To celebrate the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong set for release this November, I’ve decided to take a look through the previous installments of Legendary’s Monsterverse series. So it would be remarkably short-sighted on my end to not review the film that gave the series the shot in the arm that the franchise desperately needed.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, Godzilla serves as a reboot of Toho’s long-running franchise centered around the cinema’s most iconic big green lizard. The narrative centers on a soldier (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) caught in the midst of the conflict of gigantic proportions between Godzilla and two parasitic monsters titled Mutos. All while he is trying to find his way home back to his family. The cast also includes other faces such as Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Bryan Cranston.
America has dabbled with the series before in the 1998 film of the same name. Releasing to a very harsh reception, the film’s main point was that the film misunderstood what made Godzilla so famous. From its goofy, oddball design to how the film portrays Godzilla as some big, dumb animal. Sixteen years with a new American Godzilla film, has the same mistakes been repeated twice now?
The answer, thankfully, is one big no. Edwards brings Godzilla back to his roots as an unstoppable force of nature. If it has a will, nobody is going to stand against him. To do so otherwise would show our ignorance in the false notion that we can control everything about nature when it’s the other way around, as the film says. Every time Godzilla is onscreen feels like some grand event that you can’t help but marvel at.
However, for some audiences, Godzilla’s actual screen time may come off as too little for a film named after him. And that I can completely understand. The film makes a rather ballsy move in taking a slow burn approach in its presentation of the monster. Some will love this. Others might end up demanding more action. Personally, for me, I’ve felt this approach turned out for the best as the film’s climax lets the big dinosaur loose to nonstop destructive glory. Those final twenty minutes are nothing short of jaw-dropping. It reaches the same level of awe and wonders normally associated with Steven Spielberg’s best blockbusters, such as Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park.
What does get a bit more screen time in the monster department is the Mutos themselves. While the designs might seem a bit simple, I’ve very much enjoyed their presence in this movie. If Godzilla really brings the god factor to movie monsters, then the Mutos provide a nice contrast. Their actions are not because of any real malice but simply out of the primal desire for self-preservation and spreading their genetic code to the next generation. They are those big dumb animals, and the film is much better for how it portrays its main antagonists.
If anything connects the monsters together, it’s that any scene with them is almost akin to a roller coaster ride. Edwards did an outstanding job of making the monsters feel so huge to us tiny humans. There are plenty of point-of-view shots throughout that truly capture the sensation one might be going through when standing next to a three hundred-foot-tall monster. However, the film also knows when to pull back the camera through dazzlingly wide shots that not only perfectly demonstrates the scale of these monsters, but their impact on the world around them, and to an extension, us humans as well. Everything that these monsters do feel so impactful. The mere act of Godzilla taking one simple step might as well be a brewing disaster waiting to happen.
Speaking of these humans, they’re, for the most part, function perfectly fine. The character writing isn’t particularly complex or insightful, but it does enough to make them functional as people. Akin to other films in the series, such as the original 1954 film and Shin Godzilla, the main goal of the narrative serves as a reminder to not reach over our limits in how when handling nature. With enough human drama to suffice, there is this constant sense of desperation within the characters. To understand what going on. Why these events are happening. Wanting to reunite with loved ones. And most importantly, finding a solution before we end up destroying ourselves.
I used to believe that Ford Brody isn’t the most charismatic lead out there. While I still somewhat stand with that position, Ford himself more or less works well as your average joe in a chaotic, unfamiliar situation. His motivation to find closure on his family history turned into the goal of reuniting with the family he still has left is believable. And the actions he chooses to take to succeed are perfectly in line with his background as a U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal officer. Still, as a character, Ford fits the bill of a character we can follow on this perilous adventure and see the chaos unfold as he sees it.
The real emotional heft of the story, though, and whose purpose is to ground the story on a human level comes from Cranston’s emotionally-driven performance as Ford’s father. As a man lost in questions and confusion on why tragedy befalls him, his turn is sincerely heartfelt and provides the narrative with the right amount of intrigue to draw the audience early on in the film. Almost on the same level of Cranston’s powerful work is Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishirō Serizawa. In a fun twist from the 1954 film in which Serizawa was hellbent on finding a way to kill Godzilla, this incarnation sees him as the planet’s only hope for survival in a time of crisis brought on by the Mutos. Working as the film’s moral compass, his character wisely reminds everyone that maybe the best course of action is to remember our place and let nature do the rest.
As alluded to early on in this review, 2014’s Godzilla brought the franchise back to its roots and gave it the jolt of energy that has been long since needed. Also, from the three films following it from the Monsterverse, its success encouraged Toho to make its own reboot in Shin Godzilla (Which is currently my favorite Godzilla film). By infusing human drama with the sheer spectacle, Gareth Edwards opened the door to tell new, exciting stories with these great, big monsters.