Kaiju alert! Send in Gipsy Dan- oh wait…wrong movie. Goddamn it.
So, sixteen years after the aborted fetus that was Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, we are treated to a new incarnation of the titular monster, with relative newcomer Gareth Edwards taking the helm. For those not familiar with Edwards’ style, his first movie, Monsters, was a post-apocalyptic movie that featured large aliens but was more slanted towards the human side of the conflict. Godzilla is no different, for this movie focuses more on the humans than it does the actual monster.
If you think about it, this is actually rather clever, for so many movies that feature destruction porn tend to understate the characters on the screen to the extent that we do not care what happens to them. Here, they are allowed plenty of room to breath and develop and thus we are more invested in the plot. It might come as a shock to those expecting a monster thrash-down but you have to appreciate the different tone Edwards attempted here. You have to think of it not as a monster movie, but as a drama in which monsters pop up sparingly.
The overall plot is simple but if you just watched the trailers without delving deeper into interviews, you wouldn’t be able to guess where this movie was going (and that’s a good thing). Basically, a monster named Muto shows up from a contaminated site in Japan and starts wrecking havoc all over the Pacific. Humans unsuccessfully try to stop it until the apex predator, Godzilla, finally arrives and squares off against Muto in a final showdown in San Francisco.
The story is smartly told here. The reasoning for several character actions are well explained and justified. The military is not incompetent of their own actions, merely by the fact that they are conventionally unable to defeat these monsters. The visuals are fantastic, I must say. The camerawork and cinematography give a realistic edge to this whole picture and it makes the whole thing seem less fanciful and more like a documentary.
The cast is also well rounded and does a solid job here. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) does good work with his role. He may not be the best actor in the world and to some, he might come across as quite stiff but you do have to take into account that he’s portraying a military man and his underacting actually helps sell the character. Elizabeth Olsen (Mary-Kate and Ashley’s less known, more responsible sister) plays Johnson’s wife and the script makes sure that she is given ample time in this flick to sell to the audience who she really is as a character. Bryan Cranston appears in the film for the first 45 minutes and manages to steal every scene that he’s in. Quite a shame, really, he should have been in the film more. And for all you Last Samurai fans out there, Ken Wantanabe has a great turn as a scientist and Wantanabe’s acting is pitch perfect, as always.
But the real hero of this film is Godzilla, even if he only shows up for two scenes. This film, unlike the ’98 version, portrays Godzilla as he was always supposed to be: an anti-hero. Godzilla’s main purpose was to fight similarly sized monsters while causing damage to the human populace, that’s the heart and soul of these movies. Unfortunately, many scenes showing conflict between these giant entities are cut off in the middle, showcasing the aftermath immediately after. It’s as if the film didn’t want to show you anything more until the final conflict. It’s enraging at first but it pays off handily in the end.
In the final battle, we get to see the monster we know and love let loose his iconic (and updated) roar, which sounds completely terrifying (the sound in this movie is goddamn fantastic). Godzilla has weight in his movements, we feel every impact he makes with his body against a monster, a building, so forth. Unlike Man of Steel, in which buildings were made of paper, there is a sense of weight and mass as these things crumble under the onslaught. I’m not going to say any more lest it gets too spoilery but my mouth hit the floor several times during this final sequence…and that doesn’t usually happen often.
For soundtrack fans out there, Alexandre Desplat’s (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Zero Dark Thirty) score is quite a revelation. For someone who has never scored a film of this magnitude, his results have been perfunctory in his execution. It has the typical Deplat subtlety but he does let loose with the orchestra, giving Godzilla a dominating main theme that the giant lizard deserves. The quiet moments also work wonders as the score is never overbearing in its presence and is perhaps the man’s finest effort to date. (Favorite cue: “Godzilla’s Victory”)
Like I said before, do not go into this movie expecting a wash of explosions and CGI mayhem a la Pacific Rim, but expect a more restrained and analytical approach to your typical monster movie. It strays from cliche and it pays off handsomely in its serious tone and air of realism throughout. You may be begging for a huge fight near the end but once that battle culminates, you will be glad that you stayed in your seat.
Would I watch it again? You’re damn right!
Final score: 85/100