GODZILLA Review

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godzilla-review

Godzilla is a difficult character.  He’s been a hero and a villain.  He’s been a loaded symbol and an empty set piece.  He’s a cultural icon and a punchline.  He’s fought on our planet and in other worlds.  He has decades of history and still defies simple definition beyond being a big, rampaging monster.  And while this size and action is all we truly demand of the character, he can be so much more.  In the character’s latest film, Godzilla, director Gareth Edwards has created a labor of love that attempts to draw from the monster’s rich history to appeal to his fans, but not make him so esoteric as to alienate those who only know the name.  Although the characters and plot can barely hold the grim vibe, Edwards’ respectful and careful approach to the big guy is more than enough to hold the tension and make us cheer for monster mayhem.

In the Philippines in 1999, scientists Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) go to a collapsed mine and discover a cavern that houses not only a humongous ribcage, but also two mysterious spores.  The cavern also leads out into the sea, or rather, it looks like something massive crawled out of the cavern and dragged itself to sea.  Over in Tokyo, a seismic event causes the collapse of a power plant, and engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) in the tragedy.  Fifteen years later, their son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is working in EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) in the navy, but is forced to travel to Japan and bail his estranged father out of prison.  Joe has been trying to figure out why the plant collapsed, and believes the answers are in Japan’s quarantine zone.  Ford reluctantly follows Joe into the restricted area only to discover that his father’s crackpot theories might not be so crazy after all.

godzilla-review

So where is Godzilla in all of this?  Very far away.  After a brief glimpse of the monster’s distinctive spikes during the opening credits, the movie doesn’t even tease Godzilla.  Instead, it puts the focus on threatening creatures known as “MUTOs” (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism).  Other than his 1954 debut and the awful 1998 remake, Godzilla is known for fighting other monsters, so it’s not too much of a surprise that his latest movie would give him some powerful foes.  What is surprising is Edwards’ patience in revealing his titular star.

Edwards showed the same patience in his debut feature Monsters, and while that still created tension, it could also be argued he took this approach because of budget constraints (the cost of the film is usually pegged at around $500,000), and those restrictions resulted in a greater reliance on ambience and the viewer’s imagination.  With a blockbuster budget, Edwards could have played to the audience’s appetite for carnage and waste no time in giving the people what they want.  Instead, he shows that his approach in Monsters is even more effective in Godzilla, not only because he’s got a recognizable star, but he’s also playing against audience expectations.  In our current thirst for greater spectacle, Edwards has provided something even more powerful: anticipation.

godzilla-review

When Godzilla finally shows up, it’s cheer-worthy in a way that’s rarely seen even though so many blockbusters these days are origin stories that get “big” reveals.  The audience is still patient with these movies, but we know the trajectory, so we can almost set our watches to when the hero will rise.  Edwards doesn’t give us any hints.  This might be confusing to audience members who are wondering what the hell these are humans are doing talking to each other and why monsters aren’t punching each other.  But when Edwards finally shows Godzilla in all his glory, it’s magnificent.  And then, in a way I won’t spoil here, he subverts our expectations yet again.

The director doesn’t really need to constantly showcase Godzilla because his presence is felt in every moment, and that includes his history.  I won’t proclaim to be a Godzilla expert.  I love the original, hated the 1998 remake, and it wasn’t until this weekend until I finally saw Godzilla movies where he fought other monsters—Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) and Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001).  He’s the bad guy in both, and while neither blew me away, I appreciated the classic and modern approaches.  I saw the new movie with a friend who loves the Godzilla franchise, and he thought Edwards’ film was even better than the 1954 original.  He explained that Edwards’ Godzilla attempts to bring in the best aspects from all of the other movies, and do so with references that only true fans will appreciate (sometimes it’s good to ask an expert).  However, this never renders the film exclusive to die-hards, and we all speak the universal language of Smashing Things.

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But Smashing Things is a rudimentary form of communication.  There needs to be something to carry us in between the falling buildings, especially in a film where the set pieces are scarce.  This puts a heavier burden on plot and character, and unfortunately, both fall flat.  That’s not unusual for a Godzilla movie, but it’s still disappointing considering the picture’s talented cast.  The Oscar-nominees and multiple-Emmy winner were clearly brought in to class up the joint and add gravitas through their presence alone.  But Ken Watanabe is nothing more than “Male Scientist”, Sally Hawkins is “Female Scientist Who Stands Behind the Male Scientist”, and only Joe Brody has a hint of a character arc, which is somewhat undermined by Cranston’s decision to go as big and broad as the monster.

And then at the forefront you have Aaron Taylor-Johnson as one of the weakest action heroes in recent memory.  He’s obviously not going to eclipse Godzilla, but Taylor-Johnson’s performance is so milquetoast that I was wondering if he was scared to emote.  Even his profession as a bomb tech is fairly irrelevant, and at best he’s in a long line of characters who happen to be the action’s “sphere of influence”.

godzilla-review

For a movie that takes a serious approach to Godzilla, it’s unfortunate that the characters and plot should be an afterthought.  Yes, this is traditional for the Godzilla franchise, but that doesn’t mean we should accept it.  At some point, we have to hold Godzilla to the same standard as other blockbusters even if it doesn’t always play by the same rules.  The scientists should do more than spout exposition (although Watanabe gets the coolest line in the movie), the hero should come off as heroic, and the plot should be more than serviceable, even if bringing us Godzilla in the best way possible is admittedly a noble service.

Despite these weaknesses, there’s really no stopping Godzilla when he’s done right.  If a single good thing can be said about the 1998 version, it provided a template for what not to do, and the top of the list is “Don’t disrespect Godzilla”.  The new Godzilla shows that with the right approach he can more than a cash-in.  He can carry his decades of history and not collapse under the weight.  When he has our attention, we can’t turn away even if he’s not on screen.  There may be many “Godzillas”, but there’s no mistaking a roar that can give us chills, send our hearts racing, and get our blood pumping.

Rating: B

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  • http://www.collider.com/ DNAsplitter

    Nice review Matt. Now this is my official summer kick off movie! Just got my tickets last night for this weekend. It’s gonna be epic.

  • mattinacan

    will be seeing this one

  • justkidding

    am i the only one that kinda likes the 1999 godzilla movie?

    • zac

      nope…i loved that movie haha

    • RiddleThemThis

      It’s a decent monster movie but its not a godzilla movie.

    • http://tarek-to-verso.over-blog.com/ tarek

      Enjoyed it. Was a good pop corn movie.

      • mattinacan

        that term really needs to be retired

      • http://tarek-to-verso.over-blog.com/ tarek

        tarek removes the term sheepishly…

      • DEADP00L

        Types ‘Deadpool restores the term for comedic purposes.’ tee hee hee ^-_-^

    • http://www.collider.com/ DNAsplitter

      If they never called it Godzilla then yes it would be a fun B movie – just like ID4 was.

    • http://www.collider.com/ DNAsplitter

      If they never called it Godzilla then yes it would be a fun B movie – just like ID4 was.

    • DEADP00L

      90′s Godzilla is a perfectly wonderful movie. It’s the Disney version ie it’s for kids like a tricycle to bigger more monster horror oriented movies. I would still watch it just for the good memories I had of it with my parents. I don’t get bored of it even though I see it through adult eyes – I can look past it. I wouldn’t have liked it at all if I had seen it for the first time today as it is though. But I think it’s fine for kids and if I ever became a parent this and Independence Day would be what I’d have my kids see.

      • Grayden

        No. It’s not Godzilla when you can kill it with Tomahawk missiles. Like other have said, if it was titled anything else it would have been a perfectly legit, stupid summer movie. However, it was titled Godzilla and hence it was a flaming turd.

      • DEADP00L

        I never said it wasn’t titled Godzilla…

        I never saw it as Godzilla either. I enjoyed it as it was and not what it claimed to be. If anything it did us all a favor just as Matt stated – it showed us what NOT to do when producing a Godzilla movie.

      • HeSaidSheSaidMv

        It always cracked me up how much diehard Godzilla fans trashed the Emmerich movie. Have you seen any of the Godzilla sequels? Most of them ARE turds.

      • HeSaidSheSaidMv

        It always cracked me up how much diehard Godzilla fans trashed the Emmerich movie. Have you seen any of the Godzilla sequels? Most of them ARE turds.

      • Lovecraftlives

        Sorry but that film was shit. Thank god, the true Godzilla killed the fake one in Final Wars, which was superior to that film in every way.

    • tedh754

      If you like it you like it. Nothing wrong with that. But it shouldn’t have been called Godzilla. Maybe, “The Monster That Attacked Manhattan.” Kind of like a pre-Cloverfield Cloverfield.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sangbaran Sam

      do not take it seriously and you end up enjoying all of Emmerich’s movies

      • Grayden

        while that’s true, as a lifelong Godzilla fan, I have to take it at least seriously enough to weigh it against it’s predecessors. The ’98 film was such a radical shift from anything done in the franchise that it felt like no one involved with the film even attempted to look at the history of the character, or why the Japanese made it in the first place. Emmerich just saw a reason for mass destruction and went with that.

        Ultimately, it’s a very sad attempt in the franchise and why most people don’t include it in any cannon. Although, the Japanese got their revenge in ‘Godzilla: Final Wars’. Godzilla has to fight virtually every monster he’s faced, and eventually fights “Zilla” (from the ’98 film) and utterly destroys him in less than ten seconds.

      • https://twitter.com/ciaran_3000 Aiden Rush

        I know exactly what you mean, the 1998 PLEBIAN Godzilla was totally missing the subtle social commentary and meticulous symbolism of older Godzilla films like this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94mg71wMZaI

    • Hugh Jass

      I liked it, but it wasn’t Godzilla. It was a giant lizard who was looking to lay some eggs and nest. It veered from the monster movie mold. Godzilla is a monster and is about demolishing stuff.

    • HeSaidSheSaidMv

      I have no problem with it at all. I always thought it was one of Emmerich’s better movies. He had a nice little run in the 90s imo. Always liked Zilla, ID4, Stargate, and Universal Soldier. He makes fun stupid movies Michael Bay wishes he could.

    • HeSaidSheSaidMv

      I have no problem with it at all. I always thought it was one of Emmerich’s better movies. He had a nice little run in the 90s imo. Always liked Zilla, ID4, Stargate, and Universal Soldier. He makes fun stupid movies Michael Bay wishes he could.

    • Gabriel Nascimento

      I like it too, but it is kind of a guilty pleasure…

  • The Flobbit

    Good review Matt. This is on the very top of my Most Anticipated list for a while.

  • Werefon

    The Movie also can be called – The King is BAck: Fuck Yeah!

  • the king of comedy

    Nice review, I`m really looking forward to this movie, and finally after much anticipation I`ll be seeing it tomorrow, The things that you mentioned in your review are pretty interesting, I agree that anticipation can be a more powerful tool than spectacle, movies like Jaws already showed us that.

  • Jeremías Magnaghi

    “…which is somewhat undermined by Cranston’s decision to go as big and broad as the monster.”

    I’d say it’s Edwards’ decision to make Cranston “go as big and broad as the monster.”

    • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

      The first-time blockbuster director usually defers to the actor with three Emmys and decades of experience. I’m not saying Cranston would refuse to take direction, but I’m more inclined to believe that Edwards let Cranston trust his instincts.

      • brNdon

        So what was Pfister’s excuse?

      • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

        You’d have to ask him.

      • brNdon

        So what was Pfister’s excuse?

    • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

      The first-time blockbuster director usually defers to the actor with three Emmys and decades of experience. I’m not saying Cranston would refuse to take direction, but I’m more inclined to believe that Edwards let Cranston trust his instincts.

  • http://tarek-to-verso.over-blog.com/ tarek

    We need a Verhoeven Godzilla.

    • Jeremy Flores

      hell yes.

    • Jeremy Flores

      hell yes.

  • http://tarek-to-verso.over-blog.com/ tarek

    We need a Verhoeven Godzilla.

  • DEADP00L

    Best review I have read of Matts in a while. Well done man.

  • DEADP00L

    Best review I have read of Matts in a while. Well done man.

  • Faptain America

    Great review. Question: do we know that Godzilla is a he? Maybe it’s a she.

    • DEADP00L

      Please don’t go down that road…just no.

    • Grayden

      some of the older film address this. It’s implied that Godzilla is asexual. You never see any eggs or birth of offspring, save the horrible ’98 film. They refer to it as “he” and “she” throughout the series though. Different eras and directors approached it differently.

  • Faptain America

    Great review. Question: do we know that Godzilla is a he? Maybe it’s a she.

  • Old Soldier

    No matter what anyone says about the ’98 version, it’s still better than that crappy Hanna Barbara cartoon.

    “We need to call Godzilla!” (pushes button)
    “Rrrrrrraaaaaaaaahhhhhhhrrrrrrr……..” (sounds NOTHING like Godzilla)

    • DEADP00L

      That was around before I was born I assume?

      • Old Soldier

        It was back around ’78 I think. Look it up, you will be VERY disappointed.

      • DEADP00L

        …oh that was unfortunate. Why did I listen to you! Bah! Dirty…

        OH GODS NO!

      • Old Soldier

        It was back around ’78 I think. Look it up, you will be VERY disappointed.

    • Hugh Jass

      Was that the one with Godzookey?

  • tedh754

    So in other words, it is more like Jaws….where Spielberg, due to the failures of Bruce, his mechanical shark, was forced into showing the shark less, and in turn made the movie more suspenseful. I’ve always believed that if Spielberg had gotten the shark to do everything he wanted it to do, the movie and he would have both been failures. Jaws would have been a laughingstock instead of the godfather of all Summer Blockbusters.

    • DEADP00L

      At least he didn’t try to cover that up and go ‘ oh yeah that was exactly how I planned it.’ like George Lucas has tried to and failed.

      • tedh754

        Good point.
        If he had gotten Bruce to work we may have ended up with Sharknado 38 years earlier!

      • Old Soldier

        A.I.= Sharknado but less exciting.

      • tedh754

        Point well taken. from One Old Soldier to another, I salute you.

    • connorCT

      Oh, yeah…
      Close Encounters
      Raiders
      E.T.
      Jurassic Park
      Minority Report
      Schindler’s List
      Private Ryan
      War of the Worlds
      etc….
      all proved he was a massive failure in the making with Jaws at age 27.

      • tedh754

        I think you misunderstood what I meant so I will type slower. Being in my 20s when Jaws came out I read all about the making of it. Spielberg at the time was known for Sugerland Express, Duel, and an episode of “Night Gallery.” He wasn’t a household name. Had the shark done everything he wanted, including a reported “jumping over the Orca” the movie could have easily turned into a sharkfest and would have lost all the suspense that he eventually was forced to “compromise with.” What would you rather have? More gore or more Quint? I’ve never met anyone yet who thought that the book was better than the movie, and that is in large part due to Spielberg having to alter the movie from what he originally intended to make.

      • DEADP00L

        Wow when you mention the orca thing my mind went straight to a great white doing a Free Willy. Not sure why. I am glad that never made it into the movie though. I already have a hard time not cringing and chuckling at it.

      • Amanda

        my first thought went to the fonz jumping over a shark. made me have the same thought you did

    • Daniel_Plainview_Milkshake

      Remember that great seen between Brody and his son at the dinner table in Jaws? Remember how the human characters felt so real and well rounded? Did that stuff work so well because the shark didn’t work?

      • tedh754

        Can’t speak to that but any movie where there is good character development usually works. And Jaws had it. Much better than in the book, IMHO.

  • Person

    First time since Prometheus I’m going to see a movie in IMAX 3D – hope it’s worth it. From the sound of most reviewers I trust (and I trust Goldberg, for the most part), I won’t be disappointed.

    • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

      I saw it in RPX 3D with Dolby Atmos. It was worth it. If I see the movie again, it will definitely be in IMAX.

      • Cooper

        Will you at least tell your mom you’re dipping twice into the allowance money? Because I’m pretty sure Obamacare won’t cover this.

      • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

        THANKS OBAMA.

      • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

        THANKS OBAMA.

      • Cooper

        Will you at least tell your mom you’re dipping twice into the allowance money? Because I’m pretty sure Obamacare won’t cover this.

  • Pingback: GODZILLA (2014) Review | The Reel Scoop

  • Hunter

    Pretty spot on review. Godzilla had some weaknesses, but overall it delivered and is a solid film to reboot the franchise.

  • MJ

    Just got back from seeing the Big G!

    Best G movie since the original and Mothra ones — loved it. Be warned though that it is a slow buildup, and that half-way through you might not be confident you are liking it…but the 2nd half and the payoff…WOW

    Where in the F was the Interstellar trailer though? Hugely disappointed to not see that as was promised??? I saw the non 3D version, so maybe that was the issue???

    PS: GREAT REVIEW, MATT

    • Sawyer

      Saw the IMAX 3D version…no Interstellar trailer :(

    • Doug_101

      Holy crap, that’s right! I forgot the Interstellar trailer was supposed to be attached! Damn.

  • Guest

    Other than his 1954 debut and the awful 1998 remake, Godzilla is known for fighting other monsters
    Read more at http://collider.com/godzilla-review/#fGduXCfEpUBFcxtL.99

  • Guest

    ummmm… and Godzilla 1985 there Chief

  • Rupert’Rip’Reed

    “Other than his 1954 debut and the awful 1998 remake, Godzilla is known for fighting other monsters”

    ummm… and Godzilla 1985, Chief

  • T

    Just checked the letter grade last evening before heading out to the 7 pm preview IMAX show. Dude….it was just awesome. Just read Matt’s review now, and got to admit, I was thinking the same things Matt brings up on my way back.

    Aaron/Elizabeth had zero chemistry to say the least, and yes, Cranston went Full-on Heisenberg in this one. But overall, it was a Gojira movie, and got to say, I enjoyed it so much. What I admire the most was that the creative team’s decision to keep the (alpha) monster old school, and not make it look so 2014 (a la Pacific Rim Kaiju). Suppose it was sort of an homage to the 1954 Honda Gojira.

    Check it out people, and the IMAX 3D is worth the extra $$.

  • Person

    I liked this but I don’t get the hype. It almost doesn’t feel like a Godzilla movie til the last half hour. And Aaron Taylor Johnson was badly miscast. But VfX were awesome and once the actual fighting got underway, this movie was Pacific Rim caliber. IMAX 3D was mostly worth it.

  • veeder

    stopped reading at “but Taylor-Johnson’s performance is so milquetoast that I was wondering if he was scared to emote.” Such pretension in a review about a film that has a lizard destroying things. When reviewing godzilla all I need to know is how was the cg, was it fun and it is worth seeing. Save all of your pretension for when you are reviewing a paul thomas anderson movie or movies like that. Did you also say “I found optimus primes performance sanguine and devoid of any any heart.” Jeez

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