To paraphrase Ian Malcom, Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, “Now, you do intend to have Godzilla in your Godzilla movie, yes?” Director Gareth Edwards does a lot of things right in his re-introduction of Godzilla to American audiences, but the end result is ultimately unsatisfying with a weak narrative and too much teasing of the audience.
There is something to be said about less is more. Steven Spielberg is the benchmark for the technique after he knocked Jaws out of the park in the late 70s. However, in the case of Jaws, while the audience doesn’t get to exactly see the shark until the end of the film, we at least get to see the shark’s actions. In this latest incarnation of Godzilla, we get a monster that looks phenomenal, but every time he’s about to get into a fight, the movie cuts away to something else. I was reminded of the first Transformers movie, in which the majority of the climactic Optimus Prime-Megatron battle takes place mainly off-screen as the audience is forced to focus on Shia LaBeouf carrying a stupid cube. Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t great action in Godzilla, there is. The problem is that it is all contained in the final twenty minutes of the film and the journey to get to the good stuff is a real slog. Edwards does a very good job of teasing Godzilla until he finally strikes, but then he continues to tease the audience by only showing glimpses of the scraps he gets into. It was utterly frustrating. No one in the theater is there to watch the human drama—we’re there to see Godzilla beat the crap out of monsters. In a post-Pacific Rim world, Edwards’ approach to a movie like this just doesn’t cut it. It seems like Edwards and writers Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham were going for that Jaws feel, but they never achieve it, because the script and characters are so weak.
The story focuses on the Brody family—there’s that Jaws influence again. Fifteen years ago, while they were living in Japan, there was a horrible accident at a nuclear power plant resulting in the death of Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche). Cut to present day, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) has always suspected that there was more to the story and he goes back to Japan seeking answers. He runs into legal trouble and his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an EOD specialist with the military, has to head to Japan to help him out. While there, they stumble onto the truth and the work of Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his partner/assistant, Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins). Meanwhile, back in America, Ford’s wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), deals with her husband’s immediate departure after just ending his tour of duty while raising their son and working her nursing job. Suffice to say, though, she’s about to have much bigger problems.
There are two twists that Edwards employs that work for the most part—I won’t spoil them here. However, the story is just not that entertaining. Ford’s mission becomes finding another way home after another event while he’s in Japan. Then, each and every step of his journey comes to him as pure coincidence and good luck. He never actively makes anything happen for himself until very late in the film. The number of coincidences just became mind-boggling. Also, Ford’s story is extremely boring. There’s no real tension, because we know how his situation is going to play out. His particular end of the story is very Hollywood-by-the-numbers and I found myself barely engaged by it. While all that’s going on, Serizawa works with the military to track Godzilla as well as another monster—yes, Godzilla is not alone in this one—and those scenes grow very tedious as Watanabe looks constipated in every frame and David Strathairn as Admiral Stenz is ready to do anything but listen to these scientists who only sort of know what’s going on. Let’s talk about that for a moment; even though Serizawa has never seen Godzilla, he has all these theories about him that totally pan out—keep in mind, the one theory I’m talking about leads directly into the major twist of the film and is completely unscientific. The twist definitely subverts the audience’s expectations, but it becomes cheesy in parts. It also robs the film of a lot of tension surrounding Godzilla. So, what we’re left with is a whole lot of characters doing a whole lot of nothing and the audience doesn’t really have an anticipation to see Godzilla as much as it’s, “Godzilla, please come and make this movie interesting.”
Cranston and Olsen do well with what they’re given, but Taylor-Johnson is almost robotic as he moves from scene to scene. Maybe he had an issue with all the CGI, but I hope he brings a better game to Avengers: Age of Ultron next summer. As I mentioned at the start, Godzilla looks great, but we just don’t see enough of him. The fights we do get to see are brutal, (that’s good), but the main fights take place at night with no lights and it’s hard to tell what’s going on sometimes. Also, I’d like to know where Godzilla got his fancy sneakers, because for a creature taller than a building, he gets around pretty quietly when the script demands it.
Overall, Godzilla has to be chalked up as a disappointment. The bones of a really exciting movie are here, but it gets weighed down by all the unnecessary human drama. I know filmmakers feel audiences need an entry point to the movie, but the audience is there to see the monsters, just like they’re at Transformers to see the robots. My suggestion for this one? Buy your ticket, watch the first 15-20 minutes, go to the lobby and fire up Pacific Rim on your iPad, and return for the final 20 minutes.