The king of the monsters. The most famous Kaiju of all. Let’s break this reboot down.
“Let them fight.” I remember feeling a great deal anticipation for the reboot of Godzilla. I was a fan of director Gareth Edwards’ previous work on the film Monsters, (which acted as sort of a primer for Godzilla) I loved everything about Godzilla as kid, and it starred Bryan Cranston. I walked out of the theater liking the film. The only problem is, I expected to love the film, but that didn’t happen for a multitude of reasons. After my initial viewing, I never revisited the film. Since it is Kaiju week here at The Movie Cafe I figured now would be as good a time as any to go back for a re-watch, and find out if absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
While on my repeat viewing I still didn’t fall in love with the movie, I did enjoy it more the second time. The film’s flaws didn’t detract as much, and I was able to focus much more on the strengths of Godzilla.
Speaking of flaws, Godzilla’s biggest issue is still it’s writing. The film advertised Bryan Cranston’s character as the main protagonist, when in actuality he is killed off within the first act of the film. This was so unfortunate, Cranston’s character was arguably the most interesting character in the whole film, but he quickly is replaced by his dull military son Ford Brody (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) as the main focus. Ford Brody (this is possibly the most American name ever) is just a much more boring protagonist than Cranston’s character. When watching Cranston’s scenes I was thoroughly engaged with his character, where as whenever Ford was on screen I was more just eagerly waiting for either Godzilla or the MUTOs to show up. I was never able to form a connection with Ford or his struggles, much to the film’s detriment. Unfortunately the majority of the film is focused on Ford. His character is more of just a lens to view the monsters, as his job description is more of an excuse to follow the action than it has an actual purpose in the plot. He’s an explosive ordnance disposal technician, but doesn’t diffuse ONE bomb in the movie. It just feels like lazy writing.
The only other really interesting character is Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (portrayed by Ken Watanabe) although this due more in part to Watanabe’s performance than it is the writing. His character is pretty one note, as it mainly consists of him delivering exposition and staring wide eyed at Godzilla, but Watanabe plays with him with such charisma that is character is delightfully cheesy. He also gets to deliver the best line in the entire film: “Let them fight!”
The film does get a lot of stuff right however. Godzilla takes a few pages out of Cloverfield’s book, portraying the monsters in the film mainly from a human perspective rather than epic sweeping shots showing them off in their full glory. It’s human perspective is less literal than Cloverfield’s handicam style, but it helps to personify Godzilla and the MUTOs as the titans they are.
Director Gareth Edwards showcases something that is noticeably absent in a large number of summer blockbuster films: restraint. Edwards is masterful at building tension and suspense with Godzilla, and is sure not too “blow his wad” too early in the movie. Godzilla doesn’t even show up in the film until about halfway through, and even then you don’t get a clear look at him until the final act. This helps to emphasize every one of Godzilla’s appearances, so when he is on screen it has a greater impact.
This restraint is further shown in the fights between Godzilla and the MUTOs. Their first fight in Hawaii occurs of screen for the most part, as only glimpses are seen through windows or news broadcasts. Their is an underlying theme of human insignificance compared to these beasts throughout the film, and I think this fight scene really highlights that.
Its this self control of Edwards that gives this film moments of pure beauty in terms of cinematography. One in particular that stands out is the HALO jump. Its so visually striking to see a squad of marines sailing through the air next to the colossal Godzilla, paired with a haunting score makes for one of the best scenes in the entire film. Its sequences like this that really make me appreciate Edwards directorial style he brought to the film. There are just so many unique things he does in Godzilla that aren’t really found in other comparable blockbusters, and I think he deserves high praise for that.
I love the way Edwards portrayed Godzilla in the film. He isn’t a villain like in the original Japanese film, or a heroic monster has he eventually came to be known as. Godzilla is a force of nature throughout the film, who’s sole purpose is restore balance, by whatever means necessary. Balance in this case means punching MUTOs enough times in the face until they are no more. While the audience is obviously rooting for Godzilla, his presence is never really celebrated in the film. Whenever Godzilla fights with the MUTOs, he leaves a lot of destruction in his wake. You’re excited whenever Godzilla pops up, but fearful for the characters in the film because you know what he is capable of, which is the best possible direction a Godzilla film could have taken.
I really enjoyed the design of the MUTOs. They are these unique almost insectoid monsters that actually feed on radiation. Its so comic book-y and something that feels like it was ripped straight out of a classic kaiju film that it just works. Their tag team fighting style is dynamic and interesting, and makes for brilliant action scenes with Godzilla. Edwards is even able to make these monsters some what sympathetic near the end of the film. The MUTO’s goal is to reproduce, and there are scenes that show the couple of monsters reuniting and acting affectionate towards one another, as Edwards channels his previous work on Monsters. This could have been really cheesy but Edwards pulls it off, and when the MUTO’s little baby monsters are burned to death by Ford, actual sympathy is felt for the MUTOs as they let out a series of screeches and whimpers.
The final act, unsurprisingly, is the strongest act of the film. It shifts its main focus to the fight between Godzilla and the MUTOs, and this is where Edwards lets loose and goes all out on the kaiju action. While still shot from human vantage points for the most part, the action is much more clearly seen and it fully embraces the monster movie genre. The scene which finds Ford stuck in the middle of Godzilla and the MUTOs as roar at one another is pretty thrilling. I actually got chills hearing Godzilla’s iconic roar, and it just made for an amazing moment.
Still doesn’t live up to some of the classic fight scenes however:
In all seriousness, I have to admit that once Godzilla’s tail began to glow as he unleashed his atomic breath on the MUTOs, the inner child in me jumped up and down in excitement. This is where Edwards restraint really pays off. Saving this ability until the climax off the film helps make for a seemingly iconic death, as Godzilla forces open a MUTOs mouth and shoots freaking atomic fire down its throat. Its so ridiculous and just so…Godzilla that is worth all the tension that had been building throughout the movie.
Overall, Godzilla is an uneven but really entertaining experience. I could not have cared less about the human characters in the film, but Edwards got everything right about Godzilla himself. This film is worth a watch just for the Kaiju scenes honestly, and hopefully Edwards is able to rectify the dull human elements of this film in future sequels. This is a decent start for Legendary’s Godzilla cinematic universe, and I’m looking forward to see where they take the franchise.