On Sunday, 1 June 2014, Thomas K.Y. and I caught an early matinee of Godzilla at the recently renovated Showcase Cinemas in Woburn, Mass. We liked the latest incarnation of the “big G,” even if the film wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been.
As with most of its kaiju (Japanese giant monster) movie predecessors, the first half of this Godzilla focuses on its human cast, including environmentally conscious scientists, grimly determined but often misguided military folks, and a young family in peril as huge monsters fight through multiple cities. That’s all you ever need to know.
The mostly American cast plays it straight, with none of the camp of the fondly remembered Showa-era’s monster mashups or the 1998 misfire. As you may have seen from Godzilla‘s trailers, Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche play nuclear physicists Joe and Sandra Brody, who are among the first to suffer from the kaiju emergence.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, who’ll be playing mutant siblings in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron, are young soldier Ford Brody and his wife Elle here. Alphas‘ David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe bring some gravitas as Adm. William Stenz and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, respectively. Their roles are mostly two-dimensional, but they provide a human’s-eye view to the massive destruction.
While the cast is solid, the pacing of the movie is not as steady. I expect kaiju movies to start slowly and build to big battles, but director Gareth Edwards teases full views of Godzilla and his “MUTO” (massive unidentified terrestrial organism) opponents for a bit too long. Yes, viewers should identify with the human cast, but I would have liked to see more of the fights and fewer teary people or futile small-arms firing.
That said, the monster designs are all good, and Godzilla’s latest look is properly regal. As I mentioned to Thomas, the MUTOs show that this is the first post-Cloverfield Gojira flick. Pacific Rim might have been more fun, but the newest Godzilla restores the beasts as manifestations of nature’s wrath and nuclear horrors.
Unlike 1998’s “GINO” (“Godzilla in name only”), I rooted for Godzilla even as he and the MUTOs stomped through Japan, Hawaii, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, which didn’t look overly computer-animated or rely on shaky cam. The HALO jump seen in the trailer was also well-executed and actually had a connection to the story.
Like that movie and Cloverfield, however, there were subplots about reproduction, survival, and military secrets, and even a little humor might have helped relieve and build tension.
Godzilla’s roar and the music for this movie were decent, but nothing can top the ominous 1954 theme. (To be fair, as a longtime “G-fan,” I also like Blue Oyster Cult’s song and the late 1970s cartoon’s song.)
Overall, I’d give the 2014 Godzilla, which is rated PG-13 for “mayhem,” a 7.5 out of 10, three and a half out of five stars, or a B. I do think that some critics have been overly harsh, looking for subtle acting or political statements.
I don’t know if it will be enough to reignite interest in the 60-year-old franchise, but I liked it more than other recent monster movies, and I’d love to see Godzilla take on new versions of Mothra, King Ghidra, MechaGodzilla, and evil aliens in potential sequels! Long may he reign!