It’s kind of nice to go into an entry of a huge, beloved (the 1998 atrocity notwithstanding) blockbuster franchise with a very limited knowledge of said franchise. I don’t have to worry about whether or not this new Godzilla stays true to the spirit of the franchise or lives up to the expectations set by past films, whatever the hell that means. Instead, I can simply *gasp* judge the film on its own merits, free from any preconceived notions of what a Godzilla movie should or shouldn’t be.
The first American-made Godzilla film in 16 years is helmed by Gareth Edwards, best know for his feature debut Monsters(which was, coincidentally, inspired by Edwards’ love for the Godzilla franchise). Glaring flaws aside, Godzilla is an altogether satisfying Summer blockbuster experience with all the pros and cons we as grizzled action movie viewers have come to expect.
Let’s get those cons out of the way first, as they are relatively minor and inconsequential to the overall effectiveness to the film as I (and many others) see it. The most glaring of which is the performance of the lead Aaron Taylor Johnson (Kick Ass, Savages) as the unfortunately named Ford Brody. He delivers a painfully wooden performance that is made worse by Edwards’ editing during scenes that are intended to be emotionally wrought and instead come off as comical due to silly close ups and long pauses that only highlight the narrow range of emotion Taylor Johnson is able to exhibit. Elizabeth Olson is no better as Ford’s wife Elle, although it’s no fault of her own. She is given little more to do than look incredulously past the camera as something unthinkable unfolds before her, which is a real shame as she’s shown herself to be a capable, compelling actress. Taylor Johnson, Olson, and the plethora of minor characters that come and go are done no favors by screenwriter Max Borenstein’s unintentionally campy script. Cheesy one-liners and on the nose expository nonsense comprise the majority of the dialogue. If it seems like I’m glossing over these criticisms it’s because I am. While a smart script and some genuine humor (like in last year’s Pacific Rim, for example) would have been a pleasant addition to Godzilla, it’s hard to be too bummed out because Edwards and company do so much right.
One of the primary aspects of the film that both critics and fans have been railing against is just how little screen time Godzilla receives. And while it’s true he doesn’t really make an appearance until near the end of the second act, I’m glad Edwards didn’t fall into a trap that directors less sure of themselves may have by giving us gratuitous shots of the mysterious beast all throughout. He instead withholds Godzilla until the tension caused by the marauding Muto (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object) reaches a crescendo.
Even when Edwards unleashes Godzilla upon the Muto, and by extension, the audience, he has enough sense to not inundate us with sensory overloading action sequence after sensory overloading action sequence. Instead, until the very end of the film, we only catch fleeting glances of parts of Godzilla’s body. A slow-mo shot of a massive clawed foot creeping past an airport window. A gorgeous crane shot of the monster swimming under a Navy ship as the officers and the audience alike brace for the worst. These are the subtle, expertly filmed shots that go a long way towards both enhancing the mysterious mythology of Godzilla and making the handful of Godzilla/Muto battles in the third act all the more special and exhilarating; and that’s what it’s all about.
The script may be campy, the acting (save Bryan Cranston) may be downright cringeworthy at times (Ken Watanabe, for his part as a scientist who has been tracking Godzilla for years, hams it up to the nth degree), and Borenstein’s attempts at humor often fall flat, but Edwards truly hits every other mark with aplomb. The battle sequences are swift and expertly lit, with a sort of shadowy haze being cast over the action. Everything else from the sound design (just how great is that roar?) on down to opening credits (watch for some interesting tidbits before they are redacted CIA-style as the credits roll on) is handled perfectly. Godzilla really is everything I was looking for in a summer blockbuster.
Dustin is currently studying journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He loves movies, music, basketball, and beer. Follow him on Twitter @Dustin_W317.