Movie Review: “Godzilla” – Monsters Not Included

Written by Jesse Gelinas May 17, 2014

Godzilla's roar

I can almost see him!

A lot has changed since 1954, with Godzilla being the offbeat constant. Now, in the 60th year since his inception, the King of Monsters is back in an all new fight for dominance. Perhaps there was a mix up with the scheduling, or someone put him on the wrong boat because Big G seems noticeably absent from this outing. It’s a strange occurrence when your name as the film’s title is the greatest presence you carry throughout. Sadly, this is the case with Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla;” a true testament to the fact that in today’s society when you’re handed the biggest kaiju franchise of all time, less really isn’t more.

“Godzilla” tells the story of Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Let that sink in for a moment. “Godzilla” is about a young bomb disposal technician named Ford. Fifteen years ago while running a nuclear plant in Japan, Ford’s father Joe (Bryan Cranston) witnessed a catastrophe that claimed the life of his wife. Suspiciously deemed a natural disaster, Joe drags his son into the quarantine zone fifteen years later to prove the cover up is real. The pair are captured by a group called Monarch who are unwittingly about to awaken a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), the same creature that caused the destruction of the plant. Soon the beast is on the loose and the US Army has to intervene to take it out. But Dr. Serizawa (who has been studying creatures like this his entire life) thinks another monster may be the answer, a monster he believes will be lured out of hiding by the emergence of the MUTO: Godzilla!

“The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control.”

At this point, we’re forty minutes in and Godzilla has now just been mentioned. And he won’t make a real appearance for another twenty minutes or so, and that is only for a few seconds. That’s the halfway point of the film. But Ford is always there! The luckiest son of a bitch in the world, he survives indirect encounter after indirect encounter with the MUTO ,dancing around danger on his way to a happy ending. I don’t have anything against Aaron Taylor-Johnson, but he’s miscast here, and cannot carry a film like this on his own. Apparently that’s what the filmmakers expected, because all the emphasis is on him rather than the giant monsters the audience paid to see. In two key scenes after loads of build up and a few great glory shots of our beasts, the camera cuts away literally as the fight is about to begin. It cuts once to go to a kid watching TV, and a second time to watch Ford tiptoe around the story’s pitfalls.

Aaron Taylor Johnson in "Godzilla"

The bulk of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance is looking off-screen quizzically.

The film gives us a great opener with Bryan Cranston’s Joe character, one that immediately sets him as sympathetic hero. In the present, Ford takes over as our hero… for some reason. We have no real reason to root for him, except that he’s got a wife and kid (the trappings of any disaster movie hero). That may be one of the film’s other mistakes; It acts like a disaster film rather than a monster flick. One soldier casually remarks, “another one of those things popped up in Nevada”, like he’s discussing the weather. How can we, the audience, lose ourselves in the wonder of such beasts if the characters you’re forcing us to ride along with aren’t even impressed?

“Let them fight.” – the audience, to director Gareth Edwards

The movie has its qualities. When Big G and the MUTO’s are on screen they look great. The creature design is a great throwback to the old films, while also having a certain charm of its own. The big fight (though badly edited and far too short) is fun and exciting when it’s allowed to be. Bryan Cranston gives a brief but solid performance as expected. Ken Watanabe is always interesting to watch, though his role is essentially to stare into space and murmur about the laws of nature and Godzilla’s role as the ecological equalizer. Another strange decision was to change Godzilla’s origin. No longer the result of nuclear tests and radiation, he’s actually an ancient alpha-predator from eons past. This essentially strips him of his most noteworthy characteristic, and the entire theme of his original films to begin with (the horrors and fallout of nuclear weapons). Also, we have no clear reason why he even appears. Aside from Watanabe’s ramblings, which sound like a fantasy narrative in his mind, he simply shows up to kill MUTOs. Godzilla next to the Golden Gate Bridge Overall, “Godzilla” isn’t that bad really. I found myself enjoying every moment of screen time our big bad buddy actually had. This outing just seemed to miss the fundamental element of a good Godzilla movie: lots of Godzilla! He’s not a gimmick or a novelty. He’s the star. We all know him; we paid to see him. Gareth Edwards seems to have taken the wrong lessons from his previous film, “Monsters.” We don’t need continuous buildup; sometimes you just need to go straight to the payoff. And please, if you’re gonna make the audience wait 100 minutes for that payoff, it better be spectacular. Sadly, Godzilla’s role amounted to little more than a cameo, with only a few cool moves to show off.

My Rating: 6/10

Godzilla poster

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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