I have been excited about this movie ever since the idea of its very existence immerged oh so many years ago now. I am a big monster movie guy, watching just about everything out there (ok except the ScFy and Asylum stuff as it’s important to have limits) and usually finding something to enjoy out of even the worst offerings the sub-genre has to offer. Of course being a fan of these movies isn’t easy these days as outside of the aforementioned “Big Ass Shark vs Giant Fucking Spider Monkey” movies, nobody is really trying to make an actual quality monster flick anymore. It’s been a long while since Cloverfield and of course I enjoyed last year’s Pacific Rim quite a bit, but pickings have still been quite slim. That’s why this one was such a big deal for me as the concept of getting a new Godzilla movie where the filmmakers actually tried to stay true to the classics was insane. I tried not to let my expectations get too nuts but I couldn’t help it and I sat down in the theatre with sky high expectations.
I’m certainly not going to sit here and say it was a perfect movie, but holy shit did I ever walk away from this one happy.
So the story for this one is that Bryan Cranston loses his wife in the opening scene and is convinced that there is a conspiracy at work here. His son joins him to find out what the government is trying to cover up and then some monsters happen and then a Godzilla happens. I mean yeah there’s more going on than that but those should be the most crucial details right there.
One of the biggest criticisms being lobbied at this movie is that the human characters, who do receive a lot of the primary focus, are not all that interesting and I can’t entirely disagree with that. Cranston is easily the highlight and I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler to say that he isn’t in the movie nearly as much as you want him to be. You spend the most time with his son Ford, played by Aaron Tyler-Johnson. I know Johnson is a solid actor as I enjoyed him in the Kick-Ass movies but here he is just bland, though that could have something to do with his underwritten character as well. There’s no real arc for him and he honestly doesn’t have much of a personality, just a military guy who wants to do military stuff and I think maybe half cries in one scene. His wife, played by Elizabeth Olsen (which I just realized is a little odd as the two of them will be playing brother and sister in the Avengers: Age of Ultron) is also a severely underwritten character, though I would say she at least fares better with the material than Johnson. So for the most part, I do have to kind of side with the critics on this one, though I don’t feel its as detrimental to the movie as many others do.
However the other biggest criticism, and the one that has been thrown around constantly since its release, is that there is not enough action, not enough monsters, and not enough Godzilla. This one I do not side with the critics on at all. Does it take about an hour before Godzilla makes his first appearance? Yes. Are there still monster sequences before that? Yes, his opponents, the MUTOS, feature quite heavily during that time and while they may not be the most unique monsters visually (they bear more than a passing resemblance to the one from Cloverfield), these sequences are still a great deal of fun and exceptionally well put together. Could the movie have used more Godzilla? Sure I guess there is always room for a little more Godzilla but I’m absolutely happy with the amount we got.
People are upset that director Gareth Edwards teases Godzilla before giving you the full reveal. You catch a glimpse here and there and then even when you see him in his full glory, it cuts before you actually see him get down to any fighting. Many people seem to absolutely despise this approach as yes it’s what Edwards did on his previous movie, the miniscule budgeted Monsters, but here he had a huge budget to work with so why not show as much Godzilla as you can. Personally I thought this approach worked wonderfully. These fleeting glimpses only heightened my anticipation so when you finally get to the big fight in the last half hour, it feels that much more satisfying and holy lord is that final fight ever satisfying. If the movie had consisted almost entirely of Godzilla fights it would have become exhausting and meaningless. You know what it would be then – a fucking Transformers movie. I personally would become numb after a certain point and that final chunk of the movie would hardly even be exciting if you’d already seen a bunch of fighting prior to that. Plus let’s face it; Godzilla is fairly limited in how he fights so I can’t imagine how much variety they really could have brought to each battle. Sure the MUTOs may get more screen time, but for me it made the time we got to spend with Godzilla that much more special.
You know, I thought my review was done but there’s one thing I want to touch on real quick here so I’m going back to add in this paragraph. Of course as most people familiar with the old movies know, a minimal amount of screen time for Godzilla is not only common but it’s really the norm. This has been pointed out when people complain about the lack of Godzilla in this movie and a very common retort I’ve seen is some variation on “Well those movies are old! Audiences now don’t have the patience to wait and it’s unreasonable to expect it. Things have to move quick or we get bored!” If that’s really the case then movies are doomed aren’t they? I mean to me this reads as “Look, stop making smart movies that gives the audience a shred of credit ok?! We don’t want that! Make movies dumber please!” I’ve read interviews with Edwards saying he didn’t want to overdo it with the monster shots as people would get fatigued and he trusts in the audience to be patient and not just want monsters banging against each other for 2 hours. So it’s a little disheartening to see that same audience yelling “Well maybe you shouldn’t have given us credit! More explosions! NOW!” The idea that people walked away from this saying “Well that was fucking boring” is more than a little scary to me. Anyway, end of rant, back to the review as though this never happened!
Even outside of that amazing final half hour there is plenty of terrific set piece sequences and anyone who says the movie has no action either was facing backwards or spent 60% of the movie in the bathroom. There are a number of highlights; from an early suspense sequence on a monorail, to a full out war on the Golden Gate Bridge, and of course everything from the HALO jump onwards ranks as some of the most entertaining cinema I have seen in recent years. These are all well-crafted sequences that really highlight the insane scope of this movie.
I should expand on that a little further and stress just how large the scope of this movie really is. Yes that is to be expected in a giant monster movie but everything just feels so grand and much of that has to do with the way the film is shot. It features a great use of perspective as often we are put in the view point of the human characters looking up at the beasts and chaos that surround them. Having the camera circling around Godzilla just doesn’t seem as effective as keeping it down on the ground so we see how things look from the point of view of say, a school bus driver desperately trying to flee the destruction. I always felt like what I was watching was epic and huge and grand and any other number of synonyms for big.
So yeah, despite some admittedly weak human characters I absolutely loved this movie and am once again very thankful that in 2014 we can still get quality monster flicks that treat their material with respect. This really does feel like a true entry in the series and it’s a little amazing that we essentially have a classic Godzilla movie with a $160 budget. It obliterates the memory of the 1998 Roland Emmerich version and restores the franchise to the glorious position it deserves. The King of the Monsters is back my friends!