Let’s nuke this one.
Note: this review will contain spoilers.
I’ve finally found a giant monster movie I hate more than Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, and that would be Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. Lacking anything approaching any kind of emotional resonance, theme, or (and this is the worst part) memorable action, Edwards’ tedious reboot squanders its premise, any and all attached talent, and worse, the big guy himself in a movie that confuses frustrating the viewer with building tension and delaying gratification.
It gets off to a strong start, at least, in 1999 introducing Dr. Serizawa (Ken Wantanabe, Inception), an expert at staring in awe and making prophetic pronouncements about things as he and his team discover the remains of something prehistoric in the Philippines, as well as something very alive which has made its way into the sea.
Here, Edwards is on sure footing, introducing us to something mysterious, nearly linking Godzilla ’54 to this film (but not really). The spines of something monstrous jutting from the ground, hints that for Serizawa and his team this is part of a wider web of strange things going on in the world – it’s exciting and it’s the last time I’ll really be able to say that about Edwards’ work here.
The thing from the Philippines makes its way to the Japanese city of Janjira, where it ends Juliette Binoche’s very short cameo as Bryan Cranston’s wife and leaves the city a wasteland in what authorities claim was a nuclear disaster. Jump forward 15 years and Cranston’s Joe Brody is still in Japan, obsessed with the strange sonic readings from the day of the disaster, and unfortunately not our main character.
That would be his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a military explosives expert now living in San Francisco with his wife (Elizabeth Olsen, you might forget she’s in the movie), and son. The script by Max Borenstein admirably attempts to keep the ensuing action focused on a small handful of characters, but from here on out, Ford will simply Forrest Gump his way from one disaster to the next, and doing it all while making the curious decision allow Taylor-Johnson to neither emote nor seem grounded in the story in any way whatsoever.
Through a series of accidents and happenstance, Ford becomes part of a U.S.-led naval effort to kill the newly-awakened thing from the Philippines, or MUTO, as it wreaks havoc and eats nuclear material. Meanwhile, from the depths of the Pacific, Godzilla rises.
Now here’s where things get a little hazy, and the self-seriousness of Edwards’ Godzilla attempts to blend with the goofy-fun pseudo and super science of Toho’s 60’s-onwards kajiu films, which cast the big monster as the world’s sometimes-savior. Without any kind of logic behind it, Dr. Serizawa whisper-insists that Godzilla acts as some kind of natural corrective to nuclear monsters like MUTO and that the Navy should just leave the monster alone and let him kill MUTO in peace. With both monsters smashing and crashing their way through the Bay Area, the military is inclined to disagree, preferring instead to enact a nuclear attack on creatures that feed on nuclear power.
The action lurches forward like a disaster movie where the director is more interested in the thousand-yard stare of its lead than the far more compelling monster mayhem, where we cut away from the first big fight between Godzilla and MUTO in Hawaii for an admittedly funny bit on the mainland, but when we return to Hawaii, it’s only to see the aftermath. The second encounter is similarly circumspect, with Edwards reflecting a split-second of the action off of a pair of goggles.
And what the hell is this movie even about? It has, roughly, a plot involving Taylor-Johnson’s Sgt. Coincidence bumbling into multiple attempts to stop the monsters, but there’s no clear idea running through it. Wantanabe-mumble whispering what the film seems to think is its theme – that man can not control nature – makes us consider Jurassic Park which is a terrible idea because that was a far better film where each of the characters was in some way keyed into the overall theme of man’s (failed) attempt at mastering nature. Ford Brody is just a guy trying to get back home to his family, and for the few turns in the story, Godzilla could just as easily be a tsunami or earthquake (which is, I know, kind of the point, but doesn’t make for an interesting story).
Edwards’ need to tease out the monsters is a cheap play at mystery given that we know what the creatures look like, and the end result is that all of the action is loaded into the back 20 minutes of the film in a series of repetitive match-ups between Godzilla and not one, but two MUTOS, which seem content to shove each other into buildings and slap at each other in slow-motion. The director used a similar technique in Monsters to play on viewers’ imaginations on a shoestring budget, but like that film, Godzilla‘s insistence on relying on the same tease-and-repeat formula that only makes the inevitable big fight all that more disappointing.
If you’re going to delay gratification, then at least make sure the thing you’re delaying is gratifying.
So what did you think of Godzilla?