Review by Billy Russell
I have something of a complicated history with Godzilla, beginning with the first movie in the massive series I ever got to see: Godzilla 1985. The plot and structure is relatively similar to the original American release of Gojira in 1954, complete with awkward re-shoots of Raymond Burr saying something like, “Yes, I see,” to no one in particular and interacting with no one in particular. The ending, though, is something that nightmares are made of. Poor Godzilla is lured to a volcano by the “good guys” of the plot by way of bird sounds, which makes it seem like the guy is just a big, dumb kid who wants nothing more than to play with his winged ancestors and then KABOOM! the bombs go off and he’s swimming in lava until his demise. As a five year-old, I wept at this ending. In my defense, though, he was the most fully-formed character of anyone.
The way I always figured, there were two types of Godzilla movies. You had the more serious kind that tugged at the heart-strings and toyed with the idea of Godzilla being a victim of his own being, like Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Godzilla 1985. Then, you had the goofier kind of movies like all the Godzilla Versus stuff, where he shows down against mecha versions of himself, Mothra and Rodan, etc., etc. So, when they gave the ol’ gritty reboot sort of re-imagining to Godzilla, I figured it was going to be the former. The latter with all the Batman Begins seriousness attached to it… it’s just sort of stupid.
Something seems to be fundamentally wrong with this remake from its very core, judging by this article by BuzzFeed. Citing an inability of knowing “what to do” with Bryan Cranston, a brilliant and award-winning actor seems odd. Perhaps the script should have given him more to do, instead of focusing its energies on others, less interesting characters. The advertising and marketing executives behind the film’s release seemed to have realized this, and that’s why he’s front and present in the trailers, because he’s a draw that audiences would happily go see. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the true non-Godzilla star of the movie, and Elizabeth Olsen, the separated wife of the star, just aren’t as interesting.
The tone of the movie from the get-go is very much “this is serious stuff,” with Godzilla’s origins treated with the utmost sincerity. And that’s fine. I mean… if you’re going to adapt such goofy material, why not treat it like it’s serious stuff? My issue is why did they decide to abandon the idea of Godzilla as a bad guy and decide to make him a good guy and sort of betray the terror that they worked so hard to establish in the beginning?
Early on, the makers of the movie seemed to display a general lack of knowledge of how the real world actually seems to work. Ford Brody, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, comes home from duty to his wife and child after having been away from them for a long time. It’s a wonderful, small, intimate homecoming. He gets a call. His dad Joe has been arrested in Japan. He sighs. Time to go to Japan, he supposes. It’s indicated that the Brody’s wealth had been exhausted by his father’s insanity and obsession with Godzilla. So, as a regular dude who no longer has the comforts available to him for the rich and famous, how can he so simply and easily afford to just drop everything and fly overseas?
These types of movies in the past 10 years wouldn’t be complete without an image of the Statue of Liberty destroyed. That’s how you know when things have gotten rough—when Lady Liberty is in a state of decay.
The performances across are generally pretty okay. David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe are always welcome sights in an ensemble. Juliette Binoche seems a bit out of place, but adds an amount of elegance to her brief role in the beginning. None of this matters once Godzilla starts swinging his tail about and battling other gargantuan beasts because the plot completely comes to a standstill and steps aside and waits for him to do his thing, which seems to take hours. The action, though technically impressive, is a bit dull. We’ve all seen these kinds of destructive movies before, so why can’t they do something new to keep us intrigued? For a movie that seemed to be so interested in the human element in a Godzilla story, the filmmakers seemed to forget that they even existed at all. I would be interested in seeing a ground-level version a Godzilla movie and how absolutely terrifying it would be to be in his path. Not a Cloverfield clone, more like a Night of the Living Dead for teenagers with a massive budget.
This new Godzilla isn’t a failure. It delivers on what it promises it will; it’s just that it hints at more that never happens to arrive. Incredible actors are wasted in favor of green-screened effects and the spectacle at the end is something of a bore. If you’re interested in a contemporary Kaiju from an American studio, Pacific Rim actually delivers on all the goofy, grinning idiocy it promises and never fools itself into thinking it’s anything other than brain dead entertainment.