Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is the only Godzilla film I have ever seen, leaving me nothing to compare this new adaptation to whatsoever. My knowledge of Godzilla movies is similar to my knowledge on the Rocky sequels, none of which I’ve seen; I can tell you a number of the villains and some of the plot-points but nothing so much as a description as to why each film deserves to exist. What I can say is that the latest installment in the hulking monster’s filmography is a marginally successful spectacle of special effects and impending doom, featuring a great array of strong actors and slowburn action.
The story opens in Japan by showing two egg-shaped objects, one of which hatched and subsequently entering the sea. Nearby, a nuclear plant starts experiencing rapidly growing seismic activity, with the nuclear plant’s supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) running out of options as the plant eventually works its way into an all-out nuclear meltdown. In the midst of the meltdown, Joe’s wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) dies inside, and the entire area surrounding the nuclear plant is quarantined and labeled uninhabitable.
Fifteen years later, we acquaint with Joe’s older son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who is an explosive ordinance disposal officer in the Navy, living with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and kid. Ford and Joe reconnect in Japan, where Joe is hellbent on trying to label what caused the earthquake and the nuclear meltdown of Japan. As we know, there can only be one real explanation and that’s the presence of a gigantic, lizard monstrosity by the name of Godzilla.
For starters, as a non-Godzilla fan, there is a thought that has been racing through my mind for quite sometime. Traditionally, Godzilla films were characterized by their low budget special effects, cheesy acting, and sometimes hilariously bad plot-points. Isn’t cleaning it up to fit the standards of the populous defeating the purpose? Isn’t making the film exist on a larger, more polished scale, where action and special effects are all backed up by hundreds of millions of dollars kind of against the film’s original blueprints? That’s not saying that Godzilla immediately fails, but perhaps it’s just the shock of seeing once cheap, rather unremarkable material in terms of aesthetic and look all of a sudden get the extremely expensive upgrade.
Nonetheless, the film makes sure to at least have us spend some time with the human characters of the picture before Godzilla is even brought into the picture. We see ample amounts of Cranston and Taylor-Johnson – who gives Godzilla a run for his money in terms of how much screentime he is given – and writer Max Borenstein eases his way into introducing the monster. He may ease a bit too much, in fact, seeing as when we do get to see Godzilla, it’s still in glimpses fit for teaser trailers rather than the actual, feature-length product. While Borenstein pleasantly avoids overexposure of his titular character, he manages to keep him a tad too humble and limited, preventing larger, more thought-provoking ideas concerning the character to come through.
Aside from the slowburn writing, Gareth Edwards’ direction is easy to praise for one particular reason – he keeps things clear and easy to follow in terms of action. Given Godzilla’s size and ability, the film could’ve been a nonstop parade of special effects that captured nothing but the cold tendencies of action filmmaking. Edwards keeps things alive and stylistic, infusing long-shots and large-scale shots that encompass all the action, rather than extreme close-ups that do nothing other than confuse and disorient when edited together.
Godzilla also gets additional points for not immediately feeling like a project that exists for the sole purpose of setting up a sequel or a franchise. Films like The Amazing Spider-Man and Prometheus seem to have a difficult time living in the now and dealing with the present, and instead attempt to setup storylines and characters they’re not even sure are going to materialize and how. Godzilla manages to stay fixated on the current issues facing its characters rather than looking to set up its third and fourth sequel on its first run.
The film will likely appeal to the masses as a piece of rousing action and style; I have no idea what hardened Godzilla fans will make of it. There’s fun to be had in the form of style and slowburn drama, for one, and the excitement that comes from seeing Godzilla is something to marvel. As I stated, I was hoping for something to have a bit more fun with itself and utilize a more basic aesthetic. Despite being the grandfather of all monsters, there seems to be something rather interchangeable here. I fear that Godzilla is on track to getting the treatment many superheroes, beloved movie characters, and cartoon icons are already getting which is ubiquitous marketing and conventional setups in mainstream motion pictures.
NOTE: As of this writing, Godzilla is available to rent on multiple platforms.
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, and David Strathairn. Directed by: Gareth Edwards.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!