Let me take you back to a simpler time. The year was 1998. Just 16 years ago, almost to this very day. Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler united in a romantic comedy, Johnny Depp was playing bizarre characters and Les Miserables was recently adapted on the big screen.
Jump to the present and Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler are uniting in a romantic comedy, Johnny Depp is making a living playing bizarre characters and Les Miserables…well you get the point.
As the Summer movie season of ’98 was beginning, one movie was being promoted more heavily than any other. Godzilla was “finally” being remade for American audiences. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing ads for this larger-than-life Matthew Broderick blockbuster. Even the Taco Bell Chihuahua was selling the monster movie hardcore. That promotion is probably when they came up with the nasty carbonated toilet water known as Mountain Dew Baja Blast.
As we know, hype doesn’t always lead to quality. Word of mouth soon spread and Godzilla instantly became one of the worst blockbusters ever made. That version of Godzilla wasn’t quite disqualified by Japanese audiences. He showed up in the 2004 Japanese production of Godzilla: Final Wars but was quickly defeated by the original Godzilla.
Because of the ’98 remake, audiences and filmmakers have been wary of any type of remake. Director Gareth Edwards was brought onboard this risky project a few years ago. This indie director’s only previous film was “Monsters.” He proved his ability by making a monster movie that barely showed the creatures and instead carried the movie based on the two humans traveling through Central America.
Enough about the past. Let’s get on with this Godzilla review shall we?
The story begins in 1999. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his family live in Japan where Joe and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) work at a nuclear plant. Cue a mysterious disaster and tragedy strikes the Brody family. Fast forward to 2014 and we follow the Brody’s son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), as he returns home from serving in the armed forces abroad just as disaster is about to strike again. He tracks down his dad, who has since become obsessed with conspiracy theories and finding the cause of the original meltdown in Japan.
Eventually, this all leads to monsters waking up. These monsters, classified as MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) are on the move and destroy everything in their path. Our armed forces are pretty much useless against these creatures and this is when Godzilla finally enters the fray. While there is little the military can do to control him, they rely on the beast to put a stop to MUTO’s rampage. Apparently the king of the monsters gets a little jealous if other monsters see the light of day.
Instead of a Godzilla vs the military story, this almost feels like one of Toho’s Japanese sequels where Godzilla battles invading monsters. The movie is better for it. It gives us something to root for. Because sadly, the humans don’t.
This movie has been billed as Walter White vs. Godzilla with the heavy promotion of Bryan Cranston. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. Instead, we follow Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character for the duration. He’s likable enough, but he’s not captivating enough to make us care for him as a leading protagonist. Throughout the course of the movie, he attempts to fight the good fight, while tying to get home to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and his young son. Conveniently enough, his family just happens to live right where the monsters converge for the final battle. Olsen essentially plays a moronic wife who is willing to send her 5 year old away with strangers so she can wait for her husband’s return. I’m sorry, no mother would do that.
Gareth Edwards found a perfect formula in Monsters by making us care about each character and showing little of the actual monsters. I think he tried to copy that formula in Godzilla. You’ll see far less of the legendary monster than you’d like. The difference is, you won’t care about the human situation at all.
There are several times that Godzilla and MUTO meet up. There’s one sequence in Honolulu that sets up a glorious battle. The two beasts stare each other down, growling furiously and start charging….only for the scene to go dark and promptly cut to news footage of the monsters fighting and MUTO flying in retreat. This happens at least once more. This movie purposely makes you wait for the carnage that is bound to happen when two giants rumble. In that way, Godzilla is pulling its punches. A tease is fine with me, though I wish the human characters it focused on were worth watching.
Even with my problems with the movie’s focus, I have to recommend Godzilla. Whenever the monsters appear (especially the titular beast), your inner child will break out and cheer. The experience feels like a grand Universal Studios ride. I mean that in the best possible way. Gareth Edwards makes you feel small compared to these giants. There are endless money shots. Every battle scene could be its own movie poster.
The third act is one giant, fulfilling battle. If the citywide destruction in Man of Steel made you anxious, get ready for what happens to San Francisco.
Overall, Godzilla is a mixed bag. It signals a great reinvention of the classic monster for new American audiences. He is as amazing as promised. It’s similar to Pacific Rim in that you want every human character to shut up so you can get right to the action. Godzilla could have used someone like Charlie Day, as there is little humor or levity in the movie. It deserves the grade of B-, yet I recommend that you see this on the big screen just for the immersive spectacle of giants brawling just feet away from you. It’s great in IMAX, but don’t be suckered in for the 3D.