Aaron Taylor-Johnson - Lieutenant Ford Brody
Ken Watanabe - Dr. Ishiro Serizawa
Elizabeth Olsen - Elle Brody
Juliette Binoche - Sandra Brody
Sally Hawkins - Dr. Vivienne Graham
David Strathairn - Rear Admiral William Stenz
Bryan Cranston - Joe Brody
Genre - Science Fiction/Horror/Action/Monsters
Running Time - 123 Minutes
In 1999, something majorly radioactive causes a mine to collapse in the Philippines. Two scientists, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), are called to investigate, discovering a giant fossil beneath the earth's surface they can't identify. Meanwhile in Japan, a nuclear power plant suffers a major reactor breach due to a large earthquake. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), who works at the plant, loses his wife/co-worker Sandra (Juliette Binoche) due to radiation poisoning because of the breach. For 15 years, Joe knows it was more than just an earthquake that took away his wife, making it his life and obsession to find the answers.
Present day, Joe's grown up son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) - who watched his parents' power plant collapse right in front of his eyes 15 years prior - is working for the U.S. Navy as a bomb disarmament expert. He now lives in San Francisco with his nurse wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their young son (Carson Bolde), but doesn't see them a whole lot due to his job. When he learns that his dad has been arrested for trespassing on the power plant grounds, Ford returns to Japan to stop him from obsessing about the past and bring him back to San Francisco. Joe refuses to go, believing the government is covering something huge about the incident. Soon after, the same tremors begin again, revealing that they were caused by huge monsters called MUTO and the legendary Godzilla. With the presence of these creatures, Joe and the military are worried that the Stone Age may return sooner than later if they aren't stopped.
So 2014's GODZILLA has finally been released in theaters after months of massive hype and marketing for the 60th anniversary of our favorite green giant monster. It's already doing monster [no pun intended] business at the box office, proving Godzilla still has a grasp on the movie audience - making this franchise still one with great financial power for any movie studio after all these years. I went to watch it Friday afternoon with a sold out crowd who cheered and applauded the return of the King of the Monsters. And while I did enjoy myself and thought the film was good, I still couldn't help feeling a bit disappointed by 2014's GODZILLA.
Like I mentioned, I still enjoyed GODZILLA. For a two hour film, I thought it flew by. Gareth Edwards, who previously directed 2010's MONSTERS, does a fantastic job visually presenting Godzilla to multiple generations who may or may not have watched previous films. Edwards almost directs GODZILLA almost as if Steven Spielberg would have directed it - making Godzilla sort of mysterious [even though we all know what he looks like] to create tension and suspense before Edwards eventually presents him by the middle of the film. It's almost as if Edwards was inspired by JAWS, JURASSIC PARK, or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, using the "less is more" tactic when it comes to the title character. I sort of have an issue with Godzilla's presentation, which I'll get to, but I did understand why Edwards presented him the way that he did. After all, 2014's GODZILLA is treated as a reboot of sorts, even though it does acknowledge some of the events in 1954's GOJIRA. Edwards is treating Godzilla as if no one has ever seen the monster before, both in the film and with the audience. So I respected and liked what he was going for here, but I was also a bit frustrated since I've seen a bunch of Godzilla films and know the drill. But Edwards really does capture the monster aspect, especially during the film's exciting last 25 to 30 minutes where Godzilla and MUTO battle it out. It's very subtle directing that paid homage to Ishiro Honda's original vision, which I can respect.
The special effects in GODZILLA are really well done. Yes, it's all CGI - but it's GOOD CGI. Godzilla looks great with a modern touch that makes him look more realistic. MUTO looked interesting and I enjoyed seeing him in action. The destruction scenes when it came to the monsters were grounded in reality and looked visually impressive. I just liked the overall look of the film period, as it was a pretty bleak looking movie. I'm glad about that because this version of GODZILLA plays things seriously - a refreshing contrast to most of Godzilla's filmography, including that 1998 film we won't talk about. Thank you for erasing the bad taste out of my mouth with your interpretation, Gareth Edwards!
My issue with the film really comes with the story and the acting. I'm not saying either one is terrible or really bombs the film in any way. But a lot of it just felt a bit uninspired and cliche to me. The human story, in particular, just fell flat and I couldn't really get into it as much as I wanted to. The stuff with Joe, Sandra, and Ford was written really well and was a great set up to the rest of the movie. But once the film focuses mainly on Ford and his struggle to reunite with his wife and son while battling more than one giant monster is where GODZILLA sort of lost me. Ford, while having an arc that's understandable, doesn't really have much charisma or personality to make him a character I would want to watch. I think that had a lot to do with Aaron Taylor-Johnson's wooden performance for the most part. He just felt like a cliche action hero who went through the motions, because it is what's expected. I wish he had a bit of an edge, or something, to make him not be bland. But that's what I got here. Same goes to his wife, Elle, who is pretty much the typical action hero's wife who doesn't have much of a personality either. She's either a mother or a worried wife. It's a shame because Elizabeth Olsen is a good actress and probably would have done a lot with the role if the material was better. And they're really the focus of the film in terms of human characters, which makes GODZILLA a drag to watch at times.
The best human moments involve the Joe Brody character. His estranged relationship with his son Ford since Ford was little, the tragedy that strikes his wife Sandra, and his vendetta to find out the truth about the power plant incident in 1999 and why the government is covering up make Joe a character to root for. He has a purpose. He has a goal I can relate with. And thanks to Bryan Cranston's effective performance, I bought everything about the Joe character. His pain, his obsession, his goal to find out the truth to find closure for his wife - I really liked this character. I wish the film had more of that, because it would have helped make the human story stronger.
There were also attempts to have a bit of social commentary, especially when it involved using missiles and bombs against the monsters. Dr. Ishiro Serizawa tells about the original Godzilla attack from 1954, as well as bringing up the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima that affected his ancestors, sort of relating it to what the military plans on doing in order to protect millions. Obviously, the idea of nuclear weapons wiping millions out is still a viable threat all these years later, and I respect that this was somewhat touched upon. I wish more was done with this message, as it feels like an afterthought for the most part, but at least it's an attempt.
As for the Godzilla deal, I'm mixed on it. The title character isn't in the film as much as one probably thinks. Since I understood where Gareth Edwards' head was at when it came to presenting Godzilla, it doesn't bother me as much as it probably did others who wanted to see more Godzilla. But I do feel that there should have been a bit more Godzilla in his own film. If the human element was really strong, I wouldn't have cared. But since it didn't do much for me as I had wanted it to, I do wish more monster presence was at play. When Godzilla shows up and does his thing, the film is really awesome in every way. But strangely, the film is more devoted to MUTO, as he really takes center stage as the true giant monster of the film that poses a threat to the world. The film almost feels as if it should be called "MUTO and His Amazing Human Friends - Feat. Godzilla". I will take solace that Godzilla is treated with a lot of respect and presented in a serious way. He's not a joke or a campy character. He's a badass who is now given the role of a hero who takes out monsters in order to maintain balance in the universe. MUTO is a threat and is causing an imbalance, which forces Godzilla to return from his slumber. I liked that a lot and it was a fresh take on the character, especially considering what he actually represented in the original GOJIRA 60 years ago. I just wish there some more scenes with Godzilla, that's all I'm saying. He shouldn't have been the focus, but he would have helped compensate for the less-than-interesting human stuff. The film felt like a drama that forgot it was a monster movie until the last 40 minutes. More Godzilla would have helped.
THE FINAL HOWL
GODZILLA (2014) wasn't a blow away success for me. The story, and some of the acting, was pretty cliche and uninspiring at times, especially when it came to the Ford storyline. Honestly, I found the human story in both PACIFIC RIM and CLOVERFIELD more interesting than I did in GODZILLA. But I was never bored and I enjoyed what Gareth Edwards brought to this new version of GODZILLA. The visuals were really strong, with some nice tension and suspense that would make Stephen Spielberg proud. The CGI, for the most part, was really great - especially when the monster battle between Godzilla and MUTO occurs. And besides Bryan Cranston, who did a great performance, Godzilla is pretty bad ass and deserves to enjoy a modern franchise that will bring in a lot of capital. I wish there was more "monster" in the monster movie, especially when it came to Godzilla himself, but I had fun and feel that this is a good reboot that will hopefully lead to bigger and better things for the character. It's definitely a film that looks and feels epic, making it a worthy Summer Blockbuster.