Gareth Edwards’ much-anticipated film “Godzilla” is a big monster flick wearing a big gray suit of disaster movie, and that combination feels awkward at times in spite of its several inspired moments to be watched. The movie intends to focus more on how it would feel like for us if a big, towering creature suddenly breaks into our world, and it is sometimes terrifying while reminding us of how helpless we would be in front of a gigantic unstoppable disaster to crush us all. Unfortunately, its story lacks human interest solid enough to support its interesting attempt while merely following its scheduled course, and our big diva steals the show from its inconsequential human extras as usual, as we want more from this humongous creature.
Rather than fully showing Godzilla from the beginning, the director Gareth Edwards wisely chooses to build tension gradually along with a touch of mystery and dread, and he did a lot better job than Roland Emmerich in that dreadful 1998 film on the whole. His film also begins with an ominously busy main title sequence mainly consisting of nuclear bomb test footages, but, compared to that hideously unentertaining film, it is more effective in making us curious and fearful about what will be soon revealed on the screen.
Its first act revolves around a lone obsessive search by Joe Brody(Bryan Cranston), an American engineer who was working at a nuclear power plant in Japan on that unforgettable day of his life. Not long after he detected from his latest data that something strange was happening and it might endanger his nuclear power plant sooner or later, a big disaster happened as he feared, and this catastrophic incident devastated not only his family but also the surrounding area as a result.
Strongly believing that it was not just an unfortunate accident, Brody has been trying to find the truth behind it by any means necessary, and that has naturally made him estranged from his son Ford(Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who looks thicker and beefier than usual) for many years. Although he witnessed that disaster happening right in front of his eyes when he was young, Ford has been moving on with his own life as a lieutenant of US Army(he is an expert in defusing bomb), and his loving wife and their young son in San Francisco are expecting to have a nice time with him when he is about to return after his tour of duty.
Despite the estrangement between them, Ford immediately comes to Japan when he hears that his father needs his help. They later go inside the restricted area to retrieve some important computer data still remaining at their old home(your children may want to ask you about a certain old-fashioned storage medium when they see it), and it does not take much time for them to discover what exactly happened at that time – and what is going on right now.
It turns out that Dr. Ichiro Serizawa(Ken Watanabe) and his assistant Vivienne Graham(Sally Hawkins) have been studying on Godzilla and other big creatures in their secret research project, and we get some basic information about their origin and life style. According to Dr. Serizawa, these monsters are creatures of ancient times feeding on radioactive materials, so nuclear weapons are more or less than little nice snacks for these creatures although the military guys in the movie still think nuclear weapon can be used in emergency. As listening to their talks, I naturally began to wonder about whether there is a possible evolutionary advantage in feeding on radioactive materials or generating big electromagnetic pulse, but I guess that is one of many preposterous things the movie willingly ignores as being true to that goofy spirit of those old Godzilla movies.
As the story converges on the spot to be crushed and pulverized, we get a number of good moments as tiny human characters are swept by this unprecedented disaster, and it is chilling to watch sometimes because we get the sense that people are really injured or killed amidst the Pandemonium of crumbling buildings and collapsing bridges. There is a striking wide shot during the Honolulu airport sequence as people watching in horror the loud, explosive havoc in progress, and then we get a terrifying scene at the Golden Gate Bridge which sort of reminded me of one brief shot during the prologue sequence from “Pacific Rim”(2013), another big monster movie which was incidentally released in last year. During its climax sequence, the movie gives us a memorably eerie moment showing a group of soldiers skydiving into the center of disaster for their urgent special mission. It is initially progressed through the view of one of them as he and others rapidly approaching to their landing site, and then the movie eventually looks at their risky descent into the city from the distance with grim, apocalyptic beauty which is effectively enhanced by György Ligeti’s “Lux Aeterna” on the soundtrack.
But then, human characters in the film, who are more or less than two-dimensional stock characters from the start, become less interesting than before, and the screenplay by Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham keeps inhibiting the movie mainly due to its weak drama and characterization. The actors in the film seem to be willing to accept their thankless roles and ridiculous dialogues, but they have a few things to do besides looking serious or scared. While Ken Watanabe solemnly warns or advises to others including Admiral William Stenz(David Strathairn), Sally Hawkins is completely wasted as looking fretful all the time, and the same thing can be said about Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Ford’s young nurse wife. While Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche are good in conveying the emotional bond between their characters only with a couple of scenes between them, but the movie has so many things to juggle around the world that they do not leave much impression to us, and you may wish that they would also have played something far bigger than their characters.
We eventually get a payoff as promised when Godzilla finally appears in its full massiveness during the third act, but it is less exciting than expected, and we do not see a lot of Godzilla even at this point. I like the mythic quality of a short moment when Godzilla directly faces a human character and then disappears into the shroud of smoke and ashes, and I am glad that the movie is not entirely devoid of humor while also not resorting to bland, weightless CGI spectacles, but I was not amused or excited enough to be interested in its story and its well-made spectacles. At least, I was mildly amused by what I saw around the end of its climax, and I duly wrote down in my mental pad: “So I guess that was what probably happened to that poor drummer guy in ”This is Spinal Tap“(1984).
Gareth Edwards previously made “Monsters”(2010), a small-budgeted monster film which was in a far smaller scale compared to “Godzilla”. While I admired how he convincingly created a familiar but different world where big monsters become a mundane subject of daily TV news, I gave it only two stars at first as complaining about its rather rudimentary plot, but the second viewing changed my opinion and I wrote a three-star review in the end. Considering that I make a similar complaint about “Godzilla”, I will probably change my opinion later when I watch it again, but I have some doubt despite my admiration.