The moment I first saw the trailer for Godzilla, I was hooked. A monster movie with Bryan Cranston? Seriously? How does one avoid wanting to see that? One doesn’t, one just goes.
I grabbed my husband and my keys as I left my house and headed for the movie theater. Christoph and I had first seen the trailer for Godzilla together and we were equally intrigued. Also, we’re both fans of monster movies. The last, utterly satisfying one we’d seen was The Host--a Korean monster movie--in 2006. It was time, we were due for some good, old-fashioned, monster-stomping action and drama.
Once at the movies, we grabbed some snacks and headed into our theater. As we walked in, I noticed that there weren’t many people inside. I hoped that folks would show and it would fill up because monster movies are better when you watch them with a crowd.
By the time the lights dimmed and the trailers started, the theater was mostly full and I was starting to feel good about this experience. I could tell that other people were excited as well, you could feel the energy in the room building with each passing minute.
Godzilla (2014) starts out like many of the movies I’ve seen lately--in the past. We begin with a short history of the gigantic, reptilian creature. We’re lead to believe, from the get go, that there’s something someone isn’t telling us.
This story begins the moment the opening credits do. From the start, we’re told that the U.S. government had found an enormous, unidentified creature in the sea. They tried to kill it, but it seems they weren’t successful. As the credits end, we’re brought forward into 1999. Here, we meet up with scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham(Sally Hawkins). These two have been summoned to the Philippines where a gargantuan skeleton has been discovered. Upon their arrival, the scientists find two eggs alongside the skeleton, and quickly note that one of them appears to have hatched and escaped.
In Japan, shortly after the skeleton incident, we meet up with Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston). He’s the supervisor at the Janira nuclear plant and he’s concerned, from the moment we first lay eyes on him. Something isn’t right and when the plant is struck by some significant seismic activity, Joe sends his wife Sandy (Juliette Binoche), down to check on the core sensors at the plant. While Sandy and her team are doing just that, there’s an explosion and they become trapped. Janira nuclear plant collapses and Joe’s life changes, forever. The Japanese government eventually attributes this tragedy to an earthquake, and the abandoned nuclear plant (and surrounding neighborhoods) are cut off and quarantined.
Flash forward 15 years and we meet up with Joe’s son, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who was a child when his mother died in that “earthquake” that shook everything he knew. Ford grew up to be a military officer in the Navy and we first see him as he’s traveling back home to spend time with his wife and son. You can tell that Ford has been away for a while now and he could use some quiet time with his family.
Unfortunately, quiet time is not on the menu. He is summoned to Japan, where his father still lives, the same evening of his homecoming. It looks like Ford's got to go bail his dad out of jail and he's pissed. It turns out Joe has kept himself busy these past 15 years, attempting to uncover the truth behind the tragic events at the Janiro nuclear plant. Joe says he will not rest until he finds out what really happened to his wife. He was, after all, the one who sent her down to her grave that fateful morning.
Godzilla is the story of what Joe uncovers in his research. What he finds is that there’s a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (MUTO) out there that feeds off nuclear / radioactive energy. That same monster is behind the tragedy at the nuclear plant, and it's back with a vengeance. It looks like us humans have met our match in this MUTO, that is, until we hear our famed monster's call once more.
As previously mentioned, this film gets the story going from the opening credits. I was hooked instantly and I managed to stay engaged through the entire thing. That’s fairly unusual for me when I watch summer blockbusters. Usually, I find that the story leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, that was not the case with this movie. There are layers here that need to be explained and absorbed. There are dots that need to be connected and clues that need to be processed. There’s a lot going on to keep the audience occupied. It’s a nice change of pace to have to get your brain working in unison with your adrenaline glands at the movies. It results in a winning combination.
Bryan Cranston is divine, just as I expected him to be. He brings us a strong, dedicated and slightly off kilter unsung hero. Juliette Binoche as his wife, Sandy, stood out as well. The connection she shared with Cranston was tender and came across as genuine. Despite her lack of screen time I enjoyed her performance greatly.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson brings us an understandably distant and upset son in Ford Brody. He’s mad at Joe for “losing it” after his mother’s death and for not being there for him as a father. Ford doesn’t understand why his dad can’t get over the tragedy that took his mother from them, and he resents Joe’s obsession. Taylor-Johnson’s performance is mostly good, but a bit too muted for my liking.
Elizabeth Olsen surprised me and brought us a concerned, but not overbearing and independent Elle Brody. Her performance as Ford’s wife and mother to their young son, is refreshing. She doesn’t ever come off as a helpless victim and that’s nice to see in an action movie.
While all the performances were good, something about the casting seemed off. I suppose there were simply too many subtle performances in this blockbuster to keep up with the intensity of the story. Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson produce fine work, but it’s lacking any sort of forceful emotion. In a movie about giant monsters that face off in the middle of San Francisco, these performances don’t resonate as well as they should.
What I did like was the design of the MUTO, it was menacing, scary and massive. Godzilla stayed true to form and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. I relished seeing a familiar face on this most famous monster. Gareth Edwards (Director) manages to employ effective storytelling and visuals in such a way that the audience sympathizes with the star of this movie before we even see the creature on screen. By the end of the film, everyone in my theater was rooting for Godzilla. The audience reaction was priceless.
In all honesty, this movie was an exhilarating ride from start to finish. The story moved along at a swift pace and even though a significant amount of time was spent establishing the history of Godzilla, the film didn’t lose me to boredom. I was excited to uncover each new clue leading up to the discovery of the real history behind the explosion at Janira nuclear plant.
At the end of the movie, the audience I sat with, broke into applause when Godzilla was finally revealed and we shouted with excitement when the creature finally let out that tremendous roar. This same theater, that I was afraid wouldn’t fill up for the movie, was packed with people that were completely invested in the outcome of this film’s final battle scene. I know because I turned around to see all of their faces. I wanted to catch a quick glimpse of this group of people that couldn’t help, but applaud and cheer on the movie's protagonist.
As a matter of fact, when the movie was over, there was another, extended round of a applause. We had been entertained and we were still reveling in moment. None of us were expecting to have such a good time and we were appreciative. I love when that happens.
Godzilla is a reboot for the ages. This is another of those movies that will make more of an impression if you see it on the big screen so get out there and go see it, before it leaves theaters. Do it, now!
Godzilla (2014) – A-
A- = Sure, there are some pitfalls in this movie, but they’re quickly forgotten by the time you’re knee-deep in the story. This is the kind of thing I go looking for when I go to the movies and I trust you’ll enjoy it if you keep an open mind.