Hollywood sucks at making Godzilla movies. Roland Emmerich proved that with his 1998 Godzilla, which didn't even care to get the monster's design right. Given that fiasco, it makes sense why Hollywood waited to make a new one and why Gareth Edwards was tapped to direct. The filmmaker previously wowed audiences with his creature flick Monsters, so he was a logical choice. And although Edwards doesn’t fully break Hollywood’s bad precedent with the famous Japanese creature, his Godzilla is much better than Emmerich’s picture.
For starters, Edwards ensures that Godzilla is instantly recognizable by modeling him on the monster's original Japanese designs. Edwards also makes interesting tweaks to Godzilla’s look at the same time, creating a rounder face and more pronounced texture on the monster’s scaly spikes. Plus, almost all of the creature’s action scenes are framed and edited effectively too, so that you can clearly see Godzilla doing what you love: smashing stuff and shooting his bad breath. He makes badass moves and blows out your ears with classic roars too, but he’s just not in the picture enough.
Edwards takes a commendable approach by building to Godzilla’s initial reveal through backstory and small teases. His opening credits displayed like redacted documents over old stock style footage are a great example. However Edwards waits too long before directly involving the monster. Instead he spends more of the film’s two hour run time on humans, who don’t feel consequential because they have little impact on the Godzilla’s trajectory.
Godzilla’s story centers on Joe (Bryan Cranston), a scientist working at a Japanese nuclear power plant. After a meltdown occurs there under suspicious seismic circumstances, Joe senses that the government is covering something up. The movie then jumps to 15 years later where Joe is still obsessed with figuring out what happened at the plant. Although Joe has driven his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) away with his paranoia, they’re thrown back together when similar seismic events occur. That’s when both discover the true danger they’re facing and are enlisted to help the American military stop Godzilla.
Despite the diverse cast of actors in Godzilla, many of them feel wasted in this film with little to do. The talented Elizabeth Olsen is the most misused as Ford’s wife, because she just sits around worrying. To make matters worse, Johnson has atrocious chemistry with her. For a married man, he seems completely disinterested and also unbelievable as a husband due to his boyish voice. Cranston is the only actor utilized appropriately. He pours his heart out, showcasing tremendous emotional range, but even his performance borders on overkill.
There are some fantastic scenes of suspense in Godzilla, as characters come face-to-face with gigantic monsters. One thing that works against the film however, is that certain perilous disaster sequences don’t carry emotional weight. Tidal waves and collapsing buildings aren’t given the seriousness they deserve, considering all the people losing their lives in those moments. Another issue is the movie’s large plot holes surrounding human inability to notice paths of destruction left by giant beasts and their failure to develop an effective plan for defeating said beasts. These two things together really detract from Godzilla’s experience.
The best thing about this Godzilla is its take on the creature. Despite the monster’s wild nature, he’s portrayed as a protector of the natural order who emerges only when necessary. Because of that he becomes very easy to get hooked on and to root for, so that the movie’s shortcomings don’t hamper its pacing. Its 2 hours passed quickly, and I never looked at my watch.