STARRING: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, David Strathair
2014, 123 Minutes, Directed by:
In 1954 Toho Studios released Gojira, which was subsequently recut for American
audiences – with scenes with actor Raymond Burr added – and called Godzilla. The
original remains an impressive film about an unstoppable force released by
atomic blasts, made just nine years after Hiroshima. This led to many cheesier
sequels, many of which were undeniable fun, as Godzilla fought Mothra, Ghidrah,
Mecha-Godzilla, and a variety of other monsters, while much of downtown Tokyo
After many years of action, a fully Hollywoodized
Godzilla was released in 1998.
The less said about it the better. Few serious fans of “kaiju” (as these
Japanese monsters are known) consider it a true Godzilla film.
The new Godzilla is another story entirely. It is an American kaiju film that
fully respects its roots, and what the expectations of such a film are. So let’s
be upfront: this is not a movie about the deeply complex script or multi-layered
characters. What it does is what most of the Toho films were about, Godzilla –
the good monster – defending us against bad monsters, with battle scenes that
feature maximum destruction.
That said, this is no schlock movie. After an opening credit sequence that gives
a nod to Godzilla’s history, the action movies to Asia – the Philippines and
Japan – where terrible discoveries are being made. Without giving too much away,
it is the discovery an egg or eggs containing a creature identified as M.U.T.O.
(Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). Destruction follows. Fifteen years
later Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is called to Japan when his father
(Bryan Cranston) is arrested for going into a restricted area where he once
lived and worked as a nuclear engineer. History is repeating itself.
"If you've never understood the appeal of Godzilla, this movie
won't change your mind!"
It’s a long build up that will be the film’s central fight, between the weird
creatures and Godzilla. The action moves from Japan to Hawaii to California,
with Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) suggesting that Godzilla may be nature’s
response to the monsters and not the problem. Admiral William Stenz (David
Strathairn) is more interested in destroying all monsters than in testing out
Serizawa’s theories, while Brody, a nuclear weapons specialist, is trying to get
back to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and child.
Director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) employs an interesting strategy to keep us interested in
the stick figure humans while we await the big monster battles. He gets a cast
that is so good that we stick with them even when they don’t have much to do.
Cranston and Juliette Binoche as his wife depart the film early, Strathairn,
Watanabe, and Olsen get a very few scenes where they can develop their
characters, and Taylor-Johnson gets to be heroic. They do their jobs but all
have done better work elsewhere.
What we’re waiting for is Godzilla and M.U.T.O. to face off and when it happens
it will thrill the hearts of Godzilla fans everywhere. We get the famous roar,
and we get action that builds and builds to a crescendo. What Edwards and
screenwriter Max Borenstein get is that while Godzilla is a monster, he is a
monster we want to cheer. This is where the 1998 film went wrong. That Godzilla
seemed to have wandered in from Jurassic Park and we were supposed to be rooting
for the silly humans. Here Godzilla looks like Godzilla and he’s here to put the
bad monsters in their place.
If you’ve never understood the appeal of Godzilla, this movie won’t change your
mind. If you’re a fan, though, get a big bag of popcorn, sit back and enjoy.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a
veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. He recently
released his first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood
and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
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