Review by Noah Foster-Koth
Sometimes watching a broadly silly movie can be just as fulfilling as watching a meticulously well-crafted one. I appreciate movies grounded in reality like Lincoln and Captain Phillips, but sometimes all I want from a movie is the chance to indulge my inner five-year-old’s fascination with dinosaurs and dragons. Watching Godzilla, an American remake of the Japanese B-movies of the 1950s, may be a guilty pleasure for us monster geeks, but it does provide real pleasure.
Godzilla is at its weakest when it focuses on the puny humans. Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston plays Joe, a nuclear scientist whose wife died in a power plant malfunction. Joe has set out to prove that the accident that killed his wife was caused by a visit from a radioactive leviathan and not an earthquake, as the plant’s owners claim. For the first 20 minutes of the movie, Cranston’s character seems to be the film’s protagonist. Then, oddly, the story takes a u-turn. Joe’s quest gets surprisingly little screen time, and it’s disappointing that we have to spend the rest of the film with his son, Ford, a marine trained in disarming bombs. Ford is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, an Elijah Wood look-alike who doesn’t have an ounce of Cranston’s acting chops.
The script is weak, with lengthy exposition monologues and dialogue about as subtle as the bellow of a tyrannosaurus. I wish the screenwriters had worked in some levity amidst all the apocalyptic carnage – – the story sometimes takes itself too seriously.
But does any of that really matter? Nobody expects rich characterizations and snappy dialogue in a Godzilla movie. You’re buying a ticket to see a gargantuan salamander tear up densely populated coastal cities, and if that’s something that appeals to you, this movie mostly delivers. The human characters may be cardboard, but that just makes it more fun when Godzilla knocks them over.
For a movie called Godzilla, we actually see precious little of the big lizard himself. Instead, we’re treated to the spectacle of the MUTOs, giant radioactive butterfly creatures that can only reproduce in the presence of radioactive waste. Their mating ritual, which involves gifting each other with an atomic bomb, is unintentionally hilarious.
The visual effects are all well done, even if Godzilla’s physical appearance is somewhat comical. Director Gareth Edwards has clearly taken his inspiration from classic monster movies like Jurassic Park. He doesn’t reveal Godzilla right away, but instead builds our anticipation by shrouding the big lizard in the shadows for the majority of the movie. The soundtrack, written by Alexadre Desplat, is reminiscent of the tunes from BBC’s epic Walking With Dinosaurs miniseries, and a fight between a MUTO and a monorail evokes the original King Kong. Granted, Godzilla isn’t anywhere near as good as King Kong. Or Walking With Dinosaurs. Or Jurassic Park. But if you like the idea of seeing a portly stegosaurus duke it out with a pair of horny, ornery butterflies, then this is the movie for you.