I had some high hopes for this one. What really made me curious about this new one were the casting choices and how the characters would work out. When it comes to the old Godzilla movies then I’m by far no expert. I know they’re around since the mid 1950s and saw tons of different iterations of the same story over and over again. The very first Godzilla movie from 1954 was kind of a Japanese comment on the discovery of nuclear energy and bomb testing and had some serious undertones. Later iterations of the so-called ‘Kaiju’ (which basically translates as ‘strange creature’) movies ended up very kid friendly and very goofy in the 60s. Then it got a little more serious again. Let’s just say that Godzilla itself has quite a history. And from my personal experience, watching this latest iteration, this ‘king of all monsters’ still worked great!
The first 15 minutes of the movie we have our all beloved Bryan Cranston trying to figure out some strange anomalies on some instrument readings from the nuclear power plant he’s working for. Something strange is going on and he has no idea what’s the source of the readings. Cranston plays Joe Brody. He and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and son Ford live in Japan, really close to the power plant, which is portrayed as this really massive complex you actually want to avoid going too close to. This one particular morning, the strange readings go off the chart and result in an earthquake. In an effort to secure the power plant Sandra dies, right in front of Joe’s eyes. A pretty heartbreaking moment. Cranston does a phenomenal job with showing the pain he’s going through in these moments. His decision to sacrifice his wife and colleagues helps to avoid a bigger catastrophe but Joe wants to know what exactly happend and caused the earthquake that forced him to kill his beloved wife. 15 years later we have Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who joined the military, coming home from his latest tour of duty. Just when he wanted to have some peace with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olson) and kid, the telephone rings with a message that his father got arrested in Japan. Joe, now obsessed with finding out what happened 15 years ago gets released from prison after Ford bailed him out of there. Both have very different ideas on how to get on with life but Joe manages to get his son along to take a trip to the ruins of the power plant. Ford’s reason to help his father is mainly to put an end to all of it by showing his father that there was nothing special going on 15 years ago… that it was an accident. Slowly but surely both understand that there is indeed something going on and Joe now wins the trust he needs from his son. And that’s all I want to say here. Let’s just point out that things start to happen and things start to get spectacular.
If you take all the old Godzilla movies into account then you notice that all of them have a slow buildup. You will not get your big time monster fight in the first half hour (or even full hour). The fight is reserved for the third act in the end. Yes there are skirmish fights here and there… but the big one always in the end. And that’s something this new movie does perfect! It surely takes like 20 to 30 minutes before we can actually see a monster. And it’s a great first appearance and the first moments of ‘epic’.
What this movie does perfectly is to (for the most part) show the monsters from the perspective of a human. That gives these enormous creatures so much weight and results in some dreadful and believeable images. A lot of “holy crap, how would I try to get out of there?” moments. Especially when we’re with Ford when he’s trying to get home and later trying to do his job. There is one scene on Hawaii when Ford is on a train, trying to catch a plane for San Francisco, when one of the monsters appears in the city. At first all electricity is off and the whole city dark. Kind of the atmosphere you have when a thunderstorm is coming. Very quiet, before it goes off. Military jets and helicopters zipping around. We’re still with Ford in that train and you start to think that something off and weird is going on. Then lights come on again and suddenly this giant creature appears. There are a lot of these moments in this movie, where a short buildup is going on, that introduces the monster to the environment. It’s so well done and creates a very immersive mood.
As mentioned before I was curious because of the casting choices. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t go too deep into the characters and doesn’t allow a lot of character development. Only Bryan Cranston really managed to portrait a 3 dimensional character with was given to him. Aaron Johnson is a phenomenal actor who surely does a fine job here, but his character in the movie could be seen as a placeholder for every other generic monster movie hero. Still, he’s doing a good job, given the material he got. Then we have Elizabeth Olson who got herself some credit with some of her recent acting choices. She’s doing a nice job as well and gives her part at least a tad bit of depth. The true hero of this movie is Godzilla and the monsters. Which brings me to the VFX and monsters.
I really like this new take on Godzilla. I think it’s a natural progression from the original (man in a costume) design. Of course in this one the monsters are all CG. There are some really epic scenes in this movie. And no, I’m not explicitly talking about the big fight scenes. There are scenes that make the monsters almost appear human. They seem to have emotions and most importantly they have a motivation! It’s not a desaster-porn movie where all the destruction is just there for the sake of the most possible KABOOM! These creatures have a reason to fight. The CG work, from my point of view, is pretty much flawless. The detail and motivation of the monsters gives all the destruction much more weight. I can’t even imagine how much work went into the creation of the VFX scenes. It’s damn good work.
Talking about the qualities of the monsters and how they appear to have ‘character’ goes back to director Gareth Edwards’ first big movie ‘Monsters’. In ‘Monsters’ we have the question who the real monsters are. Maybe it’s us humans. The monsters in Edwards’ first movie did not really appear to be dangerous. They were just ‘there’ and we humans just don’t want them to be ‘there’ (as usual). Then there is this fascinating ending of Monsters where there are these two 20m or 30m high creatures that seem to make love and share emotions. The same qualities and undertones we have in this Godzilla movie. It seems to go a step further too. There are scenes with a subtle undertone of mutual understanding between humans and the monsters. It is fascinating and very well executed. Gareth Edwards was the perfect guy for this movie. He seems to understand the subtle details that need to go into movies like this. Action isn’t everything! It needs a little more.
Did I mention the sound design? The sound landscape in this movie is very deep! There is a scene on a train bridge in a forest that doesn’t play any dramatic music at all. It’s just the sound and noises from the monster. The movie definitely understood when to cut the music and leave space for sound effects. I already got that impression from the trailers and was so happy that it translated into the movie. The musical score in the film works well but for me the clear heroes are the sound design folks. Especially in theater! When Godzilla roars it almost felt like the seats were shaking. And there is this one scene where he roars and… keeps on roaring for longer then you would normally think for a scene like that. And it totally paid off! It gave Godzilla character and a certain kind of ‘force of nature’ feel. Almost as if he wanted to say “The wait is over! I’m here now and I’ll kick some ass!”. It worked great!
The movie got positive reviews with some sprinkles of negative. While I’m open to every opinion, I don’t understand some of the complaints from the negative reviews though. One thing you have to understand is that we’re not talking about ‘Pacific Rim’ here. Pacific Rim is a fun movie in itself and while it’s about big monsters too, it’s also a pure popcorn movie to have fun with. For the most part it’s monster bashing without investing time into developing the monsters. They’re just there to get beaten and killed in the most cool way possible. In Godzilla you don’t get the eyecandy until the story demands it and explained it. In some way you have to earn yourself the eyecandy (how it’s suposed to be goddamnit!) and enjoy it even more when it happens. I’m really glad we still have this big blockbuster movie that manages to follow a buildup and not throw all the good stuff out within the first 15 minutes of the film! It gives me hope that there still are talented people out there who understand how a good movie should be structured!
Even some of the positive reviews said that it could have had more fighting between the monsters and I say NO… it was just the right amount of fighting and destruction. If you want senseless eyecandy and destruction go watch Man Of Steel or Transformers.
Alright, I think I got it all out. I really damn enjoyed this movie. Go watch it. For this one I would even suggest a 3d screening.
Godzilla on IMDb