Earlier tonight I had the pleasure of seeing an advanced screening of Godzilla, the new motion picture from Legendary and Warner Brothers. The film has a lot going for it and certainly does a fine job of erasing the memory of the horribly maligned 1998 Tristar take on the character. While the marketing for that film was much better, this movie has managed to be a bit deceptive in it’s marketing because it’s not nearly as visceral as the advertisements would have you believe. Godzilla the movie isn’t so much about the creature itself and it’s certainly not the “Gojira” remake that some of the promos seem to make it out to be.
Instead, Godzilla is largely a paint-by-numbers “Godzilla movie”, following the basic formula of a dozen or so other entries in the series. Of course, this time it’s with a bunch of Americans in the central roles and no invaders from Planet X, but you get the idea. Even the scenes in Tokyo, seem to be filled with more English speaking actors than not. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just very much catering to a Western audience.
Without going into specific plot points, it’s fair to say that Godzilla has to tangle with another monster, as has become a hallmark of the franchise. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where Godzilla doesn’t quite deliver as strongly as it should. The problem with this Godzilla movie is pretty much the same problem that every Godzilla movie has had… Not enough monster fighting.
The difference between this entry and other efforts, is that the monster fight potential here is huge but it’s largely squandered. We see lots of aftermath, but very little of the battles themselves. And for as much as the destruction is evident, we never really get that beauty shot of city smashing. At times it almost seems like Godzilla is a ninja, stealthy appearing out of nowhere, despite his increased size in this film. This is one shortcoming from director Gareth Edwards, who at times slavishly recreates the classic Godzilla style, but omits a few key parts that leave you feeling a bit like your prom date skipped out before the hotel.
The most heinous offense is when Edwards forgets to include the first monster skirmish about 40 minutes into the film to hold audiences over. Typically this sets up the climatic final battle, but here we’re teased with a first battle, only to have the film cut away to much less interesting human subplot. Sadly, this as with most of the films in this genre, is a bit of a letdown. He then repeats this a few times over.
Bryan Cranston puts in a pretty strong performance, but despite all the advertising, he’s not the main character of the film. The main family that becomes the focus of the film couldn’t be more uninteresting if they tried. On the plus side, at least it’s not Channing Tatum in the “hero” role. Ken Watanabe also does a fine job, but he’s given absolutely nothing to work with. It’s a shame, because his character could almost be interesting, but instead he’s mostly there to try and give the film a “message” and explain perfunctory dialogue.
Edwards shows his inexperience as a director by repeatedly reusing several transitions and scene shifts, to just under the point where it hurts the film. No one in my theater got upset, but you could definitely get the vibe that if it happened a time or two more, people were going to revolt. There’s a great sense of bait and switch, through the film, whether it’s monster fights, character switches or false heroics.
This film just doesn’t spend enough time on Godzilla. Not just the fact that he doesn’t log a lot of screen time, but he’s sort of an afterthought for most of the film. In fact, there’s a time or two where one can’t almost help feel sympathetic for the enemy monsters, more so than Big G Money himself. We’re told that we should root for Godzilla, but the film doesn’t ever really give us much reason to.
The score is pretty bland too and a few notes of Akira Ifukube’s themes would have been fantastic in there somewhere. We do get one brief nod in a military accompaniment, but it’s nothing substantial. The lack of any memorable themes detracts from most of the action. In addition, Toho is oddly absent almost everywhere in the film. There’s no Toho logos and while it is mentioned in the credits, it doesn’t get the Marvel or DC treatment at all. It is nice to see Edwards sprinkle a few little nods to other Godzilla characters, such as a Mothra Easter egg and other tidbits, but they’re not particularly fun or inventive.
All told, the creatures are interesting, the fights are decent, but perhaps in many ways this film suffers because Pacific Rim was able to give us so much more in terms of Kaiju battle. The last act of Godzilla should have been balls to the wall, to make up for the somewhat uneven pacing of the rest of the film, but instead the final battle is fun but not mind blowing. Despite all these grumbles about the film, it’s a fairly solid entry overall and definitely a thumbs up from this Godzilla fan. Godzilla doesn’t break any boundaries or set any new goals within the genre, but it does show that Americans are capable of making a decent Godzilla movie.
Couple of notes if you’re thinking about seeing this film in 3D… Don’t. There’s no 3D moments in the film whatsoever. When I saw 300: Rise of an Empire, they couldn’t stop throwing stuff at the screen, but here it’s sadly missed. Likewise, there’s nothing after the credits. Given that the film just sort of ends, you really want to sit there and hope that we get a tease for something more, but there’s nothing. That too is another annoying but forgivable mistake.
Overall I’d still say it’s definitely worth seeing. There’s nothing substantially wrong with this movie, but it has room for improvement. We can just hope that the box office does good enough that they stretch their creativity and push the limits a bit more in the sequels.