Directed by Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe
He's the godfather of all movie monsters. He's got a ridiculously loud roar. Yes, Godzilla is back in cinemas and it's a good thing. Director Gareth Edwards hits all of the right notes in Godzilla, the monster movie we've been waiting for all of these years.
Set up as equal parts origin story and equal parts modern day mayhem, Godzilla starts in 1999 as scientists visit a huge dig site in the Philippines where workers have unearthed a massive skeleton and strange organ-like beings. The radiation from the site is enough to raise some eyebrows. When a nuclear plant is demolished and an entire area of Japan quarantined for years, the mystery surrounding natural and unnatural events jumps into conspiracy theory territory. Bryan Cranston stars as Joe Brody, one of the nuclear plant employees who devotes his life to uncovering what really went down that day, especially since his wife is among the mass casualties. Fifteen years later, when his son is all grown up and has a family of his own, Brody returns to the quarantined area only to find out that radiation isn't the problem. The former site of the nuclear plant is now a top secret government testing ground housing the strange organ-like being from the Philippines. Slight tremors have scientists on edge, expecting a possible earthquake or radioactive explosion or something severe. A giant, mutant praying mantis-like creature is not on their radar at all. Destruction and pandemonium follow in the wake of the animal getting loose and a deep sea search for the animal known as Godzilla is no longer top secret. Conspiracy theories have always been an interesting and fun topic of discussion, but Godzilla takes things to a whole new level when the results of scientific research and bomb testing could possibly deliver us to our own fate.
Edwards, a self-described Godzilla nut, approaches the monster movie genre with a respect and care necessary to deliver such a great piece of summer blockbuster film. Each scene is carefully crafted to excite and produce a quality picture. Sometimes summer movies are relegated to cliche plot builds and cheesy one-liners. Edwards' Godzilla takes an artful approach to the big budget production. From clever camera work to unique soundtrack choices, each device works so well as a part of the puzzle of the story.
The monster himself looks great. When American audiences are most recently familiar with the 1998 Godzilla debacle, this updated take on the story is a breath of fresh air. Japanese audiences have called the new version of the monster fat, but his size only makes him look stronger and more intimidating. While the story never explains exactly what his motives are, Godzilla's anti-hero personality is a loyal counterpart to the American armed forces. At first he's seen as a threat, but then he risks his life for the sake of humanity. We don't get too many glimpses of his face or features, but the few times we do we see a pair of eyes that seem to understand what's at stake, almost like a big dog.
Godzilla himself is a technical achievement, as well as the buildings, structures, and other major effects. Watching Godzilla reminded me of the same way I felt watching Jurassic Park for the first time, or even Independence Day or Twister. Seeing towns being destroyed and watching people climb out of wreckage is only something you can appreciate in the movies. There's nothing more exciting and exhilarating that seeing a massive group of people look up in the sky and start running down a busy city street screaming. It's classic.
Speaking of people, Edwards gathered an impressive cast for the film. Cranston seems to be our hero at the start, but it's actually Aaron Taylor-Johnson who takes the reigns for the most part. He plays Ford Brody, son to Cranston's Joe, a military man caught up in saving the world and trying to get back to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son (Carson Bolde). Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Juliette Binoche also costar.
As a worthy entry into the monster movie canon, Godzilla has a tendency to drag here or there, but even when it drags it's really just building the anticipation for the next exciting moment. Luckily, Edwards never falls victim to overproducing the action (like last year's Man of Steel) and allowing the movie to become too aciton-y. He also lets the story respect what it is. It's artfully done and it never forgets that, at the end of the day, it's all about the monsters. This may be this summer's must-see movie.
Runtime: 123 minutes