So, I’m finally getting around to writing a review for ‘Godzilla’. I don’t know why I kept putting it off. I was genuinely inspired to write upon leaving the theater, and I’ve since talked about this an awful lot with a wide range of people (some who have seen it, some who have not, some who loved it, some who did not) and so it’s not like I haven’t had the opportunity to throw all my thoughts down on paper (or up on the screen) and yet for some reason I kept finding myself preoccupied.
Like you really care.
Anyways, I will admit to being really torn when even considering seeing this movie, for more than one reason. First, I still remember how much money I wasted seeing the 1998 film version of ‘Godzilla’ in the theaters nearly ten times (like I can remember the exact count, but it was high) and so the idea of shelling out money for yet another rip on the creature was hard to bring myself to do. While my teenage self was a huge fan of the ‘Jurassic Park unleashed on the Big Apple’ version provided by Roland Emmerich, I have to say that the film has not aged well. It was a corny and ridiculous attempt to blow things up and deliver a slew of cheap thrills and cheap jokes to entertain very few brain cells. I was afraid that that was how this remake was going to go.
But the cast was inspired, and the director previously directed a film that was so far removed from anything explosive (‘Monsters’ simply sat there) that I was intrigued to see how they would fare in the subject.
But then the reviews started to trickle in and word of mouth was spreading that this was the greatest monster movie to come our way in ages and the hype was growing so large and those trailers were so impressive (no promotional campaign has been this on point and this effective in recent memory) that my mind was racing as to how big this was actually going to fail for me. I mean, you can’t live up to that kind of hype, right?
No, ‘Godzilla’ doesn’t deliver the way that ‘Gravity’ did last year (and with the same kind of hype) but it does deliver, in a very large way.
Now, I’ll get the big detractor (for some, not all) out of the way. For a film entitled ‘Godzilla’, you see very little of him. This doesn’t matter when his presence is so extremely well done and orchestrated and his essence is felt all over every frame. I mean, I never missed him because I could feel him the whole time.
Sadly, some don’t share these sentiments.
Thankfully, most do.
For me, Gareth Edwards’ ‘Godzilla’ is a prime example of the truth behind the belief that it isn’t always the story being told, but the way you are telling the story that matters. The whole ‘Godzilla’ concept isn’t a very deep one on paper. I mean, it could be (and by God, the 1956 original really tried to be) but for the most part it feels like a halfway thought out Michael Crichton novel. The actions of certain individuals, stereotypical to a T, can become rather redundant and almost laughable in the wrong hands. In fact, on paper, ‘Godzilla’ feels kind of like a failure. But, in the hands of Edwards and his cast, the film is anything but.
The way that Edwards milks each frame for the prime amount of suspense was incredible. For a beast that is rarely shown, his presence shook down beneath, above and around you always. A lot of this is due to the tremendous use of sound, which almost caused my whole body to shake in parts, and the cinematography, which was pitch perfect (that bridge sequence is unforgettable and truly gripping because of it). For me, the restraint used in giving us everything was a true blessing for a film that could have been just another Hollywood blockbuster.
True, most of this cast is wasted, and I can hear the complaints and even agree with them to a degree. With names like Watanabe, Strathairn, Hawkins and Binoche attached (all previous Oscar nominees and winners) you’d expect Edwards to have used them more within the body of his film, but instead the only true human elements come from Bryan Cranston (in a tremendous performance) and Elizabeth Olsen. Aaron Taylor-Johnson carries the film, but he’s also rather vacant and not a very convincing hero. Like I said, I get these complaints. But for me, the film still succeeds in making these characters feel real, despite their limited resources. Cranston in particular grounds this film so well in his scenes that you find yourself forever drawn to his character’s plight, and even when he delves into clichéd monster movie tantrums, he feels richly human.
But like I said, this film is oddly not about the humans and not really about the monster but about the atmosphere that Gareth Edwards has created, and what incredible atmosphere it is!
I was also really impressed with the integrity that Edwards gave the monster himself and the way that he preserved and essentially returned to the original concept, one that had been lost with all those remakes and ill-advised reincarnations. Godzilla looks and feels classic, yet has so much modern edge that this feels like a very smartly updated homage to a beloved creature.
And the moment fire breath was shown, the entire theater collectively wet themselves.
I give this a solid B+. I lacks in some of the character development, but it never settles for cheap thrills and actually works hard to milk out the right tone and pace for such a massive story. Overall, I'm very impressed! I could see Oscar gracing this with deserved nods in the Sound categories as well as Visual Effects.