Note: The following review is SPOILER FREE!
Godzilla is one of the most recognizable movie characters of all time, yet mainstream audiences have yet to get a definitive “Godzilla” movie. Fans of giant monsters (known as Kaiju for those who don’t know) have been watching the imported Japanese films for years, but other than the mess of a film that was Roland Emmerich’s 1994 “Godzilla,” Americans have seen his face, but never known the appeal or mythology of the character. Gareth Edwards’ new film corrects that issue, providing a more thoughtful, grounded take on the character that both fans and casual moviegoers will love.
In this new film, Edwards revives a style of storytelling rarely seen today. Instead of giving you the monsters right off the bat, Edwards takes a page from the playbook of Steven Spielberg movies like “Jurassic Park” and “Close Encounters,” building anticipation for the first act and then letting loose in the rest of the film. The story begins in 1999, where a nuclear power plant worker, played by Bryan Cranston, loses his wife when a mysterious earthquake causes the plant to have a meltdown. 15 years later, he’s arrested for snooping around the ruins of the plant and his now-adult son Ford, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Kick-Ass”), must come and bail him out. Of course, the pair must find a way back to America when they find that the tremors are coming from an ancient monster, and it’s just woken up the only creature that can take it down: GODZILLA!!!
The human cast is great, with Bryan Cranston pouring himself into his role and crafting a passionate, driven character haunted by his past. However, most of the screen time goes to Taylor-Johnson’s Ford, who gets the job done, but isn’t nearly as interesting as his father. Luckily, the supporting players are great, with Ken Watanabe turning in an excellent performance as the Godzilla-studying Prof. Serizawa, a character from the 1954 original. Elizabeth Olsen does good work as Ford’s wife, but is confined to a few scenes and ultimately doesn’t get to do much. Of course, the real star of the film is Godzilla himself.
Edwards offers glimpses throughout the early parts of the film, and when the King of the Monsters finally appears, it’s an event. Weta Workshop, whom also did the creatures in “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” have outdone themselves here, creating a design for Godzilla that is nothing short of epic. Sporting a detailed, more realistic look, Godzilla towers over everything and is more or less worth the price of admission on his own. The other monster in the film (known as Muto) is impressive as well, representing what old rubber-suited baddies of past “Godzilla” films would look like in real life. (Although let’s hope we get some of the classic “Godzilla” monsters in the inevitable sequel, as it’d be great to see infamous foes like Rodan or King Ghidorah done in this style.)
When the monsters begin to fight, it’s glorious. The monster-on-monster action delivers everything you want it to, with some fantastic fight sequences that showcase everything that’s made “Godzilla” movies so popular. (And for those wondering, yes, Godzilla does have his trademark flame breath). The film strikes the perfect mix of monster action and human drama, and Edwards deserves commendation for the amount of emotion he’s able to instill into a giant lizard. Godzilla isn’t presented as the city-destroying menace of the original, but he’s also not the heroic figure he is in the later movies. Instead, he’s presented more as a force of nature, awakened to restore balance, even if it means trampling a few buildings. While the political commentary isn’t nearly as pronounced as it is in the original film, Edwards is able to add some philosophy to the proceedings, creating a refreshing take on the character that’s both faithful and modern.
All in all, “Godzilla” mixes some great acting and best in class effects, both which together work to make a blockbuster film worthy of the King of Monsters. Edwards’ revival of the event film is a welcome one, and while it takes some time for the monsters to appear, when they do, it’s worth it. The fight scenes are amazing, the Kaiju have never looked better and after many years it seems we Americans have finally gotten Godzilla right.
Is “Godzilla” a giant flop or a giant success in your book? Did the slow burn work? Roar in the comments below.
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