Written By: Max Borenstein
Directed By: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche & David Strathairn
Since his debut film appearance all the way back in 1954, Godzilla has been one of the most widely recognized monster movie icons in cinema history. Created by Japanese film company Toho Co., Ltd., the creature aptly nicknamed King of the Monsters has appeared in more than 30 film productions, including Gareth Edwards’ latest incarnation Godzilla.
Edwards’ film tells the story of Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a naval officer living in San Francisco with his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son. When he learns that his estranged father Joe (Bryan Cranston) has been arrested for trespassing on the quarantined grounds of the Janjira Nuclear Plant in Japan, Ford travels to bail his father out, only to stumble upon a secret truth that may explain a tragic event from his childhood. Soon, the world is thrown into chaos by the arrival of numerous ancient creatures that look to cross the Pacific Ocean and descend upon San Francisco. Who can stop them? Perhaps the King of the Monsters himself.
- The Supporting Cast – In a surprise to virtually no one, Bryan Cranston steals the show as the obsessed yet vulnerable Joe, a man who has been looking for answers the last fifteen years and may have just stumbled upon the biggest one of all. While his screen-time is limited, Cranston makes us believe in his plight so convincingly that his spirit hovers over the rest of the film. The always fantastic Ken Watanabe is another stand-out, getting to utter the iconic lines you expect from a Godzilla movie with full-force.
- Gareth Edwards at the helm – Having directed only one feature film prior to Godzilla, some may be surprised that Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. entrusted this massive blockbuster to the under-the-radar Brit. Being a big fan of his first film, the micro-budgeted Monsters, I was pretty confident in Edwards’ abilites. Well, apparently he’s confident too. Not only is Godzilla a great monster movie, it’s one of the best blockbusters in years. It’s brimming with confident direction, strikingly beautiful cinematography, and a willingness to withhold action from the audience so when the third act rolls around, they are just in awe of the sheer power and force of the one and only Godzilla. From a stunning segment of military men parachuting through the ravaged landscape of San Francisco in the midst of a massive creature battle to an ending that makes you get out of your seat and cheer, Godzilla is truly a product of a director who knows exactly what he’s doing and how to elicit precise emotional reactions from his audience. The future is incredibly bright for Gareth Edwards. Let the Spielberg comparisons commence.
- Monster Mayhem! – As I stated above, Gareth Edwards smartly makes the audience wait for a pay-off to the glimpses of Godzilla action they see throughout the first two acts. Truly taking a page from the Jaws playbook, the third act is when the bulk of the monster mayhem takes place, and boy does it ever deliver. The iconic roar. The devastatingly large presence. The atomic breath! The final battle between Godzilla and his (I’m not going to spoil it for you here) foe delivers everything you could hope for from a climactic monster movie battle, and even delivers a healthy dose of heart right along with it. This particular incarnation of Godzilla just so happens to be the biggest ever, standing a massive 350 feet tall. If you’re not in awe of his presence sitting in a darkened movie theater watching him on the big-screen, there may be no hope for you yet. Godzilla fully embraces the power of the movies.
- Ummm…Something I guess… – I’ll be honest with you, I have a hard time criticizing a film that delivered everything I could have hoped for in a classic monster movie. Sure, Aaron Taylor-Johnson isn’t the greatest actor, but his character doesn’t dictate that he should be. He is simply our guide through the story, our eyes and ears, and the pay-off for when he finally comes face-to-face with Godzilla is quite simply breathtaking. While I’ve heard many complaints about the over-reliance on the humans in this movie, I simply beg these very complainers to go take a look at all the other films that are a part of the Godzilla movie franchise. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Sometimes people want instant gratification, balls-to-the-wall action that makes you feel like you survived a war (or any Michael Bay movie) when you wander out of the darkened movie theater. Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is a movie smart enough to know that the wait is the fun part.
What else can I possibly say? Godzilla is everything I hoped it would be. It makes Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version look like one of the worst films ever made (it probably is anyway) and puts many of the blockbusters we’ve seen in recent years on notice. There’s a new kind of competition in town, one that relies on classic movie principles and the sheer power of a film image to take you to a place that you ache to go again. In other words, I’ll be seeing Godzilla in theaters for a second, and maybe even third viewing. King of the Monsters. Yeah, that sounds about right.