After an unsuccessful attempt with Matthew Broderick in 1998, The King of Monsters returns, but not the way you think. Nor is he the dastardly villain portrayed in comics and other folklore stories.
When Gareth Edwards was announced as the director for Godzilla, the modern version, cinephiles were giddy as the man has a track record of handling Monsters (2010) on the big screen. And to his credit he does not drop the ball with the character of Godzilla here, especially the fight scenes between the giant and the MUTO's. It's practically every other aspect of the film that fails to live up to expectations.
From minimal screen time for Godzilla, to horrible [human] character development; what was suppose to be the epitome of summer blockbuster may have nothing to show for it aside from it’s stellar $90+ million weekend. To me, I don’t care how much you rake in your opening weekend, that doesn’t quantify if a film is a blockbuster or not. It needs to be a great, enjoyable, fun ride at the theater, and Godzilla is far from that.
After a freak and deadly accident at a Japanese nuclear power plant in 1999 stemming from irregular radiation devastates the population, physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is hell bent to prove there is something more then meets the eye. As the government tries to convince the public that the accident was caused by large earthquakes, Cranston’s stoic yet sort-of shifty character is thrown in the forefront. Flashing 15 years forward, the cover up is still ongoing and Brody has gone all “mad-scientist” on us trying to get people to read his files and convince them of his theory.
Now a grown man, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is just coming home from the Navy where he was an expert at diffusing bombs. He returns to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and a young son, but just as he’s ready to settle down in his California abode, he’s forced to fly to Japan to bail his estranged father out of jail, as he tried to trespass into his old home which is in an area still contaminated from the radiation.
Ford pleads for his father to let go of the idea of something other than earthquakes caused the disturbances; another incident takes place, this time convincing everyone something isn’t right. Giving away too much more will ruin whatever suspense you may have with the film, but it’s not out titular monster that we see first.
Edwards does a decent job of teasing Godzilla and his appearance throughout almost the entire first two acts of the film, which, while effective, are a bit disappointing. We get shots of his spikes and a few passing lines about the legend but not much else. Instead the focus is on the MUTO’s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.) These creatures are enormous fly/insect-like monsters whose ultimate goal is to mate with each other but will destroy any and everything along the way, including San Francisco , Las Vegas and Japan to get to each other. Credit has to be given to Edwards for having the patience to unveil the curtain on the main attraction for so long, but I think the suspense does not come without it’s negative drawbacks.
Too much time is spent grasping at the family dynamic, followed by the eventual military involvement to take down the MUTO’s and possibly even Godzilla. This tactic just goes to show you that even when you devote time to characters, without a proper script their development is eternally stunted, rendering them useless as support for the beast at hand.
With a harrowing score by the great Alexandre Desplat, the feel that a monster is lurking just beyond the horizon is ever present. Seamus McGarvey aid’s Edwards’ misguided directing with mostly strong cinematography, really coming to life during the battles scenes when Godzilla is actually on screen.
There was a clear agenda of keeping our behemoth hidden from the start of production even through the trailers, Edwards successfully created the hype for the film. How would his Godzilla stack up next to the traditional version we knew? How would it fair against the 1998 version?
Godzilla himself, in the film, does not disappoint. From the look, to the action to the iconic roar, it’s all there. And it’s fun; the battle scenes are strong but short. The entire film around these few moments pales in comparison rendering it a massive disappointment in my eyes. Characters like scientist Ichiro Serizawa played by Ken Watanabe and his partner Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are small pawns, not used to their fullest potential.
Elizabeth Olsen is simply too talented to be wasted in this kind of a film in such a meaningless role, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson has the charisma of a rock. If he wasn’t totally miscast then the burden of this issue falls in the hands of the faulty script that made his character the lamest action hero any summer can possibly offer.
Max Borenstein, who wrote the film based on a story from David Callaham, really dropped the ball as the human characters, genuinely good actors in Cranston, Watanabe, Olsen and more are utterly and truly wasted. The cinematography and pay off of massive chaos when Godzilla takes on the MUTO’s simply isn’t enough for me to gloss over the pile of negatives that stacked up by the time we got to our climax. While infinitely better (not really saying much) then it’s Roland Emmerich directed predecessor, for me the the 2014 rendering of Gojira will be just another failed summer action flick that was more promotion then performance.