“Run. Run. Run, you fools!”
(minor to mild spoilers will follow)
What may be the most anticipated movies of the summer is here. A reboot that surprisingly didn’t elicit groans along with accusations of Hollywood losing all creativity when it was announced. So how was it?
The film opens with a historic montage showing us that the events we learned of in history class were actually covering up a powerful and sinister purpose. A team of scientists discover the remains of a gigantic creature underground in the Philippines, and learn it was not alone. The film moves to Japan where an American family is living near one of the many Nuclear plants, and Nuclear Physicist Joe Brody believes a catastrophic event is coming…
The film takes awhile to get going. At about the 40 minute mark, the action picks up with the introduction of a giant monster. After those tantalizing scenes I mentioned, the film moves into a drama centered squarely on the American family. Slowly it creeps up into suspense with the promise that the event in Japan was just the prelude, the warning shot.
The human drama is enough at the start of the movie, but as the film progresses the humans become one of the least interesting aspects. Most of the human actors themselves play their roles well; Ken Watanabe is intriguing as the Japanese scientist warning the military of the repercussions of their actions, Bryan Cranston deftly plays the man who has been scarred by a traumatic event, and Aaron-Taylor Johnson dutifully portrays the straight-laced soldier who moves towards the action to protect others. Aside from those 3 however, the rest of the cast is either one dimensional or unappealing to watch. Johnson’s wife and son in the film falling into the latter category. The human element is necessary for films of this nature of course, bland or otherwise. We need the grounded point-of-view to introduce us to the fantastic elements that we came to see. If they make us feel weight to the elements, all the better.
What the audience came to see however, is a giant monster wrecking havoc on a ill-prepared world. The plot (and camera) shy away from seeing the titular creature destroy cities or fight other monsters an inexplicable number of times. For structure’s sake, you have to save the most immediate and important action for the end. I feel that the director could’ve spared more screen time to the action in earlier parts of the film. Make no mistake, this is not an action film. It is more of a Sci-Fi suspense movie, where everything is meant to set up the appearance of a giant monster. Once it/they appear, they leave and the cycle repeats. The first monster clash ends right as Godzilla meets one of his opponents. Imagine a boxing match; the fighters enter the ring, approach the center, jab, jab, roundhouse, fade to black. It leaves a feeling of dissatisfaction in my mouth that this happens at least twice. The climax of action at the end, while engaging, just makes the previous action scenes seem lackluster in comparison.
Godzilla himself is powerful, terrifying, and awe-inspiring in the film. The destruction is devastating but never feels gratuitous. The fight scenes feel natural and like a nice homage to the classic films. The humans caught in the path of the destruction feel tiny, but still relatible enough to root for their survival.
“Godzilla” thankfully avoids becoming a simple disaster movie, showing countless scenes of pointless destruction (“2012”). When the monsters appear, it is to serve a purpose. And most of those scenes feel relevant to the plot. Numerous times I had to question the military’s logic or even reason for existing. To apply a real world example to a fictional one; when we learn that 20-40 members of a terrorist cell are living in a small town, our strategy is to bomb that town intermittently for 2 weeks. Then move in with battalions on the ground to search for survivors. In the film, a dozen or so men with automatic weapons is thought enough to kill a monster the size of a building. Of course the plan at the end is ridiculous; it has to be to make the ending work but almost everything before that is equally ridiculous. For a Godzilla film, this is probably par for the course.
So how was the film overall? It was pretty good. The quotes playing during the trailers on TV may be a little much, but the film is enjoyable. It is not a thoughtful reboot like “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” or summer fun like “Pacific Rim”. It falls somewhere in the middle. It is a thousand times better than the last American film, rest assured. Admittedly my expectations for the film may have been a little high, but I enjoyed the experience of viewing it in a theater with friends (who also enjoyed it). Gareth Roberts should take pride in what he made, as he walked a fine line between making a good Godzilla movie and a special effects montage. I find the prospect of a sequel appealing if this team returns and the director could add a little balance to the action/drama ratio.
Three and 1/2 stars out of Five.
Did you see “Godzilla”? What did you think about it? And am I the only one who though most of the trailers that played before the movie seemed really, really dumb (“Lucy”, “The Giver”, “Into the Storm”)? Let me know in the comments.