Long before Matthew Broderick was running from baby Godzillas in Madison Square Garden, the King of the Monsters built up an impressive filmography spanning decades. One of the biggest pop culture symbols in both Japan and the United States, it was only a matter of time before the franchise was rebooted.
In this new introduction of the creature, Godzilla faces off against a pair of monsters that look like the lovechild of the “Cloverfield” monster and an arachnid from “Starship Troopers”. Presenting the human side of the story is the Brody family: the scientist father, Joe (Bryan Cranston), his soldier son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and Ford’s wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen).
After a nuclear disaster destroys Joe Brody’s family and occupation, he sets out to discover the mystery behind the incident. At the same time, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) is investigating a giant crater in the Philippines which reveals the tomb of a giant predator and some not-so-dead parasites. Fifteen years after these discoveries, the creatures come to life and it’s up to Godzilla and, to a much lesser extent, Ford Brody to save the world from annihilation.
After Roland Emmerich’s 1998 “Godzilla” essentially killed the franchise for American audiences, it was going to take a director with a little more artistic integrity to ever revive the series. Enter Gareth Edwards, whose 2010 “Monsters” lit up sci-fi fans with possibilities using only $800,000 for a budget. Edwards is a true fan of the genre and here he tries to treat the material with reverence (possibly too much). Unlike last year’s “Pacific Rim”, “Godzilla” doesn’t like to have a lot of fun. Since most summer movies seem to come down to Marvel vs. DC anyway, let’s just put it in those terms: “Pacific Rim” is light and funny like Marvel, whereas “Godzilla” has the color palette and seriousness of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
That being said, “Godzilla” provides plenty of entertainment. You may only get a laugh in your theater the first time Ken Watanabe says the creature’s name, but the film provides plenty of spectacle with its action sequences. The creature’s design is a good marriage of realism and coolness and the evil monsters are equally interesting. Watching them go head-to-head in San Francisco is the kind of thing summer movies are made of.
One thing that is sure to annoy people is how Edwards will pull away from some of Godzilla’s earlier fights scenes. Instead of seeing these firsthand, they are mostly shown through news reports on the TV. Not exactly what you want to see after a really good buildup.
Bryan Cranston is every bit as good as everyone imagined he would be in the part, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson leaves a little to be desired. As the main hero of the story, he’s okay, but someone with more charisma and emotional range might have made the human element interesting enough to cut away from the creatures, as the film often does. Though it’s not exactly the best script ever, these actors, as well as supporting cast like David Strathairn, lend a little credibility to the story.
Though it may not crack the Top 5 for Summer 2014, “Godzilla” is worthy of its brand and introduces a compelling story to a new audience. I look forward to seeing which direction Edwards takes the film with its inevitable sequels.