Godzilla, his name brings memories of campy movies with rubbery monsters smashing miniature sets, badly dubbed acting and loads of fun. His 60 year legacy has seen him grace the silver screen in 31 films including the often maligned 1998 Roland Emmerich directed, Godzilla and the 2007 Japanese film, Always: Sunset on Third Street 2, where the big guy makes a quick cameo and marks the first time in Japanese movie history where the he was created solely using CGI. These all lead up to the king of all kaiju’s return in Gareth Edwards‘ much anticipated remake, aptly named Godzilla.
I will say I hold a special place for the big, green, nuclear fire breathing guy, and this film was high on my list of summer movies that I had to see. Which makes this review hard to write. Now mind you this is just my opinion of the film, and I am aware that according to Rotten Tomatoes I am in the minority when I say this is not the movie I was hoping for. That being said here we go. (I am going to try and keep this spoiler free, it will be hard but I will try.)
If I had to use one word to describe Godzilla, the word would be,”boring“. I wish it wasn’t but unfortunately in my opinion it is. I have read some of the glowing reviews and wonder if I was watching the same movie as those reviewers as there were many times I caught myself zoning out because there was literally nothing happening on screen. Now the same can be said about the original 1954 Toho classic, Gojira and it’s Americanized version Godzilla, King of the Monsters as in all reality the title character only shows up for a short amount of screen time, but there is a difference. The original, even with all it’s flaws, has a pacing and poignant story that when he does appear it feels menacing and helps move the story. The same cannot be said about Mr. Edwards take on the monster. It seems as if in trying to remain faithful to the original, the director lost all of the heart that made Godzilla what he was.
The first act starts out fairly decently, introducing us to the characters played by Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Bryan Cranston, and Juliette Binoche along with their son, who would be played later in the film by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and we get a bit of back story on key elements of things to come, but things start to slow down and by the beginning of the second act it plods along so horrifically that even a scene where we are introduced to the main monster antagonist, or MUTO, that should in all intents and purposes get the blood flowing again, ends so anti-climatically that it drags the pacing down even further. One of the biggest complaints I have is no one character, not a single one, is fleshed out enough to make you care about them. Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins have so little to do besides just standing around staring at maps, screens and other inanimate objects they seem just as bored as those of us who were watching it. Bryan Cranston,(who is deceivingly advertised as the lead in this film by the way) while giving probably the best performance in the movie, is severely under-utilized, no, wasted is a better word, that he could have been replaced by a zip drive disk and dot matrix computer printout and the story would have lost nothing save for about 15 or so minutes of drama that by the end of the film seems completely unnecessary anyway.
One of my hopes for this movie was that it would focus on Godzilla, you know the gigantic monster in the title and leave the human drama to a minimum, save for people trying to get out his way. Sadly that is not the case, as the movie trudges along we are subjected to watching Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Navy Ordinance Officer, struggle to get back to his wife, portrayed by Elizabeth Olsen and son, played by Carson Bolde all while some monsters do something, somewhere else in their march to the exact city our “hero’s” family lives. I would be remiss if I did not point out that Carson Bolde’s acting or lack there of made me actually hope he got eaten. This struggle is more or less happenstances in where our lead luckily finds himself in the exact spot with the exact skills the he needs or not to keep the half hearted script moving along. Again this character like the rest (including the title character mind you) is so under developed and at times annoyingly so, that you could care less if he lives or dies.Yet we are forced to watch and wait patiently for what we hope will be the big pay off in the third act.
Wrong! How is it possible that Godzilla is a background character in his own movie? There is no big payoff, all the big monster action is either half hidden by smoke, darkness or bulidings, that the 4-5 minutes of actual screen time devoted to showcasing the big G comes too little too late. The focus unapologetically remains on the ridiculously dragged out scenes of the military’s attempts to avert a disaster of their own doing as Godzilla and the MUTO battle in the background.
Visually Godzilla looks incredible, sort of. The actual CG model is great but he has no gravity, no weight, he is just there. Movies like Jurassic Park and even the 1998 Godzilla, have a sense of realism because the characters moved and interacted with the world around them in a sense that you could feel the footfalls of this giant creatures as they walked, they seemed like they were really there. It is this problem that leads to another issue with the film. The lack of any sense of real danger. No one ever seems in peril since the actors and the creatures don’t appear to occupy the same space. The sound mixing has a part in this as well, there is very little realistic noise when any monster action is taking place, its as if you had your fingers in your ears when there should be deafening rumbles or crashes. Sadly even Godzilla’s iconic roar is only used sparsely here and there. You add this to the little and I mean little development or explanation of why Godzilla is even in this movie, aside from “let them fight” reason, and lack of screen time and you are left wanting more, a lot more.
A great way to judge a film is the reaction of the audience around you. In the showing I attended there was little to no reaction save for the few murmured comments around me of “that’s it?”, “it needed more Godzilla.” and the like. No one said a word actually through out the entire film, which in an action film, is a rarity in my experience. No cheering, no whooping, nada, zip, zilch. We all just got up an left, no one saying how cool a certain scene was, or complimenting anything about the movie. No one said anything. I find this odd since in 1998 leaving the theater after seeing the Emmerich film, the entire audience was whooping it up, sure the movie was at times completely ludicrous, but it had two things this film is sorely lacking, it didn’t take itself to seriously and it was fun.