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!
It sure wasn’t what I expected from the trailers.
Same with me. But do you mean it in a good way or bad way. Was it a pleasant surprise or big disappointment? I can really see this movie going both ways with audiences.
I actually liked it, but t was a shame about the amount of talent wasted on poor character development in this film. I keep saying they could have done more with Cranston and Watanabe’s characters but the monster vs monsters showdown was worth the watch 😀 good review, btw 😀
Thank you! I wanted more of Cranston too but I was fine with his role overall. I really think he served the story well.
The true start to the blockbuster season. Great movie, great review.
Thanks man. And what a way to start, right? I gotta admit, I was not expecting this. I really left the movie pretty pumped up.
I did have a good bit of fun with this, but not as much as I’d hoped. Still, it’s a good summer flick and a much welcomed reboot, we needed to get the taste of 1998’s debacle out of our mouths.
Oh me. The 98 trash was a total failure. I swear that movie was a mess. This was better in every regard.
Glad to hear you enjoyed this a lot more than I did Keith. I enjoyed it but not as much as I had hoped, I think it took itself too seriously, but yet the human drama is too corny. I personally enjoyed Pac Rim a whole lot more as it was such campy good fun and hilarious!
Aw bummer. Sorry you didn’t really go for it but I can understand. Personally I liked the serious tone because I think it felt more like the original instead of a joke about it. I think that’s why I really haven’t felt the urge to revisit Pacific Rim even though I like it.
I really went for the human drama mainly because it didn’t go too far into personal relationships. It was more about separation, paranoia, utter helplessness, etc. I bought it.
But as I said I can see where some may not really go with it. It’s a different approach and it’s very celebratory towards those flicks of the 50s. And you know me, that nostalgia factor works (almost) every time! 🙂
I’m probably headed back to watch it again this weekend. Fine review, Keith.
Sounds like you enjoyed it too? I thought it was a heck of a fun ride. So much more than I expected. It just kept reminding me of those great old 50s pictures!
Oh, I agree 🙂
Nice review Keith! I enjoyed the movie but I didn’t care for any of the human characters. This is a good example of a bad script that was rescued by a good director. Aaron Johnson was a weak lead, they should’ve made either Cranston’s or Watanabe’s character the lead. I still don’t understand why Elizabeth Olsen decided to appear in the movie, her character could’ve been played by an unknown actress; maybe she liked the big paycheck since her previous work were all small indie flicks.
The only reason why I enjoyed the movie was Edward’s direction and the visual effects. Clearly the man knows how to create cool effects and he even brought some look and feel of his previous movie Monsters into this one. Let’s hope they improve the human characters for the sequel.
Thanks man. I had a very different reaction. I really enjoyed the characters and thought they serviced the story well. I thought Olsen brought a personal touch to the movie and particularly to Johnson’s character (actually more so than Johnson himself). I actually felt anyone could have played Hawkins role although I really enjoyed seeing her there.
I thought Cranston and Watanabe were both fantastic and I was fine with their roles. They infused a nice amount of tension and paranoia without going overboard. And I agree that Johnson was the “star” but not by much. I liked how several characters were given moments to contribute and during this time Johnson would disappear. That was a good move because he did come off as bland at times.
Totally concur with you. This was definitely a case of great direction carrying mediocre screenwriting and characterizations. Clearly, from both of Edwards’ ‘Monsters’ (2010) and now this film, the man has a talent for epic visuals and Spielbergian aura.
Personally I think characters like Watanabe and Straithairn’s were intentionally written in almost homage fashions which I really enjoyed. And considering how much I loved the deliberate buildup, I’m glad they didn’t go too far into personal character development, familiar government conspiracy angles, etc. I think that would’ve taken away from what I enjoyed the most.
Nice review Keith. This is proof that Hollywood can actually do a good job on remaking classics and not mess it up. Hopefully I didn’t just curse it.
You’re spot-on! It can be done and with fantastic results. This was a lot of fun and it really did look back at the original film. Very impressed.
Nice review Keith. I felt Godzilla was just the right blend of the nostalgic and modern. There were plenty of nods to the old movies but Edwards gave this film its own identity. I personally loved the way the action unfurled with a few glimpses building the tension to the final battle. Will definitely revisit this one.
Great comments and I completely agree with you. In this day and time Godzilla isn’t an easy movie to bring back. Boy Edwards did it right. I was thrilled with the results.
Great stuff Keith. I felt like there was far too much build up!
Thanks! There was lots of build up for sure. But that is just like the old creature features its based on. I think that’s one of the things I loved about it.
Good stuff Keith, glad you enjoyed it … I did too. I’m with you in terms of the slow build up – I thought it was really well executed and it’s definitely one of the better blockbusters I’ve seen in the past year or two as a result. I disagree with you a bit on the acting side of things, though. I thought Watanabe was so-so, although to be fair he just seemed to be asked to stare off into the middle distance most of the time, as if he was trying to remember if he’d left the iron on or not. I don’t think anyone was bad, as such, but few people get to do much with their characters, especially Hawkins, Strathairn and (for obvious reasons) Binoche. But…Cranston pretty good! He got the most interesting character to work with.
I really liked Watanabe! He played the paranoid and out-of-ideas scientist, a character that we get in so many of those 50s sci-fi flicks. I think he is like that by design. As is Straithairn except he diverges a bit. He’s not the ‘we do it our way for the heck of it’ military guy but he still captures a lot of the features found in this staple character of many of those films. I just think they were great in very intentional nostalgia roles.
Fair enough! I hadn’t really thought of either of them like that. I’d still liked to have seen something a little more interesting though – a fast-talking Jeff Goldblum-style scientist perhaps. But he’s probably long had his fill of blockbusters!
And that’s a shame isn’t it? Goldblum is ALWAYS a hoot. I could always watch him in a role like that!
It took me a while to figure out how I felt about this movie, mainly because there’s such a range of styles of Godzilla throughout the ages so no one really knows exactly what a Godzilla movie is “supposed to be like” or supposed to feel, other than that Godzilla is (mostly) indestructible and that he has atomic breath. For me, this movie felt like a good mix of classic, dark, ominous Godzilla from the original 1954 classic with plenty of buildup, plus the additional monsters and Godzilla’s role as a(n) (anti)hero from the later Showa, Heisei, and Millenium series.
I’ll post my own review soon, but for now, I’m guessing a healthy 7/10 for me. My main complaints with the movie are that none of the cast or characters are that interesting, minus Cranston who’s removed part way through. This isn’t a cardinal sin for me here because the direction is fantastic and even quite Spielbergian in its cinematography at times. Plus, that atomic breath is pretty damn cool.
I love the connection you make to Spielberg! You really can see early Spielberg influences , can’t you? Edwards really impressed me with his touches which amped up tension and gave us some incredible shots.
Thanks for the great comments!
Can’t wait to see this tomorrow, Keith. So stoked for it. Going with my son who is a major kaiju fan. (like his Pop). I’ll read your review after I get back from the theater, for sure, bro! Thanks!
Please do and tell me what you think. I’m really anxious to hear your thoughts. I found it to be a ton of fun. Watched it with my son and he left as excited as I was.
Great review. I liked the film and thought the majority of the film was good, which is a nice change from the 98 version which was mostly bad.
The visuals and tone worked really well but the characters where lifeless, except Cranston.
Still bring on MechaGodzilla! 😀
Now you didn’t watch the French version did you? 😉
SNAP! It feels like such a long time since I’ve whole heartedly agreed with a new film review you’ve done, Keith 😉 But definitely agree here. I like how they’ve gone back to the original notion of Godzilla – being a nature balancing being. And, like you said, each of the human characters served their purpose.
A really good and surprising summer blockbuster film.
We have broken our disagreeable streak!!! 😉
I’m with you 100%. The movie clearly respects the original both in structure and tone. I really, really liked that!
Well, it’d be boring if everyone liked the same things and no one disagreed! 😀
Very true. And I do have a weird trend of going against the grain! 😀
Great review Keith, glad to hear you enjoyed Godzilla. The look of Godzilla is pretty awesome and some very cool, memorable shots. There are some issues that keep me back from totally loving it but not a bad movie.
Thanks! I really went for it. I loved its structure and the effects were a nice mix of old school and new tech. It also felt like it respected its roots. I really liked that!
Nice review. This really helped wipe the bad taste of Emmerich’s 1998 version away. With the exception of Cranston, the characters were pretty undeveloped, but the action really helped redeem the movie.
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Good on you for really enjoying yourself with Godzlila man, I sure did! I saw it twice, almost back-to-back. It was great fun and even on the second go-round the slow build-up was not a problem for me. I will admit it was certainly more noticeable but it still worked. It gave such perspective to the epic size of what was to come later. I thought the finale was absolutely perfect.
I am, however, reticent to see a sequel to this. Seems a little limited. Don’t know what you think, though?
Oh I completely agree. For me the buildup, the anticipation, the tension of what was out there really worked here. In a sequel that suspense is all but gone. We’ve seen him. The world knows he exists. That element that I loved so much about the first film is no more. Really unsure about how a sequel can be as good.
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Just watched it. Awesome!
I’m really glad you liked it. I was a big fan of it and enjoyed how it slowly worked up to the monster action. Great cast too.
Agreed. It certainly wasn’t mindless action. I liked the broody, apocalyptic feel of it as well.
Same here. Hoping this year’s sequel is equally good.
I’m all hyped for it! Hope I’m not disappointed.