When I was a child, before the Fox Network was really a thing, there was XETV in San Diego. You could say XETV was the genesis of many of my nerd addictions. Every evening from Monday through Friday XETV would show a four hour block of various classic genre films, switching themes from week to week. One week it might be all Bruce Lee and martial arts movies. The next it could be Abbot & Costello or classic movie monsters-sometimes both together! But the best weeks to me were always the Godzilla weeks, featuring the mother of all giant lizards squaring off against all manner of colossal baddies. Mothra, Rodan, Mecha Godzilla and all the rest would match up with the heroic reptile in titanic battles with the fate of humanity-or at least Tokyo-on the line. I would be surprised to find that there are any original era Godzilla films I haven’t seen at one point or another. So, you can have your Gamara full of turtle meat, Godzilla is the true King of the Monsters in my book, and of that there can be no question. So when a modernized big budget take on this bad ass behemoth comes to the screen, suffice it to say, I’m there. That includes the woefully miscast 1998 Roland Emmerich disaster of a Godzilla movie, which managed to kill the hopes of an American franchise for nearly two decades. As one can imagine, it’s hard to go into this latest Godzilla endeavor without at least a little bit of trepidation.
This telling of Godzilla, thankfully not much in the way of any real origin story, begins with a seismic disaster that levels a nuclear power plant in Japan headed by chief safety engineer Joe Brody, played by Bryan Cranston. 15 years later, Brody is still trying to piece together the events of that fateful day, much to the chagrin of his now grown son, military bomb squad specialist Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Eventually, the elder Brody’s digging brings both father and son face to face with the military and the true, terrifying cause of the destruction in Japan all those years ago. Ultimately, that terror is once again released on the world, making its way to a catastrophic collision with the Pacific Coast of the United States. Ford Brody is hot on its tail the whole way trying both to stop the terrible menace and also desperately attempting to reunite with his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and young child and lead them to safety.
** SPOILER WARNING ** DON’T SAY WE DIDN’T WARN YOU** SPOILERS AHEAD**
Here is a warning, do not continue reading this paragraph if you do not want certain aspects of the film’s plot to be revealed to you. There be spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned. Godzilla is not the bad guy in this film. Godzilla, in the tradition from most of the older films, is there to save the day against the true threat against humanity. In this film that danger comes in the form of MUTOS, large monsters borrowed from the movie Cloverfield, who feed on nuclear power. Godzilla’s motivations in this movie may not make perfect sense, but they feel much better than saying that he wants to make Manhattan his nest where he can give birth to thousands of velociraptors in Madison Square Garden. Deciding to make Godzilla the good guy is absolutely the right call and it manages to make a movie that really commits to playing it straight with the human story a lot of fun overall.
This movie really does take the human aspects of the story and ground them in a stark, foreboding reality. There are giant monsters about and there is no room for frivolity or camp. This could have backfired if not for the efforts of a fantastic cast, committed to the material they are given to work with. Cranston, along with Ken Watanabe as a scientist studying the MUTOS and David Stathairn as the Navy Admiral tasked with stopping every monster in sight, manage to lend real gravitas to the events that unfold.
The one issue I do have with this Godzilla movie is that there can just never be enough Godzilla. Drown me in Godzilla, for crying out loud. That’s what I came here for. While the ending pays off big time-and I mean big time-with the Godzilla action, running at around two hours or so, the movie takes its sweet time getting to it. Don’t get me wrong, there is monster action aplenty-enough to keep you invested for sure-but the main attraction is given short shrift through much of the film. The rest of the movie is solid, though. It sells its drama well and moves along nicely.
I saw the film in 3D, which I suppose bears mentioning. The effect is nice enough, but it’s interesting to me that while many action films continue utilize 3D, there is little use of the eye-jabbing gimmicks that early 3D endeavors loved to employ. It kind of begs the question why do they even bother? Not that I miss those obnoxious effects or anything, it just seems to make it clear that 3D is not much more than a moneymaking venture these days that could probably be put to bed without crushing the hearts of too many filmgoers.
The crowd I was with cheered and clapped at every nod to the traditional films and I applaud the producers and director Gareth Edwards for not trying too hard to make Godzilla their own, and instead giving the fans the Godzila they remember and really want to see. Upon leaving the theatre it occurred to me that Godzilla has finally truly landed on American shores and it isn’t nearly as devastating as one might think. In fact, it’s pretty great.