Godzilla - Review


It's been quite some time since we've heard anything about a major Hollywood Godzilla movie.
Since the critically panned Roland Emmerich version from 1998, which redesigned the iconic King of Monsters beyond recognition, studios were worried whether another try would end up just as bad.
But then, director Gareth Edwards came along and amazed audiences and critics with his low-budget debut film "Monsters", which effectively built its strength on a character focussed story and on the motive of only teasing the monsters instead of flatout revealing them.
Obviously Warner Bros. trusted the "monster handling capabilites" of Edwards and gave Godzilla another shot with a completely new reboot of the franchise.
With a more serious take on the monster and a strong casting, including Bryan Cranston, convincing trailers gave us hope that this big comeback for Godzilla might actually work...Well, did it?   

The plot:
In Summer 2014, the world's most revered monster is reborn as Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures unleash the epic action adventure "Godzilla." From visionary new director Gareth Edwards ("Monsters") comes a powerful story of human courage and reconciliation in the face of titanic forces of nature, when the awe-inspiring Godzilla rises to restore balance as humanity stands defenseless.
Source: Warner Bros. 

Just like the trailers showed, Godzilla is a remarkably more serious "end of the world"- take on the Godzilla story. It features the expected themes of what catastrophic results the human underestimation of nature and radioactivity can lead to.
Being mostly told through the perspective of nuclear scientist Jon Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his son Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Godzilla's human drama is kept in a pretty tight focus on said family's fate (aside from other faceless victims during the monster attacks).
With that said, Godzilla's two first (mostly Godzilla-free) acts put a very big emphasis not on the monsters themselves but rather on effectively establishing a dark and almost apocalyptic atmosphere, while building up to the climactic showdown. This is mostly achieved through great performances by Bryan Cranston, great extras and uncomfortably believable disaster scenarios that are presented in frightening detail (most notably a Tsuanmi catastrophe on Hawaii).
Therefore, in total contrast to the extremely blockbuster-ish, comicy Roland Emmerich version, this Godzilla movie is all about terror and humanity facing a threat that could lead to its extinction. And in that sense, this Godzilla movie is probably the most frightening entry in the franchise since the dark 1954 original.
What remains unfortunate though is that the human drama slowly loses edge halfway through the movie. The military perspective of the events slowly takes over as action scenes arrive more frequently. Of course the focus on the military is understandable in the context of all the action and military tactics going on, yet it's sad that the emotional drama of the Brody family just so rapidly takes a backseat.

Uncomfortable Fukushima reference ahead!

But even with all the serious aspects of the movie going on, there's no denying that its true goal is not to educate but to primarily entertain with what made Godzilla so successful in the first place: giant monsters fighting each other and destroying cities.

With that said, contrary to what most trailers might make audiences expect, Godzilla is not a movie focussing on Godzilla himself as the main threat but rather him and a pack of other monsters called MUTOs (massive unknown terrestrial objects).
Godzilla as well as the other MUTOs are seen as an equal threat to humanity, that have to be played out against each other, seeing that human weapons are seemingly useless against them.
To add another note to the indestructable threat, the MUTOs and Godzilla have been made several times larger compared to older versions (check it out here) and got added some surprising new abilities.
Therefore, it is easily recognizable, that director Gareth Edwards stayed remarkably faithful to the original Japanese style of Godzilla, both visually as well as in spirit, while at the same time updating it for current mainstream audiences. Especially fans, who are aware of the Godzilla lore, are going to spot several nice and subtle references to older Godzilla flicks spead throughout the movie.

Yet, just like any movie with giant monsters fighting each other, Godzilla is of course also not the most hyper realistic take on the franchise. Thus, it's easy to spot a good share of plot holes throughout the course of the story, which aren't too glaring though and remain on a fairly forgivable level that won't necessarily ruin anybody's experience (meaning they are far not as bad as the plot holes in Pacific Rim). 

*Play "Big in Japan" by Alphaville here.*

But is the actual monster brawling any good? - When it's there for more than a few seconds, yes.
What becomes very apparent in Godzilla is that Gareth Edwards plays around a whole lot with the element of "tension building".
Much like Spielberg's "Jaws", the movie takes its time to finally reveal the actual monsters and accordingly raises the excitement and suspense of the audience, and in that regard, it does a very good job. What the movie sadly lacks however is to give audiences enough consecutive, long action scenes with the monsters fighting each other.
Several times there are moments in the movie when the monsters actually face each other and are about to fight. Yet, (except for the final showdown) Gareth Edwards decides to suddenly cut to an entirely different location right as the fight was about to start.
In a movie, which basically everybody is going to see for the epic monster battles, it's certaintly not a good thing to have only one major monster vs. monster fight to be seen (the showdown).
Obviously director Edwards wanted to (once again) use the element of imagination and suspense, whereas it's unfortunately completely out of place once "the cat is out of the bag" (meaning, once the monsters are revealed and facing each other).
There were multiple times in the middle of the movie, in which Edwards should've just given the audience and most notably fans just what they want instead of needlessly teasing them. Contrary to his intentions, these "teaser-cut-aways" don't lead to more suspense but more likely to annoyance and frustration.
And while the final showdown between the monsters is quite a great finale and is just as destructive as expected, it's most probably not too intense or long enduring enough for viewers to rectify all of the previous annoying cut-aways during the battles that could've been shown.
Oh damn! It's about to go down! I hope they..*CUT!*

With all those naggings mentioned, this absolutely does not mean that Godzilla fails in the action department. It's just that the best action scenes in the movie, of which there are plenty, are completely focussed on confrontations between the human population/military and the monsters.
In those great action scenes, total mayhem is unleashed: people are dying in the hundreds, the military fails in its attempts to contain the chaos and the feel of terror is effectively established through the frightingly realistic depiction.

What of course helps the immersion into this apocalypse a whole lot are the flawless special effects.
Godzilla himself never has looked more awesome, huge and intimidating than here. Though he looks a bit beefier and his size has been increased quite a bit from the very first 1954 version , you can definitely tell that the filmmakers stayed true to the main design in order to have fans actually recognize THE Godzilla in this updated monster, which they absolutely nailed.
Whereas they stayed remarkably true to the main design with Godzilla, the concept artists took quite some freedom in designing the other MUTOs in the movie, which are more influenced by western movies like "Cloverfield" etc.
Those come off as a very obvious update of another iconic monster from the Toho Godzilla franchise (fans will immediately know which), which we won't spoil here. Although the other MUTOs don't look too bad, they lack the character of Godzilla himself and therefore remain as largely faceless enemy beasts.
For a Godzilla movie, in which Godzilla himself is nevertheless the star, this might not be too bad, but the fact, that most of the "monster-screentime" is filled by the other MUTOs and not Godzilla, is a bit disappointing.

"Military vs. Monster" is definitely the main attraction here.

In a movie, in which the monsters are the main attraction everybody is waiting for, it might be hard to stand a chance as a human actor.
Probably being aware of this, the main human actors, that the audience is supposed to root for, come in the form of powerhouse actor Bryan Cranston as nuclear scientist Joe Brody and most notably his son Ford Brody played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
What might first come off as a movie focussing on a hero-duo of father and son quickly dissolves into a one man show for Aaron-Taylor Johnson, considering that Bryan Cranston's screentime is fairly limited in the overall movie.
Whereas the first third of the movie focusses on Cranston's quest of uncovering the true reason of the big nuclear reactor breakdown several years ago, the movie then completely shifts it's focus onto his son.
From then on, the entire audience is supposed to relate to Aaron-Taylor Johnson's performance as not only the main leading "action hero soldier" of the flick but also as a father trying to safe his family. The latter, as already mentioned, quickly becomes a subplot when the the military-vs-monster mayhem begins.
It all comes down to Bryan Cranston basically representing the entire emotional family drama, which sadly ends up being just as limited as his screentime, whereas Aaron-Taylor Johnson serves as a capable and likable but simply not interesting enough character to hold up the entire movie on his own without the help of Godzilla and the other monsters.
In the final scene, the audience will more likely feel like they followed a random soldier through the happenings of the movie, rather than an actual "special" hero, who characteristically and ability-wise would distinguish himself more from the other soldiers.

Other actors like Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe have only very limited and thin roles that don't compare to the large weight the movie puts on its monsters or Aaron-Taylor Johnson. This is only even more underlined through the fact that both Olsen and Watanabe's performances are more functional than actually three-dimensional: Olsen plays the constantly worried wife/mother during the mayhem, while Watanabe only shows up during scenes, in which he either has to look shocked and bust out some cool one-liners or when he has to make tactical plans with the leading military Colonel.

"Son...we have to cook."
All in all, director Gareth Edwards didn't disappoint when he promised that he would stay faithful to the original Japanese Toho movies with his new Godzilla reboot. Both visually as well as spiritually this movie nails incredibly well what Godzilla movies were all about.
With a more serious tone, the new Godzilla successfully distances itself from the misguided 1998 Roland Emmerich version and puts a big focus on careful and slow build-up of tension and apocalyptic atmosphere until the chaos begins when Godzilla and the other monsters finally reveal themselves.
Considering how effective the depiction of terror and tension build-up is, makes the annoying cut-aways in many "payoff"-monster-vs.-monster-scenes the more frustrating. Although confrontations between the monsters and the military forces make up most of the overall very exciting action scenes here, we would've wished that director Gareth Edwards would've known better and gave us more audience pleasing monster brawls to gaze at instead of just a fairly brief final fight.

Godzilla sure is quite some blocks away from being a perfect Godzilla movie, but even with its incomplete family drama, limited monster-vs.-monster battles and minor plot holes, Gareth Edwards did a great job in making Godzilla matter again in an ultimately entertaining "okay to good"-movie that might serve as a start for a potentially new franchise as well as it may just exist as a standalone Godzilla movie.
Therefore, despite its weaknesses, Godzilla is easily recommendable for fans of the King of the Monsters, while interested newcomers should definitely give this faithful comeback a watch.

Final Verdict: 6 out of 10 

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