Gareth Edwards made a big leap from the small scale of 2010’s Monsters to the 2014 summer blockbuster Godzilla, and in doing so he showed that he has the skills for big budget movie-making (which may be why Lucasfilm scooped him up to direct a standalone Star Wars film). Godzilla features a number of epic set pieces that show Edwards has a great skill and understanding of how to stage and build action. But the film also has a huge weakness: none of the human characters are as interesting as the titular monster. Perhaps that’s to be expected, but it’s why the film is impressive while also being a little boring. Aaron Taylor-Johnson leads the film, which also features Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston and David Strathairn. My Godzilla Blu-ray review follows after the jump.
The film opens in 1999 with Joe (Cranston) and Elle Brody (Juliette Binoche) going to work. They are scientists who work at a Japanese nuclear power plant, and it’s there where tragedy strikes when an earthquake-esque incident ends up killing Elle. Cut to fifteen years later and Ford Brody (Taylor-Johnson, and let’s take a second to acknowledge how stupid his character name is. Harrison Ford plus Martin Brody from Jaws? Ugh.), who’s a Naval explosive ordnance disposal officer, is about to spend some quality time with his wife (Olsen) and kid when he’s then called off to Japan as his father has been arrested (again) for trying to get back to the power plant. Joe has crazy theories about why his wife died, and needs to get back to the plant to find out what exactly happened. It turns out Joe is right, and it wasn’t an earthquake, it was a M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) that destroyed the plant. And now, fifteen years later, that beast is coming out of its cocoon.
When it wakes up it also brings out Godzilla, who is ready to battle it. As Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) suggests, it’s possible that Godzilla is there to kill the M.U.T.O., and the two monsters battle it out in Hawaii, but there’s another M.U.T.O. in Nevada, and it looks like all three will meet up in San Francisco, as the new non-Godzilla monsters want to make some babies.
It’s hard to say that it’s Taylor-Johnson’s fault that he’s a vacuum at the center of the movie. His character is tasked with being near the monsters when they fight, which means that he’s there in Japan, Hawaii, and California and repeatedly uses his skills as an explosive ordnance disposal officer to hitch rides that get him closer to his wife and kids (it comes across as coincidence, but it’s a fair one). You just wish that Brody was more engaged with this process. He’s doing his job, and perhaps Edwards and screenwriter Max Borenstein didn’t want the humans to upstage the monsters. Regardless, it’s hard not to wonder if it’s the character, or if it’s Taylor-Johnson, who was also cast as an avatar in the Kick-Ass franchise, that is at fault for creating a character that it’s virtually impossible to care about.
It could be the approach of the filmmakers as there’s virtually no jokes and very few comic moments in the film. It doesn’t hurt the film, per se, but it also means that it’s a surprising solemn movie about gigantic monsters who wrestle to the death. The two actors who come out best are Watanabe, who is easily the most interesting character in the film (though he’s mostly left to board meetings and making pronouncements about what might happen), and Cranston, who at least gets to play grief. Talented performers like Olsen, Stathairn (as the defacto head of the military) and Sally Hawkins (as Watanabe’s associate) are stuck delivering exposition or cowering from attacks. One wonders if Joss Whedon watched the film before casting Olsen and Taylor-Johnson as siblings. As a married couple, they barely get time to register a connection.
But when the film has to deliver monster action, it (mostly) delivers. Edwards cuts away from a couple of fights, in what seems to be the film’s only jokes, but it feels like Edwards is trying to delay too much monster mashing until the final fight. Much of the film is about waiting for the three to finally meet in San Francisco, and it is a bit of a “wait until things get really good,” but then the film is everything you’d want from this kind of movie. Someone online pointed out that Godzilla is only in eight minutes of the film proper, but those eight minutes deliver, and that’s why this Godzilla works, even if the film ended up being a demo reel for Edwards.
Warner Brothers presents the film on Blu-ray in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio, and the package comes with a DVD and digital copy. As to be expected, the image and sound quality is superb. There are two sections for the supplements, but both are a little disappointing. “Monarch: Declassified” offers three videos “Operation: Lucky Dragon” (3 min.), “Monarch: The M.U.T.O. File” (4 min.) and “The Godzilla Revelation” (7 min.), which are all videos that recap the events covered in the film as mini-documentaries. I guess this is cool conceptually, but as it’s fake found footage I found it a little too cute (and kind of pointless, because you can watch the movie). “The Legendary Godzilla” offers four featurettes “Godzilla: Force of Nature” (19 min.), “A Whole New Level of Destruction” (8 in.) “Into the Void: The H.A.L.O. Jump” (5 min.) and “Ancient Enemy: The M.U.T.O.s” (7 min.). There are some interesting details about the making of the film in these featurettes, which highlights how much was practical, and how much was CGI, and some of the decision-making process, but it’s mostly the empty platitudes you come to expect from bonus features. You can always tell the difference between supplements made by people who care, and supplements made up of Electronic Press Kit footage, and this is definitely the latter.