Posted on Friday, May 16th, 2014 by Germain Lussier
Note: We’re bumping this review as the film is now in theaters.
Godzilla, the remake directed by Gareth Edwards, gives you everything you could want in a big summer monster movie. It just takes its sweet time getting there.
A reboot of the classic franchise, Godzilla was constructed with a clear eye cast back to similar monster movies, such as Jaws and Jurassic Park. Films, in other words, that build character and suspense by holding back the creature. In fact, in this film, we don’t see Godzilla himself for almost an hour. And while that very conscious decision will make some people uneasy, the work by actors Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and others give the film a humanity and drive that keep it interesting until things get monstrous. Read the rest of our Godzilla review below.
Even the opening credits of Edwards’ film give the sense he’s trying something new with Godzilla. Cast and crew credits appear decorated with historical documents, highlighted by spy/paranoia iconography and redacted statements, suggesting a movie much more grounded than one might expect. That tone continues as we meet Joe Brody (Cranston), a scientist on the edge of a major breakthrough. Fast forward a decade and he and his son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) have spent years apart. They’re then forced together to explore the mysterious events of their past.
Notice there’s no mention of giant monsters or mass destruction so far. The film is dead set on first getting you invested in the mystery of where and how Godzilla was found, while also caring about the main characters. To this aim, I’d say the film is almost wholly successful. The problem being, the longer the exposition goes on, the more we learn about Godzilla’s origins. As our connections with the characters grow, we can’t help but look at our watch and think, “Okay, this is fine, but I want to see some monsters.”
About 45 minutes in you get to see your first monster and, from there, the film’s pace really begins to accelerate. It’s been building momentum since the start, but this late act-two kickoff dials things up in a big way. Yet this rising action doesn’t explode on screen in the way you’d hope. That’s saved for act three, and act three is worth the price of admission on its own. It’s huge, exciting, destructive and entertaining. It’s the Godzilla sequence you imagined Hollywood could do.
That’s not to say before we see epic monster battles, Godzilla is boring. It just feels bloated. Once the narrative gives our heroes very clear goals and enemies, the constant flow of jargon and backstory seem superfluous. Thankfully, Edwards keeps things on track with very cool smaller action scenes. One in particular, set on a train trestle, resonates with suspense.
Plus, Edwards never tells this story from the eye of the monster. In fact, we very rarely see the action from a omniscient point of view. For almost all of the movie, and most rewardingly in the third act, Godzilla is told through the eyes of its human characters. We only know what they know. We only see what they can see. That gives the film a wonderful and surprising humanity, but it also leaves us feeling – for the most part – disconnected with Godzilla.
Though Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe and David Strathairn all play significant roles throughout (less so Juliette Binoche and Sally Hawkins), make no mistake. Godzilla is the Aaron Taylor-Johnson show. He’s playing a soldier, which comes with its own set of regimented emotions, but he’s still engaging and sympathetic. The fact he always feels two steps behind the action grounds him as a relatable everyman. It’s one of his best performances to date.
Godzilla is one third better than you expect it to be, one third what you expected it to be and a third completely underwhelming. Thankfully, Edwards arranges those uneven pieces in a way that, while the first two don’t always work so well, the ending makes up for it and then some. You’ll be hard pressed to walk out of Godzilla not raving about the ending, instead of nitpicking the beginning.
/Film rating: 7.5 out of 10