Godzilla is not in this all that much. I believe that’s been established in multiple reviews. If you’re okay with that and can get into the suspense and human characters, you’ll probably like this. I couldn’t. I failed to get interested in the main cast, and I felt the film lacked the proper amount of suspense and excitement a movie like this needs.
Before I get too further into this, I should say I’ve never been a big Godzilla guy. It’s nothing against the old creature. I’ve just never seen many of his films (well, none actually, barring the 1998 Roland Emmerich film, which a lot of Godzilla fans probably don’t want to deem as a real Godzilla movie). I did watch one of the Godzilla cartoons when I was a kid, but that is the extent of my exposure to the property. That all being said, the trailer and poster for this new interpretation kicked ass. They got me more interested in a Godzilla movie than I ever thought possible. That’s why it’s all the more sad that it didn’t do much for me.
Ford Brody (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) loses his mother in a 1999 accident at a Japanese nuclear power plant that required the evacuation of the city. Ford’s father, Joe (played by Bryan Cranston), was in the Japanese plant when the accident happened and feels responsible for his wife’s death. Cut to present day and the twenty-something Ford is in the military as a bomb defuser, has a wife (played by Elizabeth Olson) and son. He’s estranged from his dad, who has become obsessed with finding out what really happened at the power plant 15 years ago.
Reluctantly, Ford travels to Japan to bail his dad out of jail. Joe was caught trespassing in the restricted, irradiated city. Ford agrees to travel into the city with his dad in order to retrieve some important discs that his father needs from their old house. The two are quickly taken into custody by some Japanese guards and taken to a facility within the city, and they come face to face with a monster called Muto. A Japanese scientist, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (played by Ken Watanabe) is studying Muto and is an expert on Godzilla. With Muto quickly on the loose, the good doctor advises the U.S. military on the best way to take down the creature. Meanwhile, Ford travels from Japan to Hawaii and finally to San Francisco, determined to make it back to his wife and son. He helps out the military along the way, putting his bomb expertise to use. But will he, his family, and the inhabitants of San Francisco live to see everyone reunited? And what of Godzilla who is in hot pursuit of Muto? Will Godzilla prove to be mankind’s savior or destructor?
I don’t blame Johnson or any of the other actors for my low investment in the characters. I actually think Olson gives a believable, sympathetic, and well-rounded performance. No, the problem comes down to the writing. It fails to create anybody that stands out from the standard monster movie character. They’re not awful. They’re just boring. These are all good, if not great, actors. Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston are in this for Christ’s sake. These guys know what they’re doing. Despite some emotional material – like the loss of Joe’s wife, Dr. Serizawa’s back-story, and Ford’s need to get back to his family – the writer doesn’t give the cast much to work with. Ford barely seems needed for the majority of the movie, his character hardly effects the story until its climax. Even the three examples I listed above aren’t that compelling. Watanabe rarely does more than just stare off into the distance as he thinks about what’s going on, which is a total waste of such a wonderful actor whose character is practically begging for more to do. The character problems mixed with the lack of Godzilla for most of the movie made for a pretty unengaging experience.
So, what’s good about the film? Well, when Godzilla is on screen, he’s awesome. His design is heavily influenced by the classic films that made him a star. He’s just a hell of a lot bigger than he was in 1954 (I say he’s taking steroids). The final fight between him and Muto looks great on a cinematography level, San Francisco bathed in a dark red light, and when Godzilla starts breathing fire, you better believe I smiled a geeky grin at the awesomeness. The fight does lack a climatic feel, though, and I ended up feeling a little underwhelmed.
The movie also succeeds where the 1998 film never even went. It gives Godzilla a personality. He never speaks a word, but I could tell he had a thought process going on in that huge noggin. He has feelings. I could sense and connect with them whenever he fell during a fight. It’s a welcome addition that I think some directors *cough* Emmerich *cough* might’ve forgotten about.
Beyond the big man himself, there is little to recommend. The cinematography is great in spots and the set/enviroment designs always feel right for a Godzilla film, invoking those old 1950s monster movies while still coming off as modern. The film didn’t make me a Godzilla convert, however. I have a feeling diehard Godzilla fans will love this, but I’m not going to be running to Netflix to checkout any of his other features. I will instead cross my fingers and hope for a sequel with more suspense and excitement, better characters, and a ton of Godzilla action.