Godzilla (2014) ReviewJoe Shaffer
In the spirit of kaiju films, I want you to throw away logic. Along with it, discard some of your understandings about the 2014 reboot Godzilla. For instance, toss out the notion that you might appreciate this movie just because you're a Godzilla fan, and put a bullet in the idea that it will entertain you if you're all about popcorn movies. The question you should ask yourself is not whether or not you enjoy Toho's long-running license and line of films, or even if you get a kick out of seeing massive beasts smash cities. Rather, consider what you want most out of a movie, or at least what you feel you can tolerate.
Do you like fast-paced monster movies where the beasties are constantly in your face? Then you'll probably hate Godzilla.
Did you dig movies such as Jaws, Alien, or The Host, where the titular monsters didn't get much screen time, where most of the flick was build up to a huge bang (i.e. the appearance of the monster or an insane conclusion)? Then you'll probably appreciate Godzilla.
Do you like spotting references that only fans of the genre will get? Then you'll at least break even.
Godzilla is not structured similarly to many of his older movies. It's more akin to the original entry and the 2002 movie Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, in that Big G isn't around much. As in the former film, director Gareth Edwards spent the lion's share of the running time either dwelling on the movie's human characters and their melodrama or building tension. As a person who loves this "build-and-boom" style of filmmaking--not to mention a gigantic Godzilla fan--I was in hog heaven with this flick. Sure, Godzilla doesn't appear very often, but when he does the sense of grandeur that comes booming towards you, both from the amazing visual effects and the epic score, is incredible.
There's a reason I mentioned Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. In that movie, Big G takes a back seat so that director Masaaki Tezuka can focus on the film's human protagonist and the new version of Mechagodzilla dubbed "Kiryu." Suffice it to say that if you enrolled so see a lot of the main monster, you probably came out disappointed. There's even a scene where Godzilla and Kiryu almost mix it up, but circumstances cut their rumble short. Godzilla commits this faux pas a few times. There are moments where it looks like Godzilla will finally tangle with one of his new opponents, called MUTOs. Sadly, their scuffles get shuffled to the background for most of the picture, or severely abbreviated. It isn't until the final act that big brawl commences, and as it is in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, the climactic battle is downright fierce and well worth the wait.
Godzilla also borrows one aspect of the aforementioned 2002 flick that it probably shouldn't have: a strong emphasis on a dull human story. Enter Ford Brody, Aaron Taylor-Johnson's character in this outing. Plainly put, his character lacks depth. He's a standard, uncomplicated male protagonist, and the only reason the audience might have to invest in him is that he'd like to return to his family. Unfortunately, as a naval lieutenant, he's embroiled in Godzilla's war against the MUTOs, with his chances of survival looking slim. There isn't much more to Brody than that, and his lack of depth certainly doesn't justify the ridiculous amount of time the movie spends on him.
I know, Godzilla's movies aren't supposed to be about his human costars. But if that's the case, then why focus on them so much in this rendition? I have no problem with shallow characters in kaiju movies, but that's because such films don't tend to linger on their leads overmuch.
Honestly, I wasn't terribly bothered by the lack of Godzilla or the abundance of Ford Brody. Whenever Big G wasn't front and center, the MUTOs were there to distract me from the lackluster human storyline. You might complain that the reason for viewing a Godzilla movie is to see the titular monster, but personally I prefer to get a better gander at his opponents and allies when I watch one of his movies. The MUTOs might not seem impressive at first, but if you've caught a fair number of giant monster movies, then you may realize what Legendary has done with these beasts. The word on the street is that the filmmakers originally wanted an actual monster from the Japanese franchise in the movie, which would require Warner Brothers to throw more money at a another license. Instead of going that route, they invented their own targets for Godzilla to take on, tricking them out with a variety of features reminiscent of past monsters. For instance, let's talk about the elephant in the room and mention how MUTO looks like the monster from Cloverfield. Honestly, I doubt that was an accident. I would say the same for the way the flying MUTO resembles Rodan during a particular scene; or fact that he has hooks at the ends of his limbs, like Gigan; or that he attaches himself to Godzilla during a couple of battles, in a manner similar to the giant mantis Kamacuras. I could go on all night. The point is it was fun spotting all of the references, each one like a wink from one fan to another.
I'm not guaranteeing anyone will appreciate Godzilla. Some people will flat out hate it, and that's fine. If, like me, you're okay with subtlety and you dig colossal monsters, then you'll likely enjoy the film. However, if you're expecting a constant barrage of monsters, then you can't go wrong with Destroy All Monsters or Godzilla: Final Wars for your kaiju fix.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.