Synopsis: 15 years after the tragic accident at a Japanese power plant that claimed the life of his wife, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) return to the quarantined site to finally learn the truth of what happened on that fateful day. But they soon discover a secret research facility that is home to a winged, ancient horror that suddenly threatens to send our planet back into prehistoric times. As this creature begins to wreak havoc across the Pacific, another great beast arises from the deep: Godzilla, King of the Monsters. But is he here to vanquish our common enemy or will he, too, attempt to destroy life as we know it?
What I Liked: When this movie was announced, I completely ignored it. I've never really cared about this character (as it were) and any interest I might have had in a Godzilla reboot was eradicated by the 1998 Matthew Broderick masterpiece. But that first teaser trailer was fantastic and brought with it a buzz that stayed with me so long that I might have been looking forward to this movie more so than any other this summer. So somewhat surprisingly, Godzilla had a great deal to live up to and thankfully, it did not disappoint.
In short, Godzilla is almost a perfect summer blockbuster. It's got pretty much everything you could want this time of year: Action. Explosions. Great visuals. Multiple giant monsters that like nothing more than destroying cities. One of the Olsen sisters (not one of the Olsen twins, mind you, but instead their supremely talented non-twin, Elizabeth). EVERYTHING. But hidden among all the standard blockbuster fare is a smart plot handled by a rising star in the directing world, Gareth Edwards, who understands exactly what his audience wants and how to play with that. Godzilla finds the right balance between action overload and disappointment, due in large part to Edwards handling of the great beast. You don't see Godzilla himself until an hour into the movie and during that time, Edwards builds his mystique incredibly well, leading to a tremendous sense of thrill when he does show up. There was a wave of energy that rolled through my theater when we finally got a good look at the monster and man, is he a sight to behold!
The visuals within Godzilla are outstanding, complete with some of the best CGI I've ever seen. Moreover, the creature design, which I think is often overlooked in a movie like this, is gloriously well done. That is to say, Godzilla looks AWESOME, powerful and terrifying but with a touch of grace that is usually missing in this setting. (Last year's Pacific Rim, which I enjoyed just fine, could have been improved tremendously with this sort of visually appealing creature design.) He also sounds awesome and the masterfully crafted audio elements of this movie should not be overlooked. And the actors, while definitely playing second fiddle to their rather large CGI counterpart, are all solid. No one here is being asked to carry a film, of course, but far too often, actors in these sorts of rolls turn in performances that border on cringe-worthy and the film suffers. Not so here, as Cranston, Taylor-Johnson, Olsen, and the rest all bring something to the table.
What I Didn't Like: There are times when Godzilla almost feels like it is two movies being compressed into one. Much of the back story and plotting is touched on in a very choppy manner as we move from place to place and even year to year. On the one hand, I appreciate this commitment to keeping things moving as the movie clocks in right at two hours in an era that routinely sees summer blockbusters roll on and on for 150 or 160 minutes. On the other hand, I actually really dug the origin portions of this story and could have done with more time in that area. There is not much room for character development within Godzilla either and I think some of the more emotional moments suffer because of this. At the same time, the movie expends very little effort in banging the emotional drum so perhaps that angle just wasn't much of a concern. Regardless, there are some pacing issues that I think are indicative of a young director who hasn't had this sort of time or money to work with before. Even still, these are minor issues for me and didn't hinder my enjoyment of the movie overall.
Conclusion: All told, Godzilla is a highly enjoyable, thrilling film that I honestly can't wait to see again. Edwards makes a 300 foot dinosaur far more appealing than he has any right to be and left the audience wanting more. Godzilla embodies the spirit of the summer blockbuster wonderfully, setting a high standard for the summer films that are to come.
Grade: A (Rated PG-13 for some language and a devastating amount of destruction)
NOTE: I went in for a 3D screening, which I rarely do, and regretted. It's not the terrible, retro-fitted 3D that we've seen in the past but it simply adds nothing to the movie as a whole. Good old fashioned 2D will do the trick and save you some money, too. You're welcome. Also, Gareth Edwards' first film, Monsters, is available on Netflix and is worth your time. Great accomplishments on a nothing budget.