PLOT: Fifteen years after witnessing a nuclear catastrophe in Japan, a discredited nuclear physicist (Bryan Cranston) witnesses – along with his solider son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – the hatching of a giant monster which threatens to wipe out all human life on Earth.
REVIEW: Going into a movie with sky-high expectations is often a bad thing. I'll admit that I went into Gareth Edwards' GODZILLA expecting a one-hell of a great reboot, a feeling that was spurred-on by many of the almost uniformly positive early reviews. Having finally seen the movie for myself I can't help but feel like a lot of the early critics got caught up in the hype as the finished product is far from the movie a lot of us were hoping for, even if it's ultimately a successful reboot, if only moderately so.
One thing is for certain, it's a hell of a lot better than Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin's disastrous 1998 version, which stands as one of the all-time worst tent-pole movies ever made. Unlike Emmerich's campy, ID4-clone, Edwards' GODZILLA is remarkably serious – even grim. Clearly everyone involved took the old Toho series to heart but the material is treated with such reverence that one can't help but wish Edwards and writer Max Borenstein had taken a slightly different tack as it utterly lacks the “everything but the kitchen sink” charm the old movies had.
Even still, this wouldn't be a huge problem if – at the very least – we had characters we could invest in. This is where GODZILLA really suffers. While the cast is full of good actors nobody here has anything at all to work with. The first ten minutes of the movie goes to great lengths setting up Bryan Cranston as the everyman hero with a strong motivation, but in the end his part winds up being little more than a cameo, with the focus abruptly shifting to his far less interesting son, played by Johnson. While he's done well in many roles, here he just plays a generic soldier-type, with little-to-no character development. From beginning to end he's a square-jawed hero that's utterly devoid of personality or intensity. His on-screen wife, played by Elizabeth Olsen fares even worse with her being shoehorned in here and there, but she registers so little that the part could have been completely excised at the eleventh hour and no one would have known the difference. Still, at least Olsen is noticeable. Sally Hawkins – an Oscar-nominated actress – is so under-used that I forgot she was even in the movie until the credits rolled. She pretty much just stands behind Ken Watanabe, who basically plays the only scientist on the planet who seems to get what's going on. Even he does little more than stand around with his mouth-agape while watching carnage unfold on monitors. Calling this cast of characters two-dimensional would be generous. They're so one-dimensional they barely exist.
At this point, I'm sure a lot of you are thinking; Chris, this is a GODZILLA movie, who cares about the humans? I hear ya. Normally, I'd agree, but here's the rub; GODZILLA is barely in the movie! He only shows up about half way through, and when he does we only get glimpses. Anytime he's about to do something cool, Edwards cuts away. At first this is amusing, with a cheeky cut to news network coverage of Godzilla in action nicely underscoring the ludicrousness of the premise. But Edwards does this over and over. This is the exact approach he used in his last movie, MONSTERS. There, it was due to an almost non-existent budget, and we also had interesting characters to follow around. Here everyone is deadly dull, and skimping on the carnage seems unnecessary for such a huge budget film. I get the idea of teasing the character through a slow reveal but it gets ridiculous to the point that the title monster is barely in it.
Luckily, Edwards absolutely nails the last half hour of the film. Everything from the jump scene (heavily featured in the trailers) which is eerily and effectively scored by Ligeti's “Requiem” (famously used in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) to the end more or less works, with Edwards finally allowing us to watch Godzilla in action with a clever twist on the big-guy that's right out of the Toho handbook and a notable departure from Emmerich and Devlin's approach in 1998. As generic and by-the-numbers as much of the acting and the storyline comes off, the CGI is breathtaking, and GODZILLA looks amazing (although the 3D – at least on the digital IMAX version I saw – was weak). The music by Alexandre Desplat is also excellent, and one of the better film scores in recent memory.
In the end, I was torn over what to give GODZILLA as a grade. Overall I found it very disappointing, but maybe my expectations were too high (although if a movie's only good if you walk in with low expectations, it's not really good at all). Thanks to the last half-hour, GODZILLA ekes out a pass in my book, and I'm sure that if a sequel is made – even by Edwards who I'm still convinced is a solid director – it could be really good. When it works, it works well. When it doesn't, it's never disastrous, but it is dull. This GODZILLA reboot is far from bad, but for too much of the running time it's very mediocre.