Don’t pretend that you don’t know what the plot of Godzilla is. Sure, you can frame it in a hundred different ways, but it all is going to come down to one giant radioactive lizard fighting other giant radioactive monsters. Whatever gets us to that point is just window dressing.
The window dressing of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla begins in 1999, when nuclear engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) detects anomalous tremors beneath Janjira Nuclear Power Plant where he and his wife (Juliette Binoche) work. The tremors lead to a catastrophic collapse, leading the area to be quarantined for the next 15 years. The event has been declared a natural disaster by the government, but Joe’s data does not support that claim. In the present day, Joe is viewed as crazy for his crackpot theories, especially by his soldier son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Ford has just returned home from a tour of duty and looks forward to reuniting with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam (Carson Bolde). After only a day home, Ford is dragged to Japan to help his estranged father.
As you can guess, Joe’s theories turn out to not be so crazy, when an enormous winged monster that’s been hidden by the government suddenly hatches and wreaks havoc across Japan before escaping. As the military scrambles to find and kill the creature, another potential threat arises from the ocean: the behemoth lizard, Godzilla. With the help of Godzilla-experts Drs. Serizawa and Graham (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins), Ford joins the military actions to take down these monsters before they take over the world.
Gareth Edwards knows what a Godzilla film should be, and that’s what allows this rather unnecessary reboot to find credibility. Working from a screenplay by Max Borenstein, Edwards knows that these monsters are so massive and powerful, that human intervention in their paths is futile. The best he can do is show the human characters trying their hardest to survive and make an impact, while letting the real stars – Godzilla and the “Mutos” – have it out. A “better” film could have started with these monsters already being known to the public, and had people coping with their existence (a la Pacific Rim). But this is not trying to be high art; This is a disaster film, and goodness gracious does it ever deliver on that front.
Edwards has a lot of fun with his visuals in Godzilla, creating some truly awe-inspiring moments. There are a few wide shots that give you a decent view of the full creatures, but for the most part these beasts are shot from the perspective of a true observer. Street level eyes looking up at a monster so massive that you’d need to turn your head just to take it all in. Godzilla’s new design is breathtaking, and even a little cute. They’ve given him an almost dog-like head, making him appear much softer than the Mutos, which have streamlined and sharp features. It’s also fun to note that Godzilla has a discernible attitude and motivation throughout the film. He’s not just a big, dumb, fumbling doofus. He’s driven by personal determination, and he wants nothing to do with our species.
The people on the ground do their best to keep up with monsters, but they really only act as an emotional anchor for the otherwise straightforward epic. Aaron Taylor-Johnson does fine work balancing duty to serve with the desire to get home to his wife and son. As his wife, Elizabeth Olsen is exceptional, particularly considering her character being severely underwritten. She is a nurse, but we never actually see her do anything other than walk next to people on gurney’s. Her being a nurse was an illusion to make it seem like she was doing more than she actually was. Still, Olsen brings the heart that Godzilla desperately needed (TaylorJohnson and Olsen can be seen together again in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron, as twin siblings Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch). Bryan Cranston also does great supporting work, while Ken Watanabe delivers some of the best bad lines of the movie.
Godzilla isn’t a masterpiece, but as far as disaster movies go, it’s the best since Independence Day. Avoid seeing it in 3D if you can, as it was wholly unnecessary to the experience (not that the 3D was bad, just that the movie would have worked fine without it). However, definitely go out of your way to see it in a Dolby Atmos theater. There’s simply no better way to hear that Godzilla roar in all it’s glory.
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