The King of the Monsters made his triumphant return in Gareth Edwards’ reboot of the 1954 classic Godzilla this past weekend. It is common in contemporary films to take a historical event and rewrite it with the participation of the characters from a given movie. We have seen this in films from X-Men: First Class‘ Cuban missile crisis “explanation,” to the Transformers being the true reason for our moon exploration in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Edwards uses the same troupe in this film, however he adds another well-thought out layer. He not only uses real life history but also includes the “history” of the original 1954 Godzilla film in a clever opening sequence, where government files are erased and a nuclear bomb is detonated. The nuclear testing in the 50’s was actually an attempt to kill Godzilla, this simple opening sets the tone for what is to come.
The first half of the film is carried by story and some impressive acting, particularly by Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad). His performance grounds the first half of the film. He plays a nuclear engineer who is the first to notice the unusual readings that will ultimately doom multiple cities. For years he searches for the truth and is believed to be a nutcase by everyone, including his military son played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), who is always in the right place at the wrong time. Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy) plays Taylor-Johnson’s wife and is given little to do in the film unfortunately. The scale of the story is truly epic, as the story darts around the Philippines, Japan, San Francisco and Las Vegas just to name a few locations. However Edwards establishes that this is not really any one character’s story in one of the film’s establishing shots. A wide shot of vast quarry where there are slaves mining, establishes that the humans are as small and insignificant as ants in this tale. This metaphor carries over to Godzilla and his nemesis, MUTO. They seem to almost overlook the tiny “bugs” or humans around them. However to the human characters, these monsters are uncontrollable, true forces of nature.
The film actually works on three levels. There is the human character drama, the action-adventure and finally there is the drama being played out between the actual monsters. The film switches perspective and tone a few times throughout the movie. This may be a reason for some mixed reaction to the film. For some there may not be enough monsters at the beginning. For others, they may have gotten wrapped up in the character development that starts the film and ends abruptly for a chase-the-monster motif. Its probably safe to say that everyone going in is expecting some Godzilla action. While he is scarcely seen at the first half, Edwards effectively teases the audience with ground-level perspective of the creature and substituting news footage for the actual fight. Not until Godzilla is fully revealed midway through, does it deliver on the monster-on-monster combat. And it is safe to say that the spectacle is exhilarating.
The look of the film is truly breathtaking as the production design and special effects blend seamlessly. While the character design of his nemesis MUTO, leaves a lot to be desired, Godzilla’s new modern look works and you truly feel his presence. In addition, the creators were successful in injecting Godzilla with a sense of personality and purpose which gets the audience on his side. This is actually one of the rare movies that really should be seen and heard in IMAX 3D.
Overall this is a successful return to the big screen. While certainly not a perfect film, it is well thought out and a small notch above of the standard summer movie spectacles we have grown used to. Come for Cranston and stay for King of Monsters. It is a bone shaking experience.
Now let out your best Godzilla roar!