Over the last few months, the newest Godzilla reboot has been generating a lot of steam, thanks to some marvelous trailers. It's not outlandish to call Godzilla the most hyped film of the year so far. But the funny thing about this, is that it will only appeal to a very specific group. I suspect most mainstream audiences will be disappointed by this reboot. Some will find it laughably bad. But if you find yourself in this film's (very small) target audience, then the hype will have all been worth it. Indeed, I find myself in that camp. Long live Godzilla!
Ford Brody has just returned from serving in the U.S. Navy, when he gets a phone call that his father has been arrested for trespassing in a quarantined area in Japan. Ford travels there to pick his father up, though his father is convinced that the Japanese scientists are hiding some mammoth secret. Needless to say, Ford's father proves correct. The scientists have been in possession of a MUTO, a large flying beast, and now it has escaped! But of course, there is a larger beast that makes his grand appearance later...
It is important, and I mean very important, to walk into Godzilla with the right expectations. Based on the trailers, one would expect Godzilla to be a more gritty and intense experience than say, Jurassic Park. And while it can be perceived that way, Godzilla is ultimately an homage to the Hollywood b-movie, which Godzilla shares its roots in. As a result, there are some scenes that very over-the-top, and even silly, but it's all part of the fun. Unfortunately, I suspect this will fly over the heads of many mainstream audiences.
Godzilla's b-movie mannerisms elicited chuckles at the screening I attended. In fact, an unexpected use of one of Godzilla's signature moves was met with uproarious laughter. Indeed, I was among those laughing, though I wonder how many of us realized we were supposed to be laughing with the movie, and not at the movie.
Is this a flaw of the film itself? That its intentions as a modern b-movie (though obviously, with a larger budget) is not defined clearly enough? I think this is more a problem with the marketing than anything. Audiences are expecting something more realistic. Though surely anyone walking into a film starring a giant lizard should know better than to expect absolute realism! If nothing else, the vintage feel of the delightful main titles should have given audiences a big enough hint.
Homages aside, Godzilla still packs a lot of fantastic bits that don't require b-movie know-how to enjoy. The special effects for instance, are breath-taking at times. There's a lot of build-up before the big reveal of Godzilla himself, but the tantalizing flashes we see of the beast here and there are enough to keep out attention. There are some shots in this film that are nothing short of mesmerizing. While the b-movie fun may disappoint some movie-goers, no one could possibly be disappointed by Godzilla himself. If one has trouble defining the word "spectacle," Godzilla is the antidote.
The interesting thing about the monsters in this film (Godzilla and MUTO), is that they are so abnormally large (Godzilla is taller than most sky scrapers), that they cannot target individual pedestrians. Indeed, we rarely see humans get eaten, because these monsters are too huge for that. Consequently, the monsters evoke less a feeling of terror or suspense, but rather, one of awe and excitement.
Unfortunately, like any creature-feature, it's occasionally slowed down by the less interesting humans. With the exception of Bryan Cranston's character (who is actually in much less of the film than the trailers would tell you), everybody is without personality. And unfortunately, the script tends to falter during these portions too. Still, no one comes to a film like Godzilla expecting strong characters or a strong script. They are preferred qualities, but when a film continues to dazzle you with eye-candy and Godzilla-madness, some flaws can be forgiven.
The actors do the best they can with half-baked characters. Aaron-Taylor Johnson is wooden in his performance in the lead (likely the reason he was not shown in any of the trailers), and so is Elizabeth Olsen in a much smaller role as Ford's wife (likely the reason she was not shown in any of the trailers). Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa has nothing to do in his role, but occasionally deliver exposition. Bryan Cranston is the clear stand-out, though he also possesses the unfair advantage of portraying the only character with a personality.
Alexandre Desplat's score is as loud and bombastic as any blockbuster score. And yet, it has melody. It has intelligence. And unlike Zimmer's disastrous Amazing Spider-Man 2, Desplat's score actually utilizes an orchestra! (So did Zimmer's, but how can you tell with the electric guitar and the dub-step in your face at all times?) Like the film itself, Desplat allows himself many homages to the classic b-movie, while also providing a score that is universally enjoyable. It is melodic, and yet, appropriately thrilling. Desplat has never scored a movie quite like this, but he has succeeded admirably.
Godzilla will not appeal to everyone. Only those that know exactly what they're in for will enjoy Godzilla to its fullest extent. It is essential to appreciate and understand Godzilla's b-movie sensibilities. If nothing else, audiences will be amazed by the stunning visuals. And how refreshing it is to see a movie that ends without unresolved story threads and un-learned secrets, and instead, just ends while it's ahead (I'm looking at you, Amazing Spider-Man franchise). It's unlikely that Godzilla will require the fanbase that one might have suspected 3 or 4 months ago. But it has the trimmings of a cult-classic.