Length: 123 minutes
Writers: Max Borenstein, Dave Callaham
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
I should start this review with both a warning and an admission. Warning first: there be spoilers ahead. It’s kind of impossible to talk about my gripes with the film without talking about specifics. By ways of an admission; I avoided almost all of the promotional material for this film before I saw it. It tends to be the way I approach films these days; but I did see the trailer for this one. It is, by far, the best sequence in the film and it is a real shame that the rest of it didn’t match up. Not letting us see Godzilla in the ad campaign was a good move, but… wait and see.
Yeah, turns out Godzilla isn’t very good. The premise of the film is that there are creatures that are essentially elder gods and have existed for millions of years but have been hiding. The powers that be tried frequently to kill them with nukes but that just made them stronger… because shut up. Bryan Cranston’s character loses his wife in what was dubbed to be an industrial accident but in reality was one of these giant beasts… waking up or… hatching or something. I forget… or it wasn’t clear in the first place. He reunites with his alienated son and they go to investigate. Two of these monsters wake up and start trashing the place and trying to get it on, but the ‘prime predator’ Godzilla surfaces specifically to kill them… for some reason. Cranston dies (really early on) and we’re stuck for the rest of the film following Aaron Taylor-Johnson doing stuff while giant monsters are fighting in the background.
The ‘prime predator’ thing is mentioned a few times… but… Godzilla doesn’t eat them or anything. He turns up specifically to kill the monsters and then goes away again. Weird.
I have many… many gripes with this movie. First and foremost; the title is massively misleading because Godzilla is barely in the film. It’s like the teasing attitude of the film’s marketing campaign extended to the movie; for the vast majority of this film, all you see of the eponymous reptile is his back as he swims. He is a moving island of spikes for most of the runtime. Worse than this and as a friend of mine pointed out, the film severely suffers from a chronic case of the ‘Michael Bays’; by which I mean that the majority of the action that you want to see happens behind characters that you don’t care about. I’m all for story over spectacle usually… but… it’s a Godzilla movie. When I go see a disaster movie featuring a giant lizard, I want to see a giant lizard smashing stuff and I don’t care who knows it.
It wouldn’t be half so bad if the film wasn’t doing it on purpose. There is a scene where the audience is all geared up for a clash of the titans (…sorry) and then it cuts to a kid watching the showdown on a TV as part of a news story. There is teasing and there is just being annoying.
More generally, the aesthetic of the film is all over the place; I kept confusing it for others (including Man of Steel at one point, which was odd). I know that this may be a lazy comparison but the fights between the giant monsters (when you are allowed to see them) are incredibly reminiscent of Pacific Rim (I did half expect Gypsy Danger to show up) to the point where some of the shots seem to be constructed in exactly the same way. There were also a couple of times where the same shots were reused within minutes of each other; most notably when characters open a door to a scene of devastation twice in five minutes.
Acting wise, I guess everyone gave a solid performance; Bryan Cranston is very good but not in nearly enough of the film, especially considering how big a role he seemed to played in the promotional material. David Stratairn makes a welcome appearance as possibly the nicest American military official ever portrayed in film. Ken Watanabe is as good as he always is, despite having nothing to do other than hold a book that he never opens and be the first person to say the word ‘Godzilla’ (more on that in a minute). Aaron Taylor-Jonson – who I like – is woefully miss-cast here as the surprise lead; he just has no personality whatsoever… which is incredibly worrying given his apparently prominent role in the next Avengers movie.
There were two instances that stood out for me when I was watching the film in the cinema. The first one was Watanabe saying the word ‘Godzilla’; for some reason the audience I was with found this very funny. Fair enough, whatever floats your boat… but (I assume) that is how it’s meant to be pronounced, right? Having said that… I started laughing my arse off when one of the characters said ‘deeper underground’ so I guess I can’t really comment… And the camera did zoom in rather dramatically when he said it… yeah, actually I guess it was kind of funny!
The other stand out moment was a scene towards the end, another news story where the caption says something to the effect of ‘Giant Lizard: Friend or Foe’ which had the audience laughing. A friend of mine said he half expected Godzilla’s final roar to take place in front of a giant billowing American flag.
All in all, the film wasn’t really up to much. I don’t want to labour the point, but I went to see Godzilla because I wanted to see Godzilla, not the people standing in front of him.