Godzilla may need a new agent; despite the fact that he is the titular character of the new Godzilla movie, we see precious little of him over the course of the film. Or maybe that is what Godzilla wanted – all the credit without having to put in all the work. Perhaps Godzilla doesn’t have a great work ethic.
I’ll be completely honest – I had little to no interest in going to see Godzilla when production on the film began. Monster movies are not my particular genre and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Godzilla movie before. Most of my knowledge of this giant lizard has been gleamed from reference in other pop culture; I’d say the bulk of my Godzilla info comes from South Park, particularly the episode where Barbra Streisand served as a stand-in for the monster. I completely skipped the Matthew Broderick Godzilla back when it came out in 1998 and from the sound of things I didn’t miss much. For whatever reason, a giant monster attacking a city just doesn’t hold much appeal for me; I’m not against seeing this type of movies, but they are not the first on my list.
But once my pal Bryan Cranston was tapped to be in the new Godzilla, I knew that I had to go see it. Heisenberg vs. Godzilla – that might make for some entertaining viewing (side note – I know that Heisenberg is not real). I also knew that this was going to be a big summer movie and no self-respecting (and self-appointed) pop culture aficionado could sit on the sidelines when a summer blockbuster is released, despite the general lack of interest. I have a job to do and so I dutifully went to the cinema Saturday morning to kick off my weekend with a little Godzilla.
Overall, I’d day that Godzilla was a generally enjoyable experience. I’m sure that I am on the lower end of the enthusiasm spectrum; if you dig these kinds of movies, you will most likely be thoroughly entertained. The on-line buzz is that this new film is a definitely improvement over the last Godzilla reboot. The story is engaging and the special effects are pretty impressive, though there are some pacing problems and the decision to focus on the humans over the monsters doesn’t 100% work. Still, for a film that I was lukewarm at best about seeing, I had a fun time.
The most important thing to most people, I’d speculate, is how the monsters look in the film. In a movie like this, you can have all the other elements firing on all cylinders, but if the CGI for the creature is poorly done it completely ruins the whole experience. This has also been a problem for The Hulk movies, where it took them several tries to get the visual to the point where they weren’t a distraction. On that front, I think that Godzilla does an excellent job. My favorite part of the film by far was when Godzilla and pals were on screen and destroying everything that came in their path. Godzilla looked “realistic” and not at all cartoony or inadequately designed. I bought into the conceit that this was a giant creature and not just something that was created on a computer. This professionalism extended beyond just the giant monsters to the rest of the special effects in the film; overall, everything looked realistic and authentic. Hopefully large portions of San Francisco will never be razed in real life as it was in this film, but if it is I imagine it would look pretty close to what they depicted. Visually, I don’t have a lot of complaints with the execution in Godzilla.
I won’t say too much about the overall plot – I think knowing too much going in might take away from some of the elements of surprise and overall enjoyment – but I think the basic story was entertaining, if a bit thin. I found that we spent too much time with a lot of human characters that we never were given much reason to care about and that were not all that fleshed out. Sally Hawkins, so great in Blue Jasmine, is completely wasted in this film; her scientist character sidekick doesn’t have any real purpose in the film. Elizabeth Olsen faces the same fate, with a pretty underdeveloped role. The father and son team of Joe and Ford Brody (Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively) are the most well-rounded of the bunch and have the most well-developed backstory and investment in what is happening, but overall the focus on the humans for the bulk of the story instead of the monsters felt a bit misplaced. I understand that you need to build the tension to the reveal of the monsters and that when it comes to CGI that less if often more, but in taking their time in getting to the real action I thought that portions of the film dragged a bit. Within the first hour or so of the film, I checked my watch multiple times which is never a good sign. I was far more interested in seeing what the creatures were up to.
I’ve used the word creatures several times because it turns out that Godzilla isn’t the only monster roaming around this movie. I had no idea that I was going to have to keep track of multiple creatures in the film, so when the MUTO first appeared I assumed that we were finally seeing Godzilla. This was slightly confusing to me, since they didn’t look anything like I assumed Godzilla would look like and I thought that perhaps I knew way less about this universe than I thought. Pretty quickly I sussed out what was happening and my faith in my limited Godzilla knowledge was somewhat restored. This was not the first time that my expectations were confounded during Godzilla; I was under the impression that Bryan Cranston was the star and main character of this film, but he is definitely more of a supporting role. His story arc ends within the first 45 minutes of the film and I felt a little tricked by the marketing for the movie. Kudos to them – they knew how to court the Breaking Bad audience by highlighting Cranston’s participation in the film- but it just wasn’t exactly what I expected.
When the action does finally get going, however, it is pretty spectacular. The last 30 minutes are worth patiently waiting through the first 90 minutes of the film. There is lots of destruction and explosions and all the other stuff that make summer action movies so enjoyable, with the added bonus of a giant Godzilla in the mix, roaring his heart out. It’s loud and chaotic and wonderful. Plus it was nice to watch another city get blown up for a change – give the East coast a little break, for once.
Some other thoughts:
- Has Hawaii ever been decimated in a film that didn’t have to do with Pearl Harbor? Godzilla might be a trailblazer in that regard, bringing destruction to paradise.
- Godzilla had a very good opening weekend. Godzilla 2 is already in development.
- This wasn’t on the studio’s dime, so the usual caveats apply – I didn’t see this in 3-D or IMAX.
- Vulture looks at the evolution of Godzilla as a metaphor.
- Also…probably should have read this before seeing the movie: An A-Z glossary of the Godzilla franchise.
- Could Godzilla exist in real life?
- There is a Mothra Easter Egg in the film – that I actually caught!
- Ha! Reddit posted this photo from an early screening:
- Japanese fans think that this American version of Godzilla is too fat.
- NPR examines how Godzilla’s roar was crafted.
- Bryan Cranston almost turned down Godzilla.
- Badass Digest transcribed the redacted secrets from the opening credits of Godzilla.
- No need to stay after the credits – nothing to see here. That’s a missed opportunity in my opinion – even if it was just one final roar.
All in all, I found Godzilla fairly enjoyable. These are still not my kind of movies, but for what it was it mostly delivered. The film definitely dragged in some parts and the emphasis on the human characters over the monsters didn’t always work for me, but the climax of the movie was entertaining enough that it mostly diminished some of the complaints that I had. For a summer movie, it delivered on expectations and the monsters looked pretty impressive when they finally turn up. Not the best movie I’ll see this summer, but probably far from the worst. You mileage will depend on your affinity for the Godzilla franchise and your tolerance for wonton destruction. Godzilla is worth seeing simply for the final act of the movie.
Godzilla opened nationwide on Friday.