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New Review: Godzilla (2014)

Updated on May 18, 2014

Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Ken Wantanabe, Juliet Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen, Carson Bodle

It takes a while for this Godzilla to get going. We don't even see much of the titular beast until a good hour of screen time has passed. Prior to big-G's big entrance, the movie spends most of the time on its characters, which would have been great if the movie had developed them into people we could invest in. But the characters in Godzilla remain stock figures from the word go, and while the movie certainly has an A-list cast, a lot of the big named actors and actresses in the movie are wasted. That's not to say the acting is bad. It really isn't (save for one actor; more on him in a second), but it's still quite difficult to care about any of the characters on screen.

Of course, complaining that a Godzilla movie isn't emotionally compelling is perhaps missing the point. None of these films were known for their Oscar-winning screenplays. What people will be forking money over to see is some large scale monster mayhem, and while it does take a while for the movie to get to that point, once the big guy shows up, the movie delivers the goods in spades. This 2014 version of Godzilla has some of the most exciting, atmospheric, and visually mesmerizing action scenes you're likely to see this year. The film's climactic showdown, which takes place in the ruins of San Francisco, is such a masterpiece of atmosphere and special-effects that it's enough to justify a trip to the theaters.

The movie opens up in 1999, where Japanese scientist Dr. Serizawa (Ken Wantanabe) and his partner Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins) chopper in to a Filipino mine. There, they discover an egg-shaped pod containing a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), as well as evidence that another MUTO has already hatched and escaped. Cut over to Tokyo, where engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) head off to work at a nuclear power plant. The power plant suffers from an explosion and radiation leak, and Sandra loses her life in the so-called "accident."

Fifteen years later, Joe's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an explosives expert working in the Navy, returns home to his nurse wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and his son Sam (Carson Bodle) after a 14-month tour overseas. He doesn't get to spend much time with the family, unfortunately, as he receives word the very night he comes home that his father has been arrested in Japan. It seems Joe was caught breaking into the quarantined zone where his wife perished, in order to prove that what had happened to her wasn't an accident or a natural disaster. He thinks the government is hiding something, and whatever it is, it's going to send us back to the stone age.

I'm coming for you, Roland Emmerich!!!!!
I'm coming for you, Roland Emmerich!!!!!

Ford thinks dad simply needs to come back home with him and forget about what happened to mom, but of course, Joe is right on the money. The film's first big set-piece is a MUTO attack at a research facility near the quarantine zone. It hatches from its pod, wrecks havoc, and flies off into the sky. Soon after, Ford finds himself in Honolulu, where the MUTO attacks again while he's stuck on an airport tram. It is here where Godzilla makes his first appearance, first by causing a tidal wave that washes through the city streets, killing many people.

What makes these scenes, and many of the action scenes, so effective is that they're filmed mostly from the perspective of the people caught in the middle of it all. There's a terrifying scene set on the Golden Gate bridge where a lot of the action is filmed from inside a school bus full of screaming children. Perhaps the most effective scene in the movie is set on a train tracks, where the military are attempting to transport a bomb with a mechanical detonator. Director Gareth Edwards establishes a quietly sinister tone for the scene, and concludes it with a terrific underwater shot where....well, it's best if you just see it for yourselves.

The monster effects in the movie are really quite extraordinary. They're fearsome, they're majestic, and at times quite haunting. There's a scene where a MUTO lets out a cry of agony after its nest of eggs has been destroyed that is really quite affecting. They're certainly more engaging than the movie's main character. As written, Ford is really quite bland. There's just nothing about the character that engages your interest or sympathy in any way, and as a result, Taylor-Johnson's performance is kind of dull. As he proved in the Kick-Ass movies, he can be a very charming and likable actor. The problem with his performance here is that he's playing a very poorly written character, and there doesn't seem to be much that he can do with it.

The other actors are fine. Elizabeth Olsen is the sort of actress whom you can put in one scene, and it's guaranteed to feature the best acting in the entire movie. She's given next to nothing to do here, but even with her nothing role, she manages to turn in a compelling and memorable performance (just watch her acting during the scene where San Francisco is getting evacuated, and she puts her son on a bus that's leaving the city). Ken Wantanabe seems to be having a blast playing a character who's made to say things like "The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control, and not the other way around," and while Cranston isn't in the movie for very long, he turns in an emotive and captivating performance.

I wish they gave her more to do! :(
I wish they gave her more to do! :(

There isn't much that I remember about the other Godzilla movies. I saw a couple of the older films a long time ago (although I really don't remember which ones) and, yes, I did see that Roland Emmerich directed fiasco from 1998 (the less said about that atrocity, the better). This Godzilla is sure to entertain those looking for some cool visuals and entertaining monster fights. Because I didn't care much for the characters, and because of a few other issues I had with the movie (including a couple of glaring holes during the Honolulu action scene), there was a temptation in me to write a negative review. But the movie was just too much fun while it was playing out (I especially liked the scene involving Sam watching the monsters on TV), and with that said, what is there to be negative about?

Godzilla may not be a movie you'd want to revisit (I probably won't), and chances are we will see better summer movies this year. But if you're craving some summer movie escapist fun, then you should get your money's worth here.

Final Grade: *** (out of ****)

What were your thoughts on this movie? :)

Cast your vote for Godzilla (2014)

This trailer is still awesome! :D

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