On May 20th, 1998, a film simply titled ‘Godzilla‘ was released from TriStar Pictures. While it didn’t do terrible, the hate against it prevented any plans for a sequel. After TOHO made their for now last G film in 2004, the monster’s reign of popularity was over. It wasn’t until 2010 when it was announced that Legendary Studios had acquired the rights to make a new American adaption of the Japanese monster. After four long years, the film has finally arrived. We’ll get the obvious thing out of the way first: it is definitely better than the previous American adaption. Was it however worth the wait and something longtime fans and new viewers alike could appreciate? GODZILLA is a well-done film that strikes a great tone. It’s worth the watch with very few complaints.
The great Godzilla films are ones with good human dialogue along with satisfying monster action. While films like Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla: Final Wars are fun for their wild fight scenes, it’s films like MONSTER ZERO, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, and of course the original that stand above because they have good human scenes to go along with the epic monster action. Director Gareth Edwards bridges the two very nicely for the most part. His previous and only film prior to Godzilla, MONSTERS, showcased how he handles the human characters. It was evident from interviews that Godzilla would have a strong human element. This is a good thing of course, but a problem with MONSTERS was that it marketed itself as a creature destruction flick, but in the end it was a human story with monsters as the backdrop. (i.e. they rarely appeared.) Many were concerned with how Edwards would handle the King of Monsters, because in the Japanese films he’s more than an obstacle or force. He’s a character. Thankfully, it’s evident from Godzilla’s first and grand entrance that the director understands who G is.
Perhaps the biggest thing about the film (aside from the fact that Godzilla’s in it) is the cast. Bryan Craston plays Joe Brody, a man who had to make a very tough call. His wife, with such a little amount of screen time, portrayed such great emotion in those final seconds before her death. Surprisingly, his character has a lot less screen time than anticipated. In modern day, (this part took place in 1999) his personality has gone a 180. While not insane, Craston portrayed his rather unstable demeanor well. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character, Ford Brody, was very good and likable throughout. It’s little scenes such as him helping out a boy on the train that make him a good character. Elizabeth Olson plays his wife, Elle. It’s hard to think of a better actress for this film. It’s refreshing to see a summer blockbuster story featuring a married couple. Ken Watanabe adds a nice Japanese presence to the film. It’s through him which we learn about Godzilla’s past in 1954. The backstory the film presents is very intriguing.
Godzilla himself doesn’t disappoint. The design is quite fantastic, unique but similar enough that you can say, “Yup that’s him.” The CGI is very impressive, and shows that Godzilla can work outside the classic suitmation. The thing I’m personally thrilled about is that they nailed his character. It would have been tempting to make him just another monster that destroys things and attacks the Muto because it’s another thing the size of him, but he was made into a hero. The atomic blast could have been done a little better. Instead of encompassing his entire mouth like it does in all his films, it’s rather small and thin. This is a mild complaint of course. It’s hard to ask for a better American Godzilla.
One of the original huge announcements was that G would be fighting another monster. The question on everyone’s mind for four years was, “Would it be a new or classic monster?” To almost everyone’s disappointment, the film wasn’t going to use Rodan or King Ghidorah, it was going to be a new creature called Muto. While it would have been nice to see a classic such as Mothra, there’s no denying that this guy was very well-done. His first scene was fantastic and pretty horrific. He is definitely worthy to be inducted into the kaiju Hall of Fame. I didn’t time it, but it seemed like he actually had more screen time than Godzilla himself! This is of course combining the screen time of him and the older, female Muto. It amazes me that Bandai has yet to produce a large scale figure of either!
The climax/final battle was somewhat disappointing. It’s not bad, but it’s supposed to be a payoff from earlier teases. The first battle between Godzilla and Muto was shown briefly via the news on TV. The second was an even more brief encounter. The final battle does feature satisfying footage, such as G tail-whipping Muto. However, it cuts away too much to what Ford and the other soldiers are doing. If the earlier teases had been actual on screen battles, then the final one wouldn’t have felt disappointing. It would have been nice if the female Muto and Godzilla got to battle one on one a little more, the fight in the ocean finished too briefly. Hopefully in the sequel Gareth lets the monsters go truly wild, like the Hong Kong battle in Pacific Rim.
One of the biggest things about the Godzilla movies is the soundtrack. Even when the music is just alright, it’s always portrayed as a big deal. Alexandre Desplat brings some nice themes to the table, the best being G’s theme in the opening credits. It would have been a nice bonus if they had included G’s original theme at the end credits as a tribute. (And the fact that this year marks the 60th anniversary.) Nonetheless the soundtrack is definitely above what we’re used to hearing lately in these summer blockbusters. The San Francisco setting was refreshing, with not even a mention of New York. Having Japan also be a focus was a nice touch, reminding of this franchise’s origin. In the classic films we rarely see the monster fights from the human (who is watching in awe and trying to escape) perspective, so scenes such as Godzilla stomping into the airport to fight Muto offered a unique perspective.
Overall, GODZILLA was definitely worth the wait. The cast, while not Oscar worthy, is pretty solid. The monster scenes are great with fantastic CGI. The climax is exciting, but doesn’t deliver the grand payoff the two earlier fight scenes teased. Nonetheless, Godzilla himself does not disappoint. Garth Edwards and everyone else involved have successfully brought the Japanese monster to American shores. The King of Monsters is back.