When is a Godzilla film unlike any other Godzilla film? When it’s directed by British filmmaker Gareth Edwards, that’s when! Though this film may be titled GODZILLA, the narrative largely follows humans on their visceral, end-of-the-world journey. Intense, potent and flat out thrilling, Edwards has taken an often-hokey franchise (that, granted, is tons of fun for what it is) and put a serious spin on it – one that’s hugely entertaining and welcomed. However, Godzilla’s mega-fans, and those expecting wall-to-wall kaiju fighting, will ultimately be disappointed with Edwards’ new (but not exactly fresh) take on their much beloved humongous lizard.
Though a secret organization supposedly eradicated Godzilla in the 1950’s, he’s back – awakened by something much more malevolent wreaking havoc on the planet. It’s Japan 1999 and rumblings beneath the earth’s surface cause destruction – both widespread, laying a city to waste, and intimate, tearing the Brody family apart. 15 years later, conspiracy theorist/seismologist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) has become obsessed with uncovering the truth of the disaster that robbed him of his wife (Juliette Binoche). After Joe’s estranged son Lt. Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor Johnson) is forced leave his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son Sam (Carson Bold) to bail dad outta jail in Japan, all Hell breaks loose. Nuclear-fed monsters called MUTOs arise, bent on reproducing, and Godzilla follows soon after, bent on stopping them. Sadly, this is where the film’s emotional drive fizzles, and what follows is your stereotypical “gotta get home to my family” quest – which A) Johnson can’t convincingly pull off and B) isn’t clever enough to hold interest. At least Edwards knows this and ramps up the B storyline with the monsters. Yes, you read that right – the monsters are so secondary, they’re almost cameos.
My husband, a mega-fan to his core, had Godzilla-sized expectations for this iteration – and boy howdy was he disappointed. In certain respects, I completely understand his frustration. Edwards pulls the rug out from Godzilla fans by utilizing what made JAWS and ALIEN so unique and fresh; a bold, innovative choice when applied here, but not necessarily what this franchise is about. He waits until the bitter end to showcase the true essence of a Godzilla film – giant monsters fighting. Whether this move on the director and writer’s part is a betrayal or a shrewd decision is up to you.
For me, not even being a super fan, I felt gypped when Edwards would cut away from the battles – not just once, but twice! Of course, as a filmmaker you don’t want blow your wad (pardon the expression) before the movie ends, but there are ways of not doing that – by making every battle distinct and unique whilst staying true to the essence. Sure it’s kind of funny how Edwards and screenwriter Max Borenstein handle the cutaway from the first fight in Hawaii. But not more than a millisecond later, I found myself thinking, ‘Hey! Why am I not seeing that?!’ Then when they do it again in San Francisco, it’s maddening, but also a clear-cut way of Edwards confirming our suspicions that we’re being teased. That said, I admire his chutzpah in doing so. And, in order for Edwards to make this film his unique cover tune, he does it rather successfully. He builds up to something astoundingly epic and, better yet, something that doesn’t lead audiences to experience fight-fatigue.
Despite all my gripes, I actually really enjoyed what I was seeing and would watch it again (unlike last summer’s kaiju film, PACIFIC RIM). All of the flaws are ultimately forgivable due to the fun factor being off the charts. Edwards layers in things that franchise fans love (Godzilla’s signature tail-whip and atomic breath weapon) and new fans will cheer. Plus there’s a clever blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Mothra reference. Also, Alexandre Desplat’s score is a new classic, providing the same level of intensity and foreboding as Akira Ifukube’s original.
For families with small children, be forewarned that this is a far cry from many of the lighter films in the series (especially stuff like SON OF GODZILLA or ALL MONSTERS ATTACK, not to mention the unmentionable Roland Emmerich version). It shares more in common with the serious tone of the 1954 Japanese GOJIRA, including Ken Watanabe’s character, Dr. Serizawa. There’s a lot of intensity that courses through the picture’s veins – great for adults and teens, but it will be a nightmare factory those under 11. Plus, they might be too young to understand some of the film’s emotional stakes (what little there is after the first 45 minutes) and thematic content.
GODZILLA opens on May 16 and earns its PG-13 rating.
Courtney Howard is the Senior Editor/ LA Correspondent for VeryAware.com and gives this film a 4 out of 5. She also is a contributing writer for ReelVixen.com and SassyMamaInLA.com. She resides in Southern California with her husband and perfect little dachshund.