Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (M.U.T.O.s); this film is a near-perfect balancing act between summer blockbuster action and genuine human drama– even Godzilla himself seems to emote at points. The film is smart and referential, inducing glee among fans of the famous monster. Despite some complaints that there isn’t enough of Godzilla or that he arrives too late, I’d argue that the emotional depth and development the film allows for its human characters is at least effective (if not necessary) to contextualize the increasingly intense and suspenseful spectacle of the film, much of which will have you applauding and cheering in your seat.
A sort of posthumous cautionary tale about humanity’s own scientific blunders during the Cold War, this retelling of Godzilla finds its title monster more or less immediately in the position of hero and savior, which is certainly more fun for audiences, I think, than if he had been the villain somehow. The plot, first, revolves around Cranston and his family 15 years ago in Japan; when a tragic accident happens at the nuclear plant at which he and his wife work, he spends these next 15 years trying to uncover the truth about that day and what is really happening in the so-called quarantine zone. His son, Ford, as an adult is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who received a lot of mostly undeserved– in my opinion, anyway– flack for his allegedly lackluster performance; if you ask me, it’s only because Cranston’s acting style is so dramatically over the top in comparison. Anyway, Ford grows up to be a lieutenant who seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (or right place at the right time, I guess, depending on what way you’d prefer to read the slight contrivance) at every turn, as dangerous, malevolent M.U.T.O.s awaken and wreak havoc on Japan and the United States.
Something I loved about the film, again, is the way it referenced the original by placing a foreboding kind of emphasis on nuclear fallout and weapons-testing, by suggesting that these creatures feed off of radiation; we, as humans, are arrogant and the fact that the humans in film are left relatively powerless in killing these threats is evidence of the fact that we cannot control everything no matter how much we try to or feel entitled to. This brings me to Godzilla himself– as the hero/savior God-king-of-the-creatures, he is the only one who can stop the destructive M.U.T.O.s, albeit by destroying a few things in the process as well.
I think, overall, the structure of the film works wonderfully; having a backstory for not only our main characters but also to more specifically establish their relationship to the main events of the film– both those past and present within its narrative– grounds the impeccable special effects in something very raw and real. You care about these people, so you actually do care about the fight sequences between these behemoth beings, because there’s something so much smaller in scale but so much more important at stake. I think if I were to say anything was amiss, I would suggest that certain aspects of the script early on in the film, in portraying these characters and their humanity, were slightly cheesy but certainly not worth dwelling upon in the (literally-)grand scheme of the film. The pacing in general though is careful and thus highly successful, and this also helps distract from any potential melodrama; there were so many scenes and sequences which will have you holding your breath, sitting on the edge of the seat and, as mentioned previously, rejoicing in some fashion.
The special effects are simply amazing too, as I also mentioned; all silly arguments about too-little and too-late aside, Godzilla is constructed to look like its original incarnation. Plus, more profoundly I’d say, this Godzilla is a monster who is not only triumphant and who feels undeniably legendary but who is really quite sympathetic too– when you see the film for yourself, pay careful attention to his facial expressions at certain moments. That may seem silly to say, but it is easy to argue that, as classic as this Godzilla definitely feels, this is simply not the same fire-breathing predator who merely stomps and roars– Godzilla is so much more than that here. Likewise, this film is something so much more and in many ways even better than its iconography alone.