As a kid, my mom would take my sister and me to the Stanwood library for our weekly book checkout and I would make a beeline for the “monsters” section scouring the available books for all things Godzilla related. I recall one book that described a battle that found Godzilla on an island of monsters, and dreaming of the day when I would be old enough to seek that film out. Of course, by the time I was old enough, I wasn’t as interested, as Godzilla’s cheesy camp became far less intriguing.
The 1990s remake promised to change all that with an initial trailer that suggested an updated take with modern effects would make Godzilla cool again. Having been tricked into the theater with the promise of Godzilla, cheated fans left heaping scorn on a Hollywood that would deliver a giant iguana and try to pass it off as Godzilla. The Japanese were so disgusted the American Godzilla character was reduced to “Zilla” in the movie Godzilla: Final Wars in which traditional Godzilla makes quick work of the pathetic American imitation.
The new Godzilla is unlikely to endure this fate. Director Gareth Edwards has succeeded in making the Godzilla the King of All Monsters again. People forget that the first Godzilla was a serious science fiction film. The American version featured Raymond Burr and was meant to symbolize the dangers of the nuclear age. 2014 Godzilla plays off many of these themes and uses modern special effects to eliminate the camp that has so defined Godzilla for decades.
One of the best ways to make absurd stories believable is to insert great actors. The X-Men did this with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, Batman snagged Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, and Godzilla (2014) has Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche and David Strathairn. And while the cast does their best, there are some script problems that keep them from being as effective as they could have been. I found myself especially distracted by what I presume was a hairpiece for Mr. Cranston. He is so darn good, I couldn’t figure out why they thought it was needed. (Perhaps I’m just so used to his Breaking Bad persona that I thought his real hair was imitation). In any case, these finer actors are not the human focus here. That honor belongs to the Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, two capable actors who play Ford and Elle Brody, a young couple trying to reunite and protect their child from disaster.
I found the extended scenes featuring this couple to be distracting. I thought they slowed the pace of what could have been a tighter thriller.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD:
The movie allows suspense to build and delays letting us see the King of the Monsters for a considerable amount of time. To make up for that, audiences are allowed to see the destructive power of other creatures that reign destruction upon any humanity they cross.
The climatic battle scenes pitting monster vs monster update the classic “Godzilla stomps through skyscrapers” to such an extent that it seems like a new experience. And unlike the lame giant lizard from the 90’s, this Godzilla is out to show he is the real thing (I won’t spoil it by telling you how).
Godzilla (2014) may be the best Godzilla movie yet, but at its core, it’s still just a Godzilla movie. I was hoping for – and expecting – just a bit more. Families looking for popcorn thrills, especially those with young boys, are bound to be lining up and cheering to see this monster come to life in the modern age.