This is also a credit to the unstoppable Bryan Cranston, as well as Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who does solid work here. It’s just disappointing that the film tried so hard to focus on developing characters, and ended up wasting so many of them. Elizabeth Olsen’s character was limited to looking scared in the rain, while Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins’ talents are wasted aside from lines given to them to help repeat plot points to audience members who need it spelled out for them.

Godzilla features some really well thought out and gorgeously portrayed shots, a credit to the work of cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. There’s a few scenes that were stunning on an Imax screen, which was for sure, the proper way to take the film in. This is clearly its strength, and I have no complaints for this department. It’s just the uneven nature of the rest of the picture that brings it down a few notches.

Godzilla took some different avenues than I would have expected, and at least makes a conscious effort to make characters matter. Edwards and company have made a better than expected big budget monster picture, one whose sequel I am actually excited to see.

Rating: 7.0/10