Ever since its announcement, the new Godzilla movie has had kaiju fans foaming at the mouth. The first trailer was all over the web as soon as it was released, and everyone who drooled over Pacific Rim’s excellent special effects last summer got excited just thinking about an American version of the king of the monsters. Sure, we had the 1998 adaptation, but that wasn’t so much a film as it was a giant slap in the face to the source material and fans alike. Finally, we were all going to be treated to the Godzilla film that we’d been dreaming of. Sure enough, the movie lived up to the hype, and although it isn’t a perfect film, it’s certainly one of the best sci-fi adventures to be released this summer.
I will try to keep my summary brief, as I believe that part of the experience with this film is going into it without much knowledge of the plot; even the trailers tried not to give away very much about the film. Godzilla stars Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody, a former engineer whose affinity for conspiracy theories have gotten him in trouble with the Japanese government several times. His son Lt. Ford Brody, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, flies to Japan to bail his father out of jail, and is soon roped into Joe’s illicit activities. When the two are caught by officials from an outfit named Project Monarch, they soon discover the truth about something that the government has been hiding for decades, and Joe’s theories are validated at last.
Since this is, in fact, a kaiju film, then the scenes involving our favorite beast should be the director’s first priority. Not only are these scenes impressive, but they capture the feel of everything that we love about Godzilla. Every step that the beast takes feels like an earthquake, and the first time that he roars is terrifying. Even though ‘Zilla isn’t in the film for a very long amount of time, every second that he’s onscreen is pure gold, and makes up for the slower parts in the first act. Without giving anything away, I will say that during the final moments of the film’s climax, the title monster treats us to one of the greatest moments in kaiju history, and I don’t believe that there was a person in the screening that I saw who wasn’t affected by it. For this, I have to tip my hat to director Gareth Edwards for giving us some of the best monster scenes to date.
In a film like this where everything is building up to the monster battles in the second half of the movie, the rest of the running time needs to be filled with interesting characters who we want to see survive the conflict. For the most part, screenwriter Max Borenstein succeeds, as well as the talented cast. Bryan Cranston, as everyone expected, did a fantastic job as the eccentric Joe Brody, and was one of the most likable characters in the film. I was also very impressed by Ken Watanabe, who played Dr. Serizawa, one of the scientists onboard at Project Monarch. Many of the lines delivered by Watanabe reflected the endearing cheese of the Japanese films, especially when he speaks about any sort of pseudo-science involved with Godzilla. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, however, I wasn’t very impressed by, and unfortunately, his character gets the most screen time in the entire film. Johnson’s character in Kick-Ass is a far cry from the stoic Lt. Brody, which is one reason why I was so surprised by this casting choice. This isn’t all Johnson’s fault; the lines that he is given just don’t shape him into an interesting character who the audience can relate to and care about.
It is unfortunate for this film that it will undoubtedly be directly compared to Pacific Rim. Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 kaiju fest certainly didn’t have much of a plot to speak of, but that was never the point; viewers of that film went there to see Gundam Wing v. Godzilla, and that’s exactly what they got. That film set out to give the audience epic battles throughout the course of the entire movie, and it accomplished that goal in every way. This film, however, attempted to have a more plot-driven adventure, but because of the less interesting parts of the human story, it wasn’t quite as exciting of a ride as last summer’s monster bash. However, when I set aside my memories of Pacific Rim and focus on Godzilla as a solitary work, I am reminded mostly of the epic moments that the big guy was onscreen, and these scenes are enough to make me forget about Aaron Taylor-Whoever. Godzilla is an excellent summer adventure that I personally liked so much that I saw it twice, and I highly recommend that you catch it before it stomps out of theaters.