Last year brought us “Pacific Rim”, an unashamed homage to the old creature features of the 1950s. By all right it should have been terrible but “Pacific Rim” was a decent film. It was far from perfect but it was a fun and entertaining romp. This year we get “Godzilla”, another monster movie that didn’t have me a bit excited at first and that could have been really awful. But it’s actually not. In fact not only is this new incarnation of the well known reptile better than last year’s “Pacific Rim”, it’s one of the better recent blockbusters and it was some of the most fun I’ve had at the theaters this year.
It doesn’t take long to notice several surprising differences in this film from what you might expect. The movie is built upon a very deliberate and methodical story. It certainly has its huge creature-feature action but we are never bombarded with it. The film is also set apart by its spectacular cast. “Godzilla” features a number of great performers that automatically enhance the experience. Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, and David Straithairn make up the film’s great supporting ensemble.
Cranston plays a nuclear physicist who was present during a 1999 disaster at a nuclear plant in Japan. Fifteen years pass and he is still dealing with the consequences of the disaster while also determined to expose what he believes is a cover up of the true cause behind the event. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays his son, a military man married to Olsen. Watanabe plays a scientist studying hidden findings at the disaster site along with his assistant Hawkins. Obviously towering monsters come into play as the story unfolds and revelations are made. The inevitable global threat takes center stage but not before an intense and very well conceived buildup takes place.
Almost every character is given their moments. At first I was wishing I had seen more of this person or that person, but each serve the plot very well. A couple of performers don’t get a lot of screen time but I’m okay with that mainly because they work really well within the story being told. Better yet, everyone is really good. Taylor-Johnson is probably the weakest of the talented cast but he is certainly adequate for what he is asked to do despite his moments of blandness. Cranston is fabulous and Watanabe is rock-solid as always. Hawkins is always good although she is reserved to an almost background character. Olsen continues to impress and Straithairn is a really nice fit as a Navy Admiral in charge of stopping this massive scaly threat.
But perhaps what I like the most is how the movie doesn’t cater to preconceived notions. As I mentioned, it very slowly develops its story but I found it to be incredibly intriguing and always tense. This may not impress those looking for a constant barrage of big creature effects, but I found it to be a wonderful approach which made those big creature moments all the more satisfying once they come. Director Gareth Edwards constructs his film well which hearkens back to the fun sci-fi monster movies of the 1950s. He uses their formulas of build up, buildup, slight reveal, buildup, big finale. I loved that.
Now an argument could be made that the “big finale” is a bit too big. There is some merit to that. But even during those moments the story is moving in different directions which kept things interesting. Better yet, we had only seen passing glances of Godzilla up to that point so watching him duke it out in the finale was pretty exciting. It also helps that the movie looks great. There is a touch of the disaster genre here so we get several wide shots of massive destruction. They are always in context and they look fabulous. I also loved the look of Godzilla. Clearly there is CGI used, but yet he maintains an undeniable familiarity with the old classic Godzilla models. I got a real kick out of that. There is also a brilliant use of sound through the picture from big earth-shattering roars to perfect moments of ominous silence.
I think it’s safe to say that “Godzilla” is one of the biggest surprises for me this year. I had such a good time with the film and I was surprised at how well made and well written it is. The cast is committed and there’s no winking at the camera at any point. It literally had me glued to the screen for the entire running time and more than once I was smiling as it reminded me of those old monster movies that I still adore. Maybe there is a bit of nostalgia talking but I’m fine with that. I had a great time with “Godzilla” and I can’t wait to see it again!