Directed by Gareth Edwards
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen
Feel free to call Godzilla (2014) — by far and without contention — the best Godzilla movie ever made after the 1950s. The reference to the 1950s should spare you the thorny task of comparing this new work with the first Gojira (1954), and its American remake, Godzilla, King of Monsters! (1956), which are now well-established classics. So, if you are a Godzilla groupie, this is a five-star movie for you.
Yet this accolade says little: few franchises have spawned as many bad movies as Godzilla. It would be equally true to say that the most recent film is the least bad of all the Godzilla movies. Such are the perils of reviewing a movie as part of a subgenre. But I would like to consider whether this film, irrespective of how it compares to Roland Emmerich’s widely derided Godzilla (1998), is a good film on its own right.
In pragmatic terms, should you cough up the $30 to see it with your boyfriend this summer? That would, of course, depend on what you and your boyfriend are into. “People who like this sort of thing,” said Lincoln, “will find this the sort of thing they like.” If you like movies heavy on mayhem and light on plot, then Godzilla is absolutely worth the money. It is sure to provide you an enjoyable evening with plenty of action, scares and jaw-dropping special effects.
If you are in this demographic, there’s no need for me to describe the story, since you’ve already seen it before many times, and it’s not like you will watch it for the depth of the plot.
The visual and audio special effects are just amazing. Godzilla is very well designed and rendered. The bad monsters are particularly scary-looking, and at times downright terrifying. And there is a very high production standard overall: the cinematography is top-notch, with panoramic shots of the victimized city that really convey the scale of the monsters relative to the puny humans. So if eye-candy is your priority, go and see it: for you it is a four-star film.
Finally, if you are not necessarily into this kind of movie but have seen a few familiar faces in the trailers, you may be hoping this one may be a sort of a hidden gem, with the likes of Bryan Cranston (of cult stature after his magnificent role in Breaking Bad), Ken Watanabe (Inception, The Last Samurai, Letters from Iwo Jima) and Juliette Binoche (The English Patient) in the cast. Yet these heavyweight stars are reduced to impotent, spectator-like roles in the movie, and in hindsight can only be called supporting actors at best.
I’m a fan of Cranston, Watanabe, and Binoche, and harbored the secret hope that they would join forces to make a movie with some gravitas and drama. I was thoroughly disappointed with how little director Gareth Edwards and writers Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham did with the premium raw material they had access to. If you were going to see this movie for the actors that appear in the trailers, don’t. You won’t get your time’s worth: it’s a three-star movie at best.
The biggest beef I have with Godzilla (just don’t tell him: he’s one big scary monster) is that this retelling of the old story has no depth to it. Humanity is summarily exonerated of any responsibility in creating the monster. In this version, we just awakened it with our nuclear bombs.
As a species we are bystanders, like the frogs in Aesop’s fable about the fighting bulls, simply watching the big boys duking it out above us while we hope they don’t accidentally step on us in the process. Both Godzilla and its antagonists are, in this new version, the result of Nature, not human action. And Nature, we are told, will find a way to restore the balance. The best thing we can do is step aside.
Such a message, in this day and age, smells of cowardice. A braver stance, a return to Godzilla’s origin as the consequence of human meddling, and more work on the human side of the story could have made Godzilla a good movie in the larger scheme of things. But the absence of these renders it merely the best in a largely mediocre franchise.