Do you hear that? That far off rumble is a mega-million dollar hit approaching, dripping with anticipation and assumed dead. Yes, Godzilla has been busy selling Snickers and Taco Bell for the past decade but the King of Monsters hasn’t had much screen time as of late – until now. Gareth Edwards’ take on Toho’s classic film creature comes at a time where big is the new norm and the only option is to up the ante. Godzilla is the very definition of a massive summer movie, with a scope unmatched by most. But in blowing things up to epic proportions, everything else (namely the human element) feels awfully small.
After a tragic nuclear accident 15 years earlier, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has moved on, living with his wife and son and working as a bomb diffuser for the military. But his nuclear scientist father, Joe (Bryan Cranston), is convinced the events of that fateful day were no accident. After investigating the nearby Japanese town, the pair discovers that something monstrous has been hidden. With this new creature wreaking havoc across the globe, humanity’s only hope may have arrived in the form of an ancient alpha male, recently awakened to show everyone who’s boss.
In bringing Godzilla back, Edwards plays coy for much of the film, saving the reveal of the big boy himself for much later. In place of showcasing early on, Godzilla plays up a strong sense of dread and unchecked disaster; unseen forces are revealed only after the terror of the unknown sinks in. The mood of Godzilla is key and the filmmakers have found just the right mix of dour and exciting to make a Godzilla flick that feels modern and classic.
Seeing the enormous beast in action on the appropriately large IMAX screen is a cinematic match made in heaven as Godzilla’s sheer force is totally realized. It’s everything surrounding this that keeps the movie from ascending.Godzilla is a monster movie that is viewed from the people on the ground. Problem is, the people on the ground are boring and joyless. Taylor-Johnson is mostly a cardboard catalyst for action and Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa and his associate (Sally Hawkins) are mainly there to look awestruck and give the necessary exposition. Only Cranston turns in truly charismatic work—despite being severely under utilized. Many characters are meant to be throwbacks to the original archetypes of the series, but they are archetypes and not much more. The lack of character is compensated well enough in the film’s first half, as Edwards’ slow-build approach and the desire for answers are in full swing. It’s only once the monsters start taking center stage that you begin to realize that the most uninteresting part is getting in the way.
Exciting as monster-on-monster beat downs may be (and they certainly have their charm here), the film has a frustrating rhythm that makes the final hour of the film feel monotonous: humans try to get something done in the midst of a monster attack. The idea itself may sound cool but without escalation and something special for each sequence, it all seems like it’s going through the motions.
The film pulls more than one bait and switch, just as the audience thinks it’s getting the goods and then has to wait longer. It’s an interesting tactic, but one that doesn’t pay off because of the underwhelming mixture of human and monster; more than once the unsatisfied feeling “is this it?” overtakes the viewer.
With a sequel already in motion, Godzilla has made a colossal comeback. It’s now apparent that the King of Monsters has found the right tone and scale to connect with audiences; the next major battle for this franchise will be finding good characters and blending them in the right way.