The King of the Monsters Returns: Godzilla Movie Review
I have been a fan of Godzilla my entire life. I’ve seen all the movies, read and watched countless articles and documentaries, and played with the toys as a kid. Godzilla movies are firmly at the top of my list of guilty pleasures. I was extremely excited, albeit cautious, when I heard that there was going to be a Godzilla reboot by Legendary Pictures.
Naturally, Godzilla fans were worried that we would have another Zilla98 on our hands. However, with amazing trailer after amazing trailer, the hype built up the idea that we were going to have a true Godzilla movie and, thankfully, the hype and wait were worth it.
Godzilla 2014 rocks! This is the Godzilla movie Big G fans have been waiting for and one even non-Godzilla fans can get into.
I am going to try to keep the review spoiler-free and to the point. First, I’d like to clear up a major misconception about this movie. This is not a sequel to the 1998 Godzilla movie. This is a reboot to the entire Godzilla franchise, including the Japanese films, and is much more akin to the Japanese films than the ’98 stinker.
Also this movie’s director, Gareth Edwards, is actually a fan of Godzilla movies. Unlike Roland Emmerich, who has said he didn’t even like Godzilla movies and clearly just made the ’98 movie to continue his line of disaster fetish films.
This movie wisely does not try to be a remake of the original 1954 film, but takes great inspiration from it.
It does update some of its themes to be more contemporary, like with the opening scene at the nuclear power plant in Japan, which was most likely inspired by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. However, the theme of mankind’s arrogance in the face of nature isn’t beaten into our heads as much as I thought it would be. One of the strengths of the film is balancing the human drama element with kickass monster battles.
It starts out slow and builds up at a good pace, letting us learn about other characters while skirting around what Godzilla is and what this “other” monster is. The story takes place in several locations, from Japan to across the Pacific and eventually to San Francisco, focusing on the Brody family, researchers, and of course the military hunting after the MUTO monster and Godzilla.
Some people might be angry that the movie isn’t set entirely in Japan, since Godzilla originates there. Actually, the idea of Godzilla coming to the states and trashing the West Coast was originally a Japanese idea pitched by director Yoshimitsu Banno in 2004 for a 3D Godzilla movie. Even the Japanese were getting tired of Godzilla only attacking their homeland.
The cast is made up mostly of archetypes you’d expect to see in a giant monster movie: the soldier, the obsessed researcher, the scientist who tells the military they shouldn’t be doing what they are doing, the general who is going to do it anyway. Yeah, yeah no surprises here. Most of the performances are alright, but nothing spectacular.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson is in the lead role as Lieutenant Ford Brody, an EOD Naval officer who gets pulled into the situation. From the trailers, I could tell Johnson wasn’t going to be the best actor but, surprisingly, he was better than I expected. Similar to the lead from Pacific Rim, he was clearly fighting his British accent to sound American.
Elizabeth Olsen (who will be playing Scarlet Witch in Avengers 2) plays his wife, Elle Brody. She is a nurse and she spends most of the movie trying to be a strong mother as the city gets wrecked, while waiting for her husband to return home. She gives a great performance as a strong, but obviously frightened, mother and wife. Ken Watanabe plays as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (a character who was in the original 1954 Godzilla) and has a rather disappointing role. Watanabe spends most of the movie looking shocked and disillusioned with everything around him.
I don’t blame his acting, though. I blame the script for just not having enough lines for him–other than a few quotes that sound good in the trailer. Of course, the actor who steals the show is Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody, Ford’s father. Cranston has proved with Breaking Bad that he can do drama and does it well. Unfortunately, he’s not in the movie nearly as long as I had hoped. While most of the acting is nothing special, I liked it more than the over-the-top acting from Pacific Rim and the hammy acting of the Emmerich Godzilla.
But you don’t really care about all those humans do you? You want to see the real star of the movie. It takes awhile for Godzilla to show up but when he finally made his big entrance, it gave me chills and his roar rocked the theater. Godzilla’s new look and sound is actually very familiar, unlike the 98 Zilla. Godzilla is beefed up a lot but still retains the classic look, just bigger than any previous incarnations. Oh yeah, and he actually has his trademark atomic breath, also unlike the 98 Zilla. I heard people yelling ‘YEAH!’ in the audience when he finally used it.
It does take awhile to get a good view of the Big G, which helps build suspense. I really liked the suspense, but I suppose it might annoy people who just want to see him wrecking stuff. Godzilla’s origin has been changed for this movie, and I can see this upsetting Godzilla purists. Instead of being created by the atomic bomb, Godzilla is an ancient type of super dinosaur that fed on the high levels of radiation that was present on Earth millions of years ago.
As the radiation levels decreased, they went to the bottoms of the ocean. The science of that is probably mostly BS, but I’ll buy it. They were at least trying. The cinematography is very well done in the movie which helps give awe to Godzilla’s powerful presence. Similar to the original movie, a lot of low angle and building-level shots were used for monster battles to give a feeling of just how big these creatures are and how small you are. There are none of those shaky cameras during action scenes; we actually get a clear view of what is happening.
The HALO jump in burning San Francisco is one of the most memorable scenes in the movie.
The monster battles are awesome, but will often feel brief as it goes back and forth between the humans and monsters. No worries, though. We do get a good monster rumble by the end of the film. The first monster fight is actually viewed on a TV and, honestly, it’s kinda funny and sort of pays homage to those old Godzilla movies they showed on Saturday mornings.
The movie does make subtle references and pays respect to the original films in several ways. MUTO, the monster Godzilla battles, is like a combination of several of his classic foes such as Gigan, Mothra, and even Rodan. The very end of the movie pays direct homage to the ending of many Godzilla films. There are lots of fun references for the skilled Godzilla-fan to hunt down.
One major issue I can see people having with this movie is that it tries to be very serious, and for the most part, it works. However, I know there are people out there who prefer their Godzilla with cheese and this movie could have used a bit more humor. There aren’t really any groaner lines but there aren’t any witty one-liners either.
For me, this movie set out to do what I hoped it would do: Give justice to the Godzilla character and do a better job than the 1998 Godzilla movie.
If you’re hoping this movie would have some kind of resonating message for mankind or give you the meaning of life, you’re not going to get it. It’s a giant monster movie. It is to entertain you as you eat that $15 bag of popcorn. I do feel the 2014 Godzilla is one of the most accessible Godzilla movies to date. Is it perfect? No. If I was making this movie, I would have done quite a few things differently, but for what it is, I’m very happy with it. I look forward to possibility more Godzilla films like this.