Review: Godzilla

godzilla 2014 one sheet posterI’ve always had a soft spot for the Godzilla movies from Japanese film company Toho. Starting with the original movie in 1954, the giant environmentalist monster is awoken from his slumbers by us humans and our nuclear bombs. Oops. Since that first film, he’s starred in a remarkable 28 subsequent movies.

In 1998 disaster movie director Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, White House Down) was hired by Sony Studios to direct a new Godzilla reboot that was pretty awful. So awful that Sony scrapped its plans for a trilogy and just walked away from the franchise entirely.

When news leaked that Director Gareth Edwards was assembling a team to have another go at rebooting the Godzilla series, fans were skeptical, but by going back to the original mythos, however, he’s created a new version that’s pretty darn terrific.

The film opens with some of the best opening credits I’ve ever seen, a visually inventive montage featuring “historical footage” of “Gojira” sightings during and immediately after WWII. Once the film is released on DVD, fans will undoubtedly inspect the sequence and find footage from the original 1954 film included, but the studio remains mum on the topic.

The opening sequence, set in 1999, is a strip mine in the Philippines,. Japanese Gojira expert Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and fellow scientist Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) explore a most astonishing discovery. The story then shifts to the Tokyo suburbs, where American nuclear engineer Joe Brody (Brian Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) both work at the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant. An earthquake rattles the plant and Joe declares and emergency, shutting it down, but not before the unthinkable happens. Joe and Sandra’s son Ford (played as a boy by CJ Adams) watches in horror as the plant collapses.

Current day and Ford (played as an adult by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is  a bomb disposal expert with the Marines who has just come home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He’s married to Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and has a son of his own (Carson Bolde). When Joe gets arrested for trespassing while trying to reach their old home in the radioactive Janjira zone, Ford flies to Tokyo to bail him out. Next thing he knows, he’s pulled into his father’s paranoid conspiracy theories about giant monsters and government coverups.

godzilla movie, gareth edwards, publicity still photo, honolulu airport, hawaii
Puny Humans Look on in Horror from the Honolulu Airport, from “Godzilla”

Then the film starts to get really interesting, including a powerful tsunami scene in Hawaii where the ocean proves the least of their worries, and another scene where monsters rampage through Las Vegas. The action all converges on San Francisco where the final showdown takes place.

But let’s be serious.

This is a Godzilla movie, so the most important thing is that there’s a lot of juicy tension building up to the first sighting of the monster, then some kick-ass fight scenes where the monsters attack each other and wreak havoc on any buildings or people who happen to be in their way. That’s all terrific, all the action scenes and all the special effects are really well done in Godzilla, very satisfying and cathartic for the audience, particularly on the massive IMAX screen.

The weak link in the film isn’t the storyline either, though there are the expected number of plot hiccups and unlikely coincidences that are to be expected in a film with a fundamentally daft premise about monsters who survive by eating nuclear radiation. Seriously, that’s all good.

The biggest problem is the acting. From Taylor-Johnson to Olsen, Watanabe to David Straithairn (as Admiral Stenz), they all turn in flat, lifeless performances. It’s possible that this is a result of director Gareth Edwards inexperience (his previous film Monsters also suffered from the same poor acting) but it’s too bad because in many ways it’s the only problem in an otherwise terrific and very fun monster movie. An old school, big-monsters-kick-butt, city-gets-destroyed monster movie.

Godzilla isn’t great drama nor is it a romantic tearjerker where the story hangs on superb and highly believable acting, and just as well. It’s just a big, violent, spectacle. And as that, it’s terrific. Go see it. GO GOJIRA!!

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