Is it wrong that I hope Godzooky makes it into the sequel?

Nuclear engineer Joe Brody has always known that the meltdown that killed his wife was no mere natural disaster and he has spent the last 15 years of his life trying to prove that the government is hiding something from him and the world. When all signs begin pointing to a reoccurrence of those same events, giant monsters are unleashed and Joe’s son must somehow fight his way back to his own family.

Firstly, I should point out that the rumors are true. Director Gareth Edwards is seemingly pretty stingy about making with the Godzilla footage during the first two thirds of the film. It’s a pretty risky move to withhold the big guy for such a large portion of the movie, but it absolutely pays off in spades. For the majority of the time, the attention is squarely on the human drama and the over-arching themes that have long been such an important part of the Godzilla mythos.

Directed by
Gareth Edwards
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
Release Date
16 May 2014
Jason’s Grade: A-

Rebooting a franchise like this was always going to present a conundrum.  The “man-in-rubber-suit” purists don’t want to see a CGI representation of Godzilla, but at the same time, modern technology dictates that it’s tough to go backwards in the special effects department without coming across cheesy and insincere.  Edwards, however, seems to have found a perfect balance.  The monster designs look fantastic, and when they move, particularly while fighting, they are a mix between old-school rubber suit limitations, sleek technology, and even a touch of animals fighting in nature.  The brawls are generally clumsy and imperfect, as they should be.

The effects of nuclear warfare that so concerned many of Godzilla’s earliest adventures are certainly touched upon here, but the biggest theme running through the film seems to be another of his longest-running allegories – that of the monsters as Gods.  Godzilla is protecting humanity from a threat even greater than the one that he is capable of providing.  Because the majority of the monster fight sequences are caught in peripheral glances as we watch the humans scramble on the ground (and, in the air),  it’s a constant reminder that the existence of a God (not God) is predicated on its relationship to the very humanity that it lords over.  We care about a battle between Gods because it’s mostly presented from the perspective of the very stakes they are fighting over.  There’s even a fleeting moment where Godzilla and our lead character each stop for a breather, seemingly mirroring each other in both their exhaustion and in their acceptance of the need for one another to exist and continue to do so.  It’s a bit goofy, but kinda beautiful at the same time.

Again, however, the fact that the monster action is very rarely front and center could be an issue for some.  Even during their most epic moments of battle, Godzilla and his foes are mostly seen in quick glimpses from the human character’s point of view.  By holding back, Edwards ensures that our own inner tension builds up so intensely that when we finally are fed full visions of the beasts in action, we are just short of exploding.  When we finally get that giant roar we’ve been dying for, it is absolutely epic.  And, when the first appearance of one of Godzilla’s other abilities (which I won’t spoil) is made, audiences cannot help but to cheer (I didn’t even realize I had joined in the clapping until 14 claps in).  This holdback also ensures that we never tire of the effects early and that the film is constantly in a forward motion.  The ease of creating the illusion of monster fights in modern film requires that mere city destruction is no longer enough.  There’s always been a sad irony to both the character and the story of Godzilla, and that carries over well here.

We’re also treated to quite a bit of great nods to the original (and later) films in the series.  An excellent old-school opening credits sequence with text appearing and then being covered up quickly, leaving only the cast and crew will ensure that you’ll have fun with the pause button once the film hits home video.  An early scene in the nuclear plant emulates similar scenes from past efforts and uses the film’s excellent score to remind why we fell in love with these films in the first place.  Fans will also be enamored of several overhead shots of military vessels travelling directly alongside a swimming Godzilla.  The filmmakers hold the original films in high regard, and it shows as there is nothing soulless about their take.  There is also a great gag that not only provides a solid laugh, but also nostalgia for those of us who grew up watching Godzilla flicks on television.  Heck, even the use of “Godzilla” as a name proper several times in the film, as formalities are dispensed, makes us giddy.

Individual scenes are generally kept quick and to the point, meaning that the thrust is constantly propelled, but it’s occasionally at the expense of character development.  We’re not always engaged in the plight of our lead characters, so much as we end up caring simply because they are human beings in the midst of a giant monster attack.  But, the mere fact that we’re able to bring up flaws in character development in a summer blockbuster film is a rare treat that gives it some context in a crowded field of upcoming mindless flicks.  It points to the loftier, artsy goals at play here.

On the acting front, Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe fare the best as an engineer turned (rightfully so) conspiracy theorist and a scientist with a special investment in Godzilla, respectively.  They both lend gravitas and Watanabe’s character is a nice homage to the reverence that Japanese culture gives to the natural side of these giant monsters.  The women, however, don’t come out so successfully.  Through no particular fault of their own, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, and Juliette Binoche are relegated to mere secondary (at best) characters, often seemingly only around to provide plot points.  It’s a shame as they all perform well, but just aren’t given much to perform with.  Unfortunately, the worst performance is given by the actor we also spend the most time with.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson (as Ford Brody, either the best or worst-named character in recent film history) acts as our surrogate through the majority of the running time and his odd choice to underplay things doesn’t achieve the assumed intended effect of subtlety so much as it does blandness.  Luckily, he still carries likability and it doesn’t have too much of an effect on the film as a whole.


As mentioned, the effects, score, and direction are all aces, and the script, minus the occasional lag, is largely clever.  Having the very thing that audiences are showing up to see (monsters fighting) be largely a side story to the overall big picture required more bravery than most directors would have had.  Who would have guessed that restraint would have been the best thing about a movie involving Godzilla, but Gareth Edwards delivers an absolute knockout of a film that will be hard to beat as we are peppered with tentpole after tentpole this summer.

Review by Lead Film Critic/Writer, Jason Howard