by Ken B.
Gareth Edwards’ new movie Godzilla has one task it might not even be aware it had: Reverse the damage done by Roland Emmerich’s 1998 tragedy of the same name. In that respect, this reboot is a success, but from a more total viewpoint, has some flaws. It has the feel of two movies – one is an intriguing slow-burn of a mystery, and the other is a more conventional kind of smash-everything-in-sight blockbuster. There are successful elements to both, but there are problems when it comes time to gel everything together.
We have a backstory, set fifteen years prior to the present, where Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) are working at a power plant station in Japan. One day, a massive and mysterious event destroys the plant. It was the latest in a series of odd disasters, which was already under investigation elsewhere by scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins).
In the present day, Joe and Sandra’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a bomb squad expert who has returned home to San Francisco to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and his young son Sam (Carson Bolde). However, on the night of his arrival, he receives a call informing him that his father, still living in Japan, has been arrested for trespassing in the area where the plant used to be. While Ford still flies overseas to bail his father out, it becomes clear that their relationship is strained, as Joe has developed a mild obsession with studying the events of years ago. He never bought the official explanation that the accident was simply an earthquake, you see, and has devoted all of his extra time to investigating other possible causes. These efforts are validated when events like the ones before occur, only followed by large monsters rising up from the ground, destroying everything in sight. It then becomes an international mission to intercept and stop these newfound creatures – and soon, another kind of monster appears.
Godzilla himself, of course, is one of the two (I may as well not say too much), and when everything comes together in the last act, it is indeed a spectacular thing to see. The sounds and visuals are stellar, with buildings crumbling and exploding while animal roars shake the soundtrack, alongside Alexandre Desplat’s brass-heavy score. It intercuts itself with humans reacting to the proceedings, like the simplified way of showing that people are involved, too. The more expected emphasis on action comes in contrast to the beginning of the film, which supplies human drama and character development, and does so surprisingly well. It never seems forced or overt, and somewhat helps in offsetting the one track mind setting of the remainder.
Godzilla takes itself very seriously all the way through, which is kind of a problem considering how ridiculous things get. Despite an movie that meets its goals overall, by the 123 minute film’s end, there is a degree of the rushed and unsatisfying, especially with a handful of confusing third act plot developments (including what the movie exactly thinks a nuclear bomb does and how fast a boat goes). While it doesn’t outright destroy the movie, you long for the earlier sequences, where Bryan Cranston gave what was far and away the movie’s most memorable performance and character. The other performances from supporting players, like Watanabe, Hawkins, and Olsen, are all respectable, but curiously are preferable in execution than our actual lead, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is good, but never really stands out among his co-stars.
Godzilla is a movie that is never anything less than interesting, and it is that factor of its own existence that makes it just cross over into a recommendation, albeit with many, many asterisks. I do understand that the more general consensus on this movie has been warmer than this one review, so it is very possible that this is could be far more enjoyable for most reading this than for me. Gareth Edwards can skillfully helm a major blockbuster, despite that this movie has a budget 320 times larger than his debut feature, and it is also a credible achievement due to the fact the script he has been given seems to have a split personality. So, while it is imperfect, at the end of the day, Godzilla does okay in giving a unique spin on the legendary cultural staple in the year of its sixtieth anniversary.