Edwards smartly blends sixty years worth of Godzilla movies into a cautionary tale warning of modern humankind’s arrogance, presenting the King of Monsters as both horror and hero.
In Godzilla, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a chief engineer working at the Janjira nuclear plant, discovers a mysterious seismic activity pattern that, if ignored, could threaten the stability of his facility (as well as the lives of nearby residents). Yet, before Joe can plead to his superiors for caution, a mysterious force causes a meltdown within the plant – leaving Joe, his family, along with the rest of the area, devastated.
Fifteen years later, Joe is still searching for answers, obsessed with uncovering the real reason behind Janjira’s nuclear meltdown. When the eccentric conspiracy theorist is arrested inside a quarantine zone, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Navy EOD technician, must travel to Japan in an effort to bring his father back to the states – and put an end to Joe’s increasingly dangerous search for answers. Yet, just after Ford arrives in Japan, it becomes clear that Joe was right all along – and that the world is about to pay the price for not listening to his warnings.
When his critically-acclaimed film Monsters became an indie sci-fi favorite, director Gareth Edwards was challenged with rebooting the iconic King of the Monsters for Legendary Pictures. Despite abysmal ratings for Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla, the film’s $370 million (unadjusted) in ticket sales made it clear the giant lizard still had pull at the global box office. Thankfully, Edwards learned from Hollywood’s past mistakes and the new Godzilla offers a fresh and tantalizing moviegoing experience for longtime fans of “Monster Zero-One,” as well as casual viewers looking for summer spectacle.
In spite of tongue-in-cheek Godzilla vs. [Insert Monster X] movies over the last half-century, the original Toho Gojira (1954) wasn’t created to birth a cinematic icon – the monster was used as a horrifying metaphor for the atomic bomb. To that end, Edwards smartly blends sixty years worth of Godzilla movies into a cautionary tale warning of modern humankind’s arrogance, presenting the King of Monsters as both horror and hero. Some may complain that there isn’t quite enough Godzilla in Godzilla, but Edwards’ restraint is actually a credit to the success of the film – especially in an era where audiences can become desensitized to CGI characters and onscreen destruction. The director walks a fine line between showing off the redesigned reptile while harnessing the creature’s larger-than-life persona. Godzilla makes a big impression, dealing genuinely crowd-pleasing moments without overstaying his welcome, and leaving audiences to relish in every shot of the monster.
Instead of relying on massive CGI fights to sell the film, Edwards makes smart use of interesting human stories – which lead viewers through increasingly revealing looks at Godzilla and other threats. Edwards’ movie isn’t just about Godzilla or military might, it’s a captivating tale of people (at all levels) as we encounter natural forces outside of our control. Regardless of its scope, the movie is surprisingly intimate – with beautiful cinematography that grounds Godzilla in a rich and lived-in world. Edwards keeps his focus tight on a small group of human characters – allowing them to develop within the context of the greater crisis (but without stealing the spotlight from their titular star). As a result, the computer generated antihero is rarely disconnected from the perils of people on the ground – with seamless shots that transition back and forth between selfless human heroics and eye-popping monster mayhem.
Cranston sets the tone early as charming but compulsive Joe Brody – a man that, even before disaster strikes, is aloof and obsessive. Despite an award-winning turn as Walter White in Breaking Bad, Cranston has been relegated to thin caricature in most of his film roles – one-note villains or tough-as-nails military men. Fortunately, Cranston is given a lot more to work with in Godzilla and the actor supplies an emotional and empathetic performance which ensures that both pillars of the narrative (sci-fi fantasy and human drama) are taken seriously.
Paired with Cranston, Taylor-Johnson is a serviceable leading-man for the story as Ford – a relatable hero trying to get back to his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and son Sam (Carson Bolde). At times it’s clear that Ford is a fictional fabrication – a character designed for every occasion in all the right places at the right times – but thanks to a likable turn from Taylor-Johnson, it’s easy to suspend disbelief and follow along.
While Olsen furnishes one of the stronger performances in the film, the talented actress is given very little screen time. Instead of developing Elle as a character, Edwards sidelines Olsen to fleshing-out the men and monsters around her – adding another layer to Ford as well as providing on-the-ground emotional drama once Godzilla hits the mainland. Similarly, Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Ichiro Serizawa is tasked with delivering exposition in nearly every single scene – providing backstory, scientific revelations, and giant monster insights whenever a character (and the audience) needs clarification. That said, Serizawa is still an impactful addition, similar to Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura) in the original Godzilla, a scientist reeling from the collision of scientific discovery and its consequences. Serizawa helps viewers navigate conflicting feelings about Godzilla – making it acceptable (at least this time) to root for the King of Monsters, even when he’s destroying entire cities in the process.
Godzilla is also playing in 3D and 3D IMAX theaters and the film takes full advantage of both premium formats. The film may not have been shot in 3D but the post-conversion contributes in immersion and enhanced visual spectacle. IMAX 3D is also a worthy investment, even for frugal filmgoers, since the extra screen size and audio fidelity enhance Godzilla’s massive size and heart-pounding roar. The 3D isn’t essential (especially in certain parts of the film) but viewers who are willing to invest in a premium ticket will get their money’s worth from the IMAX experience.
Moviegoers expecting two hours of CGI monster beat downs may be underwhelmed by the amount of Godzilla in Edwards’ reboot. However, the director has actually delivered a much more ambitious and memorable experience, blending a crowd-pleasing return for the titular star, poignant human drama, thought-provoking cautionary themes, as well as fun Toho series nods (like monster battles on TV) – all with entertaining blockbuster spectacle and a third act brawl that sets a new bar for the beloved King of the Monsters.
Godzilla runs 123 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence. Now playing in 2D, 3D, and 3D IMAX theaters.
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