Starring: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Review written by Tom Bevis
In the last sixty years, Godzilla has become a cultural phenomenon widely cherished by fans worldwide. Following the release of Gojira in 1954, the King of Monsters has spun off into dozen of films, television shows, video games, and comic books (including a series of Marvel cross-overs) and has perhaps become the most recognizable of all creature feature and kaiju icons. Despite ill-fated attempt to Americanize the reptilian titan (most notably Roland Emmerich’s 1998 debacle, which is widely held as one of the worst movies ever made), Godzilla has still left a metaphorical footprint on our culture here in the states.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, the break-out mind behind 2010’s Monsters, the most recent offering into the Godzilla spectrum follows Ford Brody (Aaron-Taylor Johnson), a lieutenant with the United States Navy, as he helps his father Joe (Bryan Cranston) discover the truth behind an atomic meltdown that killed his mother fifteen years earlier. Their investigation leads a revelation of monstrous proportions and implications, leading Brody to help scientist Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) understand and ultimately destroy a newly-hatched radiation-fueled monster.
Perhaps the most significant element of this latest installation of Godzilla folklore is keen script, which updates the story for a modern canon to reflect a fear of nuclear fallout not unlike that feared after the Fukishima meltdown. Instead of overwriting the atomic testing and fears of fallout radiation, the film envelopes that background into the new fold of the mythos. The result is a modern adaptation that remains, to some degree, relatable to the character’s initial origins.
For those looking forward to Bryan Cranston performing in his post-Breaking Bad prime, look away. His role equates to little more than a cameo. Similarly, the otherwise talented Elizabeth Olsen is only given enough screen time to establish where she is at a handful of moments in the film. Ken Watanabe, though, despite spending much of his time staring into the distance, jaw agape, tackles the role of the relentless and infinitely curious scientist with as much conviction as could be expect. The surprise here is how much Taylor-Johnson has seemed to have grown up into himself. He’s almost unrecognizable.
The strongest individual aspect of the film is quite possibly the immaculate score. Composed and conducted by Alexandre Desplat, the score is a tour de force of relentless fortissimo, excellently cued and curated to masterfully match the action on screen. At any given moment, the music in the film is powerful enough to impact the action and the drama unfolding, while not being so intrusive to take away from the scene’s significance. As any great score should be, the music is the perfect complement to the visual.
While I’m certain some will disagree, there is a certain elegance in the composition of events portrayed in the film. I have no doubt that many will take offense to a Godzilla film in which Godzilla doesn’t not make a full appearance until the film is nearly halfway over. Also, individuals will not appreciate the human element to the story. While basic – a military man going after a giant monster while searching for his family – the story is universal, about the bonds of family and the desperation of being separated from loved ones, creating an arc that most humans can relate to.
When it comes to the particular franchise of Godzilla, the franchise is at the point in which the modern audience would rather see Godzilla as a kind of hero than as a force of nature villain to be reckoned with. In that regard, the introduction of the titular titan is magnificently appropriate, giving the true villain time to breathe and be established without having to rush the ultimate showdown. Rest assured, dear movie-goer, in knowing that there is plenty of action to fill that first half of the film.
Altogether, the visuals in the film are simply spectacular. From the collapse of a nuclear power plant, to the harrowing military skydive, to the final showdown in San Francisco, the cinematography paired with top notch visual effects are breathtaking. On that merit alone, the film is worth seeing. And while the script may not provide the monster-crawling schmorgesborg one may expect, there are more than enough nods and winks to the classic films to leave even the staunchest of Godzilla purists smiling.