I’ve always had a soft spot for the ‘Godzilla’ movies from Japanese film company Toho. Starting with the original movie in 1954, the giant environmentalist monster (“daikaiju” in Japanese) is awoken from his slumbers by us silly humans and our dangerous nuclear bombs. Since that first film, he’s starred in a remarkable 28 films.
In 1998, Sony hired Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow”, “White House Down”) to direct a “Godzilla” reboot that was pretty awful. So awful that Sony scrapped its plans for a trilogy and just walked away from the franchise entirely.
When director Gareth Edwards started assembling a team to have another shot at rebooting the ‘Godzilla’ series, fans were skeptical. By going back to the original ‘Godzilla’ mythos, however, he’s created a new version that’s pretty darn terrific.
The film opens with some of the best opening credits I’ve ever seen, a visually inventive montage of “historical footage” of “Gojira” sightings during and immediately after WWII. Once the film is released on DVD, fans will undoubtedly closely inspect the sequences and likely find footage from the original 1954 film included, but the studio’s mum on the topic.
The opening sequence, set in 1999, is a strip mine accident in the Philippines, where Japanese Gojira expert Serizawa (a stoic Ken Watanabe) and fellow scientist Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins) explore a most inexplicable find in the caverns below the mine. The action shifts to the Tokyo suburbs, where American nuclear engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) both work at the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant. An earthquake — or is it? — dangerously rattles the plant and Joe shuts it down, but not before the unthinkable happens. Joe and Sandra’s son Ford (played as a boy by CJ Adams) watches in horror as the plant collapses.
On the same day, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who is a bomb disposal expert with the Marines, has just come home from a tour of duty in the Middle East. He’s married to Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and has a son of his own (Carson Bolde). When his Dad gets arrested for trying to get back to their old home in the radioactive Janjira area, Ford flies to Tokyo to bail him out, only to get pulled into his father’s paranoid conspiracy theories about giant monsters and government cover ups.
The film then starts to get really interesting with a powerful tsunami scene in Hawaii where the ocean proves the least of their worries, and another scene where monsters rampage through Las Vegas. The action all converges on San Francisco where the final showdown takes place.
But let’s be serious.
This is a Godzilla movie, so the most important thing is that there’s a lot of juicy tension building up to the first sighting of the monster, then some kick-ass fight scenes where the monsters attack each other and wreak havoc on any buildings or people who happen to be in their way. That’s all terrific. All the action scenes and all the special effects are really well done in “Godzilla”, very satisfying and cathartic for the audience, particularly on the massive IMAX screen.
The weak link in the film isn’t the storyline, though there are the expected number of plot hiccups and unlikely coincidences that are to be expected in a film with a fundamentally daft premise about monsters who survive by eating nuclear radiation. Seriously, that’s all good.
The biggest problem is the acting. From Taylor-Johnson to Olsen, Watanabe to David Straithairn (as Admiral Stenz), they all turn in flat, lifeless performances. The only actor who turned in a good performance was Bryan Cranston (as Brody). It’s possible that this is a result of director Gareth Edwards’ inexperience (his previous film “Monsters” also suffered from the same poor acting issue) but it’s too bad because in many ways it’s the only problem in an otherwise terrific and very fun monster movie. An old school, big-monsters-kick-butt, city-gets-destroyed monster movie.
‘Godzilla’ isn’t great drama nor is it a romantic tearjerker where the story hangs on superb and highly believable acting, and just as well. It’s just a big, violent, spectacle and as that, it’s terrific. Go see it. GO GOJIRA!!