Ben K., Here…
Despite a rich and incredibly varied film history, one would be hard pressed to imagine a more famous Japanese cinematic export than Godzilla. Born at Toho Company in 1954, he’s still alive and kicking ass, as it were, at the ripe age of sixty. Cast as a villain and a hero over the years, whatever his role, he has always been nature’s favorite solution to just about any problem. Six decades ago he was awakened by atomic bomb testing and took revenge on mankind for creating them. In this new Gareth Edwards iteration, other monsters feed on radiation from our nuclear power plants in order to wreak similar havoc, so Godzilla is sent to annihilate them.
The story begins fifteen years in the past with doctors Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne (Sally Hawkins) exploring a cavern in the Philippines. Something enormous was clearly born here before slithering into the ocean. On a nearby Japanese island a massive earthquake causes a radiation leak at Jinjira power plant, resulting in the death of physicist Joe Brody’s (Bryan Cranston) wife. In the present day, Brody is still trying to prove that the disaster was no natural occurrence. In the meantime his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), has moved on and lives in San Francisco with his wife and young son.
When Joe gets arrested for venturing into the quarantine zone to retrieve some of his old data disks, Ford goes back to Japan to bail him out. In the process he finds himself sneaking with his dad into their old house, only to discover there is no radiation left inside the zone. Why is it still fenced off then? Well, turns out the creature from the Philippines sought nuclear energy from the power plant fifteen years ago, causing the earthquake before going into a cocoon state, and now doctors Serizawa and Vivienne have been busy doing top secret research on it.
By huge coincidence, a large flying creature emerges from the cocoon on the very evening that Joe and Ford are detained at the facility. The beast sends out some sort of supersonic mating call to an even larger female located in the United States. Godzilla hears these calls from deep under the ocean and comes to eliminate these predators who threaten to throw life on earth out of balance. Being an enormous lizard thing with powers like “atomic breath”, humans are still rightfully terrified of Godzilla, and he leaves hundreds of them dead simply by walking (and swimming) around. In the end, however, he’s meant to be their savior this time.
With the exception of Bryan Cranston’s performance, Godzilla is certainly not an actor’s film. There isn’t much to work with, for a start, and the guy who gets the most lines (Taylor-Johnson) gives one of the lousiest leading man performances in history. Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III had more acting chops than this guy, and she only got that role because her father was the director! Then again, no one goes to see Godzilla for the humans, they go to see Godzilla! The big guy doesn’t show up until about halfway in, but once he does, he doesn’t disappoint! Worry not, this ain’t Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version…
Gareth Edwards really stays faithful to the old Godzilla design, but renders him in computer animation instead of using a man in a costume. The special effects are terrific throughout, affording each beast a bit of personality. My only complaint with the big monster brawls is the speed, or lack thereof. It works, don’t get me wrong, but I had the same feeling at times in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. Godzilla is sorta slow. A six foot man with his exact build and reach just wouldn’t last very long, or maybe I’m looking far too deeply into this. He does take quite a bit of punishment before finally deciding to use his powers. Was he playing possum?
Overall the picture was a lot of fun, and I recommend a viewing in IMAX 3D. The film wasn’t natively shot in either format, and normally I wouldn’t recommend IMAX 3D in such a case, but here it really shines given the vast scale of the production. The bigger Godzilla seems on the screen, the better, right? I still wish the human characters weren’t quite so small, the first act shows a lot of promise, but when the wooden man Taylor-Johnson is called on to carry the last half of the picture, he’s simply not up to the task. The writing did him no favors either. But hey, it’s a big summer blockbuster and as such…go have a good time! I would be the first person in line if they ever decided to merge the Godzilla franchise with Pacific Rim! Legendary Pictures was involved in both, so it may be more than a dream after all.
3 out of 5 STARS
– Ben Keeney