Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Wantanabe, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, with David Strathairn and Bryan Cranston
Written By: Max Borenstein
Directed By: Gareth Edwards
About midway through Godzilla, one of the characters – a Navy Admiral – addresses his troops and asks “Where is Godzilla?” I’d been wondering the same thing for the first half of the movie. It’s a slow-burn before the title character and world’s most famous monster shows up in his own movie, but I must say that it’s worth the wait.
Unfortunately, the first 40 minutes or so of this reboot aren’t particularly strong, with the first act of the film even being quite dull at times. I was all but ready to write this thing off as a failure until the second half of the movie arrived and completely made up for the lackluster pacing which preceded it.
The problem with the beginning portion of the film is the focus on and shoddy development of the main characters, none of whom are particularly interesting except for Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody, a nuclear physicist. However, Cranston is by no means the leading man here – that honor goes to Aaron Taylor-Johnson as his son Ford Brody. Cranston only appears in a handful of scenes, which is disappointing considering that he plays the most compelling human character and the only one displaying something along the lines of a personality.
The film goes overboard with the slow buildup to the reveal of Godzilla to the point where he doesn’t get a whole lot of screentime. The monster is featured quite prominently during the stunning finale, a 30-minute sequence full of non-stop destruction and mayhem, but it seems like an odd decision on the part of the filmmaker’s to wait so long to utilize their main attraction.
Instead, most of the second act features an invasion of the MUTO’S (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) – giant, spider/crab/moth like creatures who look like they’ve emerged straight from the depths of hell. The MUTO’s are frightening critters impressively crafted by CGI – but shifting most of the film’s focus on these lesser characters as opposed to Godzilla is like going to a Rolling Stones concert where the opening act plays for the majority of the show.
Most of the cast, which consists of many Oscar nominated actors, are completely wasted. Taylor-Johson is one of the more lifeless action heroes of any blockbuster of this ilk, but that’s not so much his fault as it is a script which gives him nothing to work with. Other actors, including Elizabeth Olsen as Taylor-Johnson’s wife and Ken Wantanabe and Sally Hawkins as scientists studied in all things Godzilla, are underused and underdeveloped. Of course, we aren’t attending a monster movie for the human characters – but because the film does spend a large chunk of screentime on them, it’d be nice if any of them were more engaging.
The film’s best asset (aside from Godzilla obviously) is director Gareth Edwards, a visually gifted auteur who cares about the craft of filmmaking and it shows. The film is shot beautifully and the action staged excitingly. Kudos must also go to the impressive set design and magnificent special-effects work. Edwards’ only previous film was a minuscule budgeted monster movie, aptly titled Monsters, but this indie director handles his $180 million blockbuster like a seasoned professional.
There are a dozen moments in the latter part of the film that consist of pure movie magic. Here’s where Godzilla becomes what you hoped it would be – a summer blockbuster featuring the kind of dazzling spectacle that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Full of monster money shots and surprises, the final sequences of the film elicited multiple bursts of applause from the audience at my screening.
Godzilla 2014 is a major improvement over Roland Emmerich’s silly 1998 version starring Matthew Broderick. It’s also considerably better than last summer’s Pacific Rim, a monster vs. robot mashup which was heavily inspired by the original Godzilla productions. This has more substance than either of those films and when the action hits – it’s exiting and captivating – unlike Pacific Rim which I likened to the experience of watching someone else playing a video game.
Even though I have plenty of issues with this movie, it’s a testament to the strength of the second half of the film that I must give Godzilla a positive review, which is surprising considering that I wasn’t particularly enjoying myself during the first half. The first half is never flat out bad, it’s just exceedingly mediocre. But then something unusual happens – the film does a complete 360 and becomes really damn entertaining.
Even though Godzilla has pacing issues and could have used for more disciplined editing – when thinking back about the film – I’m able to edit out the boring bits in my own head and what I’m left with is the memory of a big-budget monster mash bursting with awe-inspiring and jaw dropping sequences. In the end, the good outweighs the bad and Godzilla outweighs his monster movie competitors.