I had no intention of seeing the new “Godzilla” when I first learned its 2014 release date. But then I saw that excellent, intriguing trailer and I changed my mind. After all, I didn’t think I’d like “Pacific Rim” and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. And “Godzilla” had Bryan Cranston. I missed “Breaking Bad” and was jonesing to see that actor again on any screen. I rushed to the cinema that first Friday, hoping for the best.
I was expecting a darker film more like the original movie “Gojira” (1954), with Godzilla as the destroyer of mankind. (I’ve always heard that the old monster was considered to be a metaphor for the atomic bomb and the destruction of two Japanese cities, with helpless citizens and a no hope scenario.) In the current remake, directed by Gareth Edwards, Godzilla is a hero – a creature whose purpose is to restore balance in our world and save humanity.
The film had a promising beginning. Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche play nuclear experts living and working in Japan with their young son. When an unexplained disaster occurs at the plant, causing the death of his wife and other workers, Joe Brody (Cranston) spends fifteen years looking for the truth. His son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) thinks he’s lost his mind. Joe might be a little crazy but he’s right about the cover-up. And humans will always be foolish.
The main premise is this: Two bat-like creatures (both referred to as a MUTO: Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) arise from the ground and wreak havoc, awakening Godzilla’s slumber beneath the sea. He is compelled to track them down and do battle, resulting in much property damage.
And all that mayhem is exactly what diehard fans of Godzilla want to see. If you loved all the sequels that came after the original movie, then you will probably love this one, too. The special effects are truly awesome. No complaints there. The impressive monsters looked and sounded real.
But for some reason my temporary suspension of disbelief never fully kicked in. I was totally sucked into the “Pacific Rim” (robots vs. kaiju) universe. I think now it was mainly due to the degree of characterization present in that film. I cared about all the characters and that elevated the suspense for me. The main players in “Godzilla” all seemed one-dimensional in comparison.
Major spoilers ahead.
Bryan Cranston’s role was important, but it should have been a bigger one. I was disappointed that he didn’t appear in most of the film. I would have liked it better if he’d survived and fought the good fight with his son for a longer period of time. And Ken Watanabe was dreadfully under-used in his role as a scientist who stands around looking constipated and stating the obvious. David Strathairn plays a stereotypical over-zealous military commander.
Elizabeth Olson appears as war veteran Ford Brody’s wife, Elle. She’s a good actress, but her whining eventually got on my nerves. I also found it too coincidental when Godzilla and the other monsters decide to take their fight to San Francisco, where the Brody family now lives, putting Ford’s wife and son in danger. Taylor-Johnson (Ford) didn’t seem too invested in his role. I wanted to like his character, but I could never feel much empathy for Mr. Bland.
There were a couple of decent suspenseful scenes, involving children of course. And though I understand why one would want to save the best beast for last, I expected Godzilla to show up sooner and have more screen time. As for those close-up shots of the giant lizard staring knowingly into the lead character’s eyes after a near defeat, I just didn’t buy it. That would be like a human trying to communicate with an annoying insect.
Speaking of insects, I have to admit that I began to giggle during the military action, seeing the soldiers continue to shoot their machine guns when it was obviously having no effect on the monsters.
For me, the ending felt a bit abrupt and a tad hokey. I think Godzilla should have made the ultimate sacrifice in order to win the final battle. Instead, he gets up the next morning as though he’s suffering from a century-long hangover and staggers back into the sea – The End. I was hoping the final scene would have the camera slipping beneath the waves, showing us that his death had awakened his mate – the power behind the throne – thereby setting up a revenge flick for the sequel starring Mrs. Godzilla.
I shouldn’t have admitted any of this to a good friend of mine, who’s been a rabid fan of all the old movies since he was a kid.
“You just don’t get it. You’re not a true fan so you don’t understand the mythology. Godzilla is asexual. And this movie was almost perfect. You can’t totally trash such a classic monster.”
I backed off. “His radioactive dragon breath was pretty cool.”
“Of course it was! You can’t give ‘Godzilla’ less than three out of five stars. I mean it.”
Okay. Three stars it is.
But many of you out there might think it deserves five.