Plot Fifteen years after an ‘incident’ at a Japanese nuclear power plant, physicist Joe Brody (Cranston) joins forces with his soldier son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) to eke out the truth of what really happened. What they uncover is prelude to global-threatening devastation.
There is a moment in Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla in which two creatures — M.U.T.O.s in the film’s parlance — start nuzzling. Given the director’s startling lo-fi debut Monsters gave us full-on creature rutting, you might fear that this is a daring director being shackled by a rating-conscious studio. Happily, the Brit director’s take on the Toho studio icon gives full reign to his ability to create compelling imagery and a knockout monster mash. It’s a shame, then, that the movie gets caught between honouring the character’s B-movie conceit AND delivering a let’s-take-everything-super-seriously approach de rigueur in post-Dark Knight blockbusterdom. If any film needed a sense of levity, it is one about a 355-foot lizard hitting stuff.
The movie gets off to a cracking start, a title sequence depicting nuclear tests, Darwinian theory, sea monster illustrations and redacted information all to Alexandre Desplat’s flash-and-thunder score. Yet, unlike 99.9 per cent of recent blockbusters, the film then admirably slows down to set up story strands of (chillingly mounted) family tragedy, anomalous seismic activity, frustrated interrogations, perplexed scientists and all-round conspiracy.
The models here seem to be Jurassic Park and particularly Close Encounters (look out for the gas masks bit) as the film flits between personal tales — bomb disposal officer Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) helps his father Joe (Bryan Cranston) investigate what really happened at the Janjira nuclear plant — and a global overview, in which scientists (Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins) team up with the military (David Strathairn) to try and make sense of it all.
Edwards and credited writer Max Borenstein try their darnedest to legitimise the potentially hokey conceit, smartly respecting the creature’s atomic age roots by imagining the ’50s nuclear tests as attempts to kill off the subterranean creatures and peppering the movie with post-War On Terrorism reference points: jets plummeting out of the sky, carnage playing out on 24-hour rolling news, helicopter shots of refugees escaping to safety, the displaced seeking out loved ones in huge stadia. There is definitely no place for Godzooky in this world.
Yet underneath the patina of realism, Godzilla doesn’t have the story smarts to pull you through. Much of the drama set up in the first 30 minutes bears little consequence later on. The scene work suffers from logic lapses (where does Watanabe get his preternatural understanding of Godzilla’s motives?) or feels just plain fudged — a plan involving a nuclear bomb is unclear and unthrilling.
Edwards creates evocative moments, both small — a slug crawls over a toy tank — and huge — a submarine dangles from a tree — but he has less of a sense of keying it into a narrative imperative. The HALO jumping that everyone loved in the trailer remains fantastic but makes little sense when it appears the army can simply drive into the danger zone. If the movie had a different, more playful tone — Independence Day, for example — all this would be less problematic. But in the credible real world the film seems to want to set up, it just rings dumb.
While the characters may get time to breathe, they don’t emerge as a complex, memorable bunch. For all the great casting, the first-base writing never allows these people to emerge as anything but stock characters. Bryan Cranston is at his most Cranstonish as a man trying to prove a theory deemed crackpot, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a colourless, stoic soldier, a criminally under-utilised Elizabeth Olsen is a wife-mother-nurse permanently stuck on the end of a phone, Ken Watanabe is a noble Japanese scientist who spurts homilies about messing with nature, Sally Hawkins his exposition-clarifying assistant, and David Strathairn labours as a one-note military man. Given, as with most creature features, the humans are bystanders doing practically zilch to affect the outcome, it demanded a more rounded, engaging dramatis personae.
This lack of personality extends to the main monster. In certain respects the Lizard King struggles to register as the star of his own film. Not only does Edwards afford the evil M.U.T.O.s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects) a better introduction — Godzilla’s entrance feels a bit thrown away — the malevolent, moth-like creatures also seem to get longer screen time and more characterful business.
As you’d expect, Edwards excels in creating awesome kaiju juju — be it toppling aircraft like dominoes or Godzilla swimming under a battleship — that always leaves you wanting more until the battle for San Francisco delivers on the promise. This is not the men-in-suits wrestling we’ve seen before; instead it’s a beautifully shot (very Apocalypse Now-y) and choreographed smackdown that, for once, doesn’t feel like a bunch of pixels hitting each other. It somehow combines the richness and charm of a ’50s George Pal flick with the believability modern technology affords. If the rest of the film could have pulled off the same trick, it would be the Godzilla of our dreams.
Verdict Edwards’ film boasts great filmmaking, noble intentions and cracking monster action. Yet it never reconciles its B-movie origins — preposterous premise, clichéd characters — with its solemn, Nolanised tone. This Godzilla stomps but very rarely romps.
Did this scene really need a kid in it to convey danger? That's lazy screenwriting right there.
isagree. Lazy screenwriting would have been to have no boy, but still have Ford in danger, when really we know he'll survive because he's the protagonist.
Plus once the danger is over the boy finds his parents within 30 seconds...
hat's lazy screenwriting right there.
I just rewatched this and I love the fuck out of it. Yes the main chara... More
The point where the film lost me was when Ford ended up with having to take care of the littel japanese boy on the train.
Did this scene really need a kid in it to convey danger? That's lazy screenwriting right there. Plus once the danger is over the boy finds his parents within 30 seconds...
The movie was excellent, flawed, but DAMN GOOD.
This film never had a nolanised tone, but more speilbergish.
Whatever its not like I was a Godzilla fan my entire life and fill very mad at all the people that dis this movie. ... More
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It's been 16 years since Godzilla graced our screens, and this new release is an improvement on the old one. Godzilla himself is bigger and better than before, reaching about 350ft. The build-up of tension seems deceivingly worthwhile when we (finally) get to see the creature.
It's nice that the trailer doesn't give too much of the story away, but it's also a little deceiving. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston is in it less than ... More
ERS**ent in to this with slightly lowered expectations due to the so-so buzz, but I actually really quite enjoyed it. I can definitely see shades of s film, as Godzilla and co. are almost a background event to the human story in the way that Edwards' debut film followed the same structure. It doesn't work as effectively here as I would much rather have had the focus on the underused Cranston (shame his character died so early) and Watanbe - Aaron Taylor Johnson's soldier just wasn't an interest... More
I agree with him. It's a movie about a radiated giant lizard destroying stuff. We want to see crazy special effects and carnage, not in-depth character development and backstory. I think thats the trouble with a lot of movie criticisms now, everyone is looking for relatable characters and miss the whole point of the movie - like transformers, a great franchise for what it is - robots fighting robots but people pan it because the story line is under developed or the characters are full of fl... More
First I'd like to say that this is the fairest and best written review I've seen of Empire's for a long time and it beautifully describes what I feel is good and bad about the film. For a title that is supposed to hail the main character Godzilla seems pretty superfluous as he is only there to 'bring balance' which makes him more or less a spider. He probably wouldn't get through Australian quarantine checks. Each character seems more of a device to drive a plot that doesn't really know where it... More
Saw it last night.
The creature stuff was good and the human element was piss poor. The creature feature is a cut-away adjunct to Aaron Johnson and co so yeah, this is a liability and not something that can be equivocated on a basis of what we really wanted to see. Did the Empire review talk about "Nolan-isation?" if so that's a bad definition for a Michael Bay film without the forced levity.
Couldn't understand forgiving San Franciscans at the end. "Saviour of our city"...well he fu... More
Godzilla is a franchise that just won't stop rebooting and this is one of the best reboots i have seen and all i have been hearing is complaints about it. sure i am willing to admit that the film had problems like Aaron Taylor-Johnson being and emotionless statue in the movie and Kim Wantanabe with the same shocked expression on his face the whole movie but most peoples complaints is that they are hiding the monsters away from us but i was very glad that they weren't copying pacific rim and havi... More
Absolute rubbish. Was bored to the back teeth watching this dross. If you thought Pacific Rim was dull, wait till you watch this! Godzilla is lucky if he gets 10 minutes of screen time in this tripe. I hated Monsters and this guff just reminded me why!! ... More
The monster action is so good that you should see it on the big screen, but there's so little character to the players that none of them are necessary for a sequel, which is a shame considering the talent. The cast are all excellent, in other movies, but here they struggle with having little to do. When that cast includes David Strathairn then you know it's not the actors' problem. Structurally, the problem with this film is that it thinks it has a lead character in Ford Brody, but the screenpla... More
Well I liked it, but it probably didn't live up to my expectations.
The tone evokes the 54 original, yet the narrative has far more in common with the dodgy spin offs - specifically the inclusion of the mutos.
Their involvement didn't work for me; clearly they are there to provide more opportunities for monster-mashing scenes without diluting the presence of the title character. Unfortunately though, this for me led to a needlessly incoherent plot, strung together by set pieces (which... More
I really wanted to enjoy this and get into it, but I couldn't. The characters were completely unengaging and there was no where near enough action. Godzilla himself looked and sounded great and there were some standout moments, but overall I was just bored. ... More
3 stars is bang on. Godzilla's only on screen about 10 mins or so, but it's brilliant when he is. Cranston was the only human character I cared about and so the film lost something when he carked it. They've tried to make it serious but then you're taken out of the serious by some awfully cheesey lines. Worth seeing at the cinema tho, just for Godzilla's RRRRRROOOOOOOAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRR. The 2nd one where it lasts about 10 seconds was fecking awesome sound effects. ... More
No engaging characters or character development. Stuff happens on screen, but I just didn't care. Give me 'Pacific Rim' any day of the week; that was fun and spectacular. This is just boring devastation. ... More
A well made film which actually makes an intelligent use of Godzilla, painting him as neither good or bad. Not what I was expecting to be honest. Plus the performances though slightly 2 dimensional are pretty good too.
The only beef would be the fact the action is pretty muted and even the final smackdown is a little light on monster action, constantly cutting away (presumably to save on FX budget).
Not fully satisfying but a decent blockbuster watch.
I saw Godzilla last night. I know it is a summer monster movie blockbuster. I also know that I should want nothing more from this than dumb fun. But I think that I may have let Mr Edwards superb debut mislead me into thinking I could have both monster mayhem as well as good characters and a solid plot. Hmmm.
WARNING - may contain spoilers - Visually, it's great but to be honest, once Bryan Cranston had been criminally dispensed with, the film became a bit of an unecessary mess until the monst... More