** out of ****
In 2010, Gareth Edwards impressed the filmmaking world with his disaster sci-fi movie, Monsters. The film isn’t outstanding but the facts surrounding its production of an incredibly limited budget, and Edwards’ resourcefulness proved that he was passionate and competent enough to be trusted with a well-funded reboot of one iconic monster.
His version of Godzilla revisits the theme of atomic destruction and its unknown consequences by rewriting the history of nuclear testing by the US government in the 50s and 60s. In this case, all that “testing” was a cover for a bombing campaign against a terrible monster rising out of the Pacific Ocean. At the beginning of the 21st century, things of terrible destructive power are surfacing.
The monsters and their path of destruction are realized with excellence but the characters - who dominate most of the film - are D.O.A. This is a disappointment for me, as I expected a cast of such particular selections to have something fun or interesting to give us (Please don't tell me that dull characterization is a time-honored tradition in this franchise. It's no excuse.).
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and Bryan Cranston are all introduced as disaster movie caricatures. It is funny that I normally get bored with action scenes that get in the way of potentially interesting characters. In the case of Godzilla, I found the characters to be so boring that they inhibited my enjoyment of the action.
I think people may be annoyed with Bryan Cranston in his small yet overblown performance. Cranston furiously yelled and cried through one of the greatest TV shows ever made. Now it’s time for him to shake off Walter White. He’s still a fine actor when playing a character in a calm and composed fashion. I’d like it if he took a break from hysterical roles for a while.
Edwards got decent performances from his two leads in Monsters but that film had the benefit of improvisation. This film may indicate that scripted direction is not his forte. None of it is awkwardly bad. The fine actors of this film deliver the clichéd dialogue with as much naturalism as they can muster. There’s just no disguising the dull simplicity of a handsome soldier trying to save the world so that he can get home to his sexy wife and cute kid.
On a technical level, this movie is pretty awesome -but not much more than other monster movies that have attempted to frame the terror from relatable handheld point-of-view cinematography. This was honorably attempted in Steven Spielberg’s version of War of the Worlds and mastered in Matt Reeves’ underrated Cloverfield. If any Godzilla fans are interested in seeing the King of Monsters recreated (without a man in a suit) through the best CGI available, this is the movie. He looks real good. I don’t care what the Japanese are saying. He should get moral support from Jennifer Lawrence.
Another perk of this film can be found in Alexandre Desplat’s score. This excellent composer keeps up his reputation for versatility with music that is primed for a full-powered monster movie. Only a few months ago, his whimsical music for The Grand Budapest Hotel sounded as if it were from an entirely different source.
The new 2014 Godzilla is probably as good as it’s going to get for this creature in reboot land. For me, this movie is a glass half-empty. I didn’t have my hopes terribly high. I’m not a big Godzilla fan. I’m just a fan of the idea. This is why I loved Pacific Rim, a movie that had an equal amount of fun with its originality, homages, and clichés. Godzilla is at the proper length of two-hours but it carries too much uninspiring deadweight for me to recommend it.