The Arrow's review will be up over the weekend!
PLOT: After millions of years of hibernation, two destructive monsters awaken and raise global hell, leaving humanity desperate and seemingly helpless. The only thing that can stop them is an even bigger monster, who comes out of his own slumber with a mission to restore natural order. You know his name...
REVIEW: GODZILLA gives you all the goods in smashing fashion; monster-vs-monster, building-toppling anarchy the likes of which we haven’t seen in ages, with superb visual effects, nerve-jangling sound and fantastic direction by Gareth Edwards - it’s everything you could possibly hope for and more!!!
In its last thirty minutes, that is...
But before the superb finale, GODZILLA is a bit of a slog. Moving clumsily through scenes of exposition and heavy-handed moments of attempted character-building, the film takes way too long to get moving, failing to even introduce its titular behemoth until halfway (or more?) into the film. There’s something to be said about a methodical build-up in a big-budget genre film - Spielberg is the master, as proven with JAWS, JURASSIC PARK and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Edwards’ film would certainly fancy itself Spielbergian (his influence is all over the place), but what it fails to do is give us credible characters worth giving two hoots about while we wait for the beasties to do battle. After all, JAWS wouldn’t be half as effective if we didn’t love the protagonists who are in peril.
After a prologue set in 1999 Japan, GODZILLA introduces us to Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a military explosives expert who is called to Tokyo to retrieve his paranoid, conspiracy theorist dad (Bryan Cranston) after the latter is caught sneaking around a contaminated zone - the site where 15 years earlier, a cataclysmic accident at a nuclear plant claimed the lives of many, including the matriarch of the Brody family. The elder Brody is still convinced a cover-up is hiding the truth of what really happened, that it was no ordinary meltdown but something else entirely. Boy, is he ever right.
Turns out the plant is currently serving as an observation area, where a team - led by a Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe) - studies a gigantic, pulsating cocoon. Whatever is inside has begun to stir, and seemingly within minutes of the Brody boys arriving the thing hatches and spits out a monstrous, winged creature that looks like a combination of a praying mantis and one of the STARSHIP TROOPERS aliens. And he’s not the only one of his kind still alive.
There’s much chasing around of these things - called M.U.T.O.s - for a while as they cause quite a bit of havoc (bye bye, Las Vegas), but it takes Godzilla some time to answer the bell. When he finally does arrive, in a Hawaiian airport, Edwards completely teases us, only giving us a quick glimpse of the main man before cutting away to something else. He does this several more times throughout, hinting at big moments but immediately heading back to our lame human leads. Once is acceptable, twice is frustrating, and a handful of times is cruel and unusual punishment for those of us who are begging to be pulled out of the dull lives of Ford Brody, his nurse wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and the various military personnel who monitor Godzilla’s movements. (As if he and the M.U.T.O.s would be difficult to track.)
Naturally, we have to both fear and like the scaly crusader, and it turns out Godzilla is a well-meaning sort, only around to take care of the other monsters because of an instinctual need to balance things out for Mother Nature; all subsequent destruction is unintended. And some serious destruction indeed goes down in San Francisco during the film’s climax, which is a thing of explosive beauty. Godzilla and his foes go at it with gusto, while scampering soldiers are tossed about like figurines, and you absolutely find yourself rooting for the lizard as he struggles with the unfair match-up. Edwards proves himself a very capable action choreographer, and the visual effects team has done a terrific job giving these creatures life and even a little personality. And when Godzilla dishes out fire-breathing hell to his enemies, it’s applause-worthy. I did not want this section of the movie to stop, and would watch it again in a heartbeat.
But the early sections of the movie can honestly be fast-forwarded (save for those all-too-brief flashes of monster chaos), and the boring human characters are mostly to blame. (Though some blame can be thrown at the meandering script, which finds every possible way to stall in lieu of action.) Cranston is excellent, as can be expected, but doesn’t nearly have the amount of screen-time that his fictional son does, and that’s a shame since Taylor-Johnson is a lifeless, charisma-free cipher here. Not that the movie gives his character any interesting personality traits, but he simply doesn’t have the presence to command our attention. (And yet he’s much fun as Kick-Ass, go figure.) Watanabe, Sally Hawkins (as Watanabe’s assistant) and David Strathairn (as a top military guy) lend some clout to the proceedings, but they’re fairly one-note characters only here to deliver exposition and shocked reaction shots. No one goes into GODZILLA expecting three-dimensional people, but we spend so much time with them that it's bizarre they're still so paper-thin by the end.
When the inevitable sequel stomps in, you can bet I’ll be waiting. I love me some big monster action, and when it finally unloads on us, GODZILLA has some fantastic, chilling sights to show off. What the big guy needs is a stage where he can really shine, and while I know a movie featuring Godzilla as the main character would be impossibly expensive, there’s no way a repeat of the yawns GODZILLA induces early on will be acceptable. Godzilla is why we’re here; let us have him.