One of our most anticipated movies of 2014 is finally here after 2 years of Comic Con teases and the return of giant monsters in Pacific Rim. Has the King of the Monsters returned to reign supreme? (Possible spoilers may follow)
A total reboot of the series, this new Godzilla establishes a new mythology with alternate history regarding the atomic bomb tests in the 1950’s being a cover to try and kill Godzilla and a mysterious group called Monarch finding a pair of mysterious cocoons and studying them throughout the years. In 1999, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife are involved in a disaster at a Japanese nuclear plant that Joe becomes obsessed with proving was not an accident. In the intervening years, Joe’s son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) becomes a Navy explosives ordinance disposal officer, married to nurse Elle (Elizabeth Olson) and has a son named Sam. The events of the film kick off when Joe is arrested breaking the quarantine area around the destroyed plant in 2014 and Joe must travel there to bail him out, only to be caught in the initial attack by the MUTO, a giant insect like kaiju that was hibernating below the plant site, absorbing radiation. Experts Drs Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivenne Graham (Sally Hawkins) join Admiral William Stenz (David Straitharn) to track MUTO and, eventually, Godzilla. It’s refreshing that the plot is pretty straight forward after bloated mess like Amazing Spider-Man. There’s no crazy, convoluted subplots or extraneous details to complicate things, it’s just tracking the monsters and trying to contain the damage.
The only criticism I would level against this movie is that it takes a while for Godzilla to appear. I understand and respect that director Gareth Edwards is trying to bring back old school pacing like the kind seen in Jaws or Jurassic Park but I would have liked at least a few more peeks or teases of the big G before his full reveal about halfway through. It’s probably going to be the most patient and methodical blockbuster this Summe. That reveal is incredible though and was one of the first of many moments that had my audience cheering. The other slightly frustrating thing is that Edwards holds off on a full scale monster battle until the final sequence but sets up at least two before cutting away. It definitely does build up your anticipation though and it is capitalized on during the jaw dropping, awesome final battle between the monsters that is everything you could possibly want from a Godzilla battle. There are other great sequences that are less action packed but more suspensful, like when Ford and a squad of soldiers are scouting a bridge or the monsters first meeting on Hawaii. Edwards also delivers just stunning visuals, even when there are no monsters in the frame. Every frame of the HALO jump you’ve seen in the trailer or the overgrown, bombed out ruins of the area around the nuclear plant could be taken and framed on a wall. The monsters themselves are just as incredible as the locations. Godzilla has never been as awe inspiring as he is in this movie, rightfully earning the “god” portion of his name and the new MUTO creature is a cool mix of a Starship Troopers style Arachnid with more contemporary monsters like Cloverfield.
As far as the human factor goes, when you have a cast that is this stacked, it would be shocking if someone was terrible. The weakest link is probably Elizabeth Olson but it’s mostly because her character has basically nothing to do. Ken Watanabe is great as usual lending gravitas and believability to the crazy mythology and Bryan Cranston gives every scene everything he has. David Straitharn also lends his equally great gravitas as the leader of the military operation tracking and trying to stop the monsters. We stick with Aaron Taylor-Johnson through most of the movie though and he’s a decent everyman hero but he’s lacking slightly in the charisma department. I was honestly way more worried about Godzilla than if Ford and Elle were going to find each other in the rubble of San Fransisco.
The King of the Monsters has definitely returned and has never looked better. Your patience during the first third will be rewarded with one of the greatest kaiju battles ever seen on film and hopefully this is just the beginning of the King’s new reign.