Genre: Drama, Action and Adventure, Science Fiction
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston
Release Date: May 16th, 2014
Godzilla commits one of the cardinal sins of monster movies: it’s boring.
After an early riveting sequence featuring the great Bryan Cranston (as Joe Brody) facing a Japanese nuclear plant on the verge of a meltdown, generic the special effects-laden drama quickly loses its gravitas and gets lost in an abyss of cheesy clichés and obvious nods to far superior films.
Like classic motion pictures of the past, Godzilla himself isn’t seen until later in the picture. The anticipation slowly builds until his arrival onscreen but whereas features like Jaws mixed growing anticipation in with strong characters, this monster movie settles for much less. Cranston’s character, however, stands high above the others and one can see the remaining facets of Walter White in his growing paranoia.
“You have no idea what’s coming,” he says at one point, something that White could have said in the early seasons of Breaking Bad before that character became “the one who knocks.”
Fifteen years have passed since the tragic events at the nuclear plant but Joe is still feeling the effects of that pain and spends his days conjuring up conspiracy theories about what really caused the meltdown. His family has long since moved past the accident and his son– now in his twenties– has moved to the United States, gotten married and had a son of his own. When Joe finds himself in legal trouble though, his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) returns to Japan and the two seek to uncover the real source of the nuclear accident.
The reasoning behind the accident isn’t as obvious as it seems and screenwriter Max Borenstein deserves some credit for not directly implicating Godzilla in that attack. Instead, there’s a whole run-around back story that eventually sets up the introduction of the famous Japanese monster.
The script, however, ultimately falls flat in making this picture stand out against his worthy predecessors. One can easily see the references to “monster movies” such as Jaws and Jurassic Park but these nods feel more like clichés than odes to what came beforehand. When Ford meets a young child on an airport transit, one can easily know that eventually that child will get into trouble and Ford will be responsible for rescuing him. It’s as if a child has to be endangered in movies like this during every major attack and for many of them here, one is (even to the point of absurdity).
Director Gareth Edwards does a solid job directing this feature, and his prowess can be especially noticed in the last action sequence where the humans versus Godzilla is negated to make way for a much greater battle scene. Unfortunately, Borenstein’s script (with the story credit from Dave Callaham) leaves a lot to be desired as the characters and the actors that we care especially about (Cranston and Ford’s wife Elle who is played by a well-chosen Elisabeth Olsen) are brought to the sidelines to make room for Ford’s main story.
It’s unfortunate that a feature with such a solid cast and strong direction has been undermined by the lackluster script behind it. It’s hard to love a feature that relies on so many clichés (kids in danger, nonplussed people in the foreground while a monster rages in the background, monsters that inevitably endanger members of one family despite that family’s geographical diversity—Jaws 4 anyone?)
Godzilla could’ve been one of the year’s best action films that combines intelligence with grand special effects. Instead, it’s quite boring. Not even the people in the foreground could’ve seen that coming.
(Editor’s Note: The word “sins” was misspelled in an earlier draft of this piece. Thanks, Terry Wayne Kerbes for the correction.)
Review by: John Hanlon