It has been 60 years since the first Godzilla movie was released. A black and white, man-in-a-rubber-suit, borderline propaganda film, the original Godzilla may not hold up to today’s standards but it gave us one of the most recognizable characters in cinema history.
Dozens of films later, the radioactive reptile has finally returned to the big screen in an adaptation that matches his size. What director Gareth Edwards has brought to this movie cannot be understated as this is the most proper movie to bare the Godzilla name in years (we wont talk about the 1998 film).
WARNING: There will be spoilers moving forward. WARNING
Going in the film I expected a disaster movie/monster beat-up film with the budget of Legendary Pictures at their disposal to make a great “popcorn” movie -- as in a film that is nice to look at and nothing else. I was pleasantly surprised that the movie is not necessarily centered around Godzilla -- wait don’t leave yet -- but around the Brody family, who we first meet in 1999 Japan. Bryan Cranston plays Joe Brody, an American engineer stationed at a Japanese power plant when an “earthquake” destroys the plant, killing his wife (Juliette Binoche) in the process. Years later, Cranston believes something else created those earthquakes and vows to find out. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays Cranston’s son, Ford, has grown up to be a bomb defuser in the navy. He has formed a family of his own with Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their son. He just returns to their California home from a tour when he gets a call about his father being arrested in Japan. He bails him out when Cranston explains to Johnson about his theories. They explore their old town and increasingly find out that Cranston may not be as crazy as we first thought.
Cranston delivers a powerful performance. First as an unintentional absent father who is caught up in his work to the loving husband and someone who would risk his life for his family. Now this is when the movie gets interesting. About 90 minutes into the movie, Cranston dies in an accident when they discover the monster, MUTO being held at the plant where he once worked. Considering the amount of play his voice and likeness is used in the trailers and promotional material, the movie shifts to focus on Johnson whose goal is to get back to his family in California before the MUTO does. It’s a very jarring shift that made me feel anything can happen in the movie from here on out. It also signified that Gareth trusted the story that Cranston’s star wasn’t needed. And he was absolutely correct.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson -- best known for his role in “Kick-Ass” -- takes the lead role in the film and he perfectly showcases his natural ability to become someone we all know. It’s because of this relatability that makes his fears and goals feel genuine. He joins the military offering to stop the MUTO so he can get to his family but by the end he figures the only way to make sure his family is safe is to do anything to stop the monsters. Johnson -- like many of the military in the film -- have moments of stiffness, especially when faced with monster. None of their prior training could have prepared them for something like that, right? But that’s just a nitpick.
Elizabeth Olsen plays Johnson’s wife and a city nurse. She gets ample screen time in the confines of the movie, but not enough with Johnson himself. It’s a shame considering their chemistry was very good and made you root for them to get back together. Olsen’s acting was great in conveying how much she loves her husband and that’s what was needed considering how the movie lacks more scenes with the two.
Ken Watanabe brought a sense of grandeur with his performance. However, I felt his character as Doctor Serizawa was mainly there for exposition -- like his explanation of the origin of the creatures. But when he was on screen he demanded your attention and was a great connection to Godzilla’s japanese roots.
With all that said, how can i forget about the titular character, Godzilla? The king of the monsters got an updated look that combines the style of the original Toho versions and makes it more realistic -- well, as realistic as a prehistoric lizard can be. The CGI was great and you could believe these creatures exist. I would have liked some more screen time for the big fella but for his ‘origin’ story it was a good balance. Besides, that made the times he does show up that more special and there are always room for more screen time in the sequel.
It’s the humanity in the midst of dueling monsters that brings the film to another level. Director Gareth Edwards could have just played the movie straight and had monsters fighting each other and the army. But the story called for one part humanity as shown with the couple trying to get back to each other and one part life lesson on how man has “tarnished” nature. The eco-friendly message isn’t hammered into the audience’s psyche throughout the film but it is there. And credit Gareth and his filmmaking/storytelling abilities to give a perfectly paced movie that everyone can enjoy. He used this patient pacing and unique vision to create a tense-filled experience that I haven’t experienced since the first “Jurrasic Park” movie. The film goes from mystery/sci-fi thriller to a raucous monster mash finish that will have you cheering. The bridge scene and Halo jump are just a couple of moments that had me on the edge of my seat and will do the same to all audiences.
Overall, this is the Godzilla film everyone wanted and waited for. This movie was brilliantly paced with a great story and acting up to par to finally roar in the beginning of the summer movie season. GO SEE IT!
"Godzilla" releases in theaters May 16.