“The arrogance of man is thinking that nature is in their control, and not the other way around."
When news first hit that we were getting another Godzilla remake, expectations were pretty low. Public sentiment began to turn around upon learning that Gareth Edwards (Monsters, a beautiful and impressive low-budget indie) and when a pretty high caliber cast was announced. By the time the well executed marketing released a series of trailers highlighting the stunning visuals and slowly revealing Godzilla, hype was almost as high as the monster itself. I’m happy to say that, for the most part, the film is epic and lives up to that hype.
Godzilla balances small character moments and emotional stakes with gorgeous images of destruction and satisfying fight scenes. During the action sequences, you are constantly in awe of the huge scale of the monster, and yet the film never loses sight of the humans at risk on the ground.
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) gives a heartbreaking performance in the opening sequence set in a Japanese Nuclear Plant. He plays Joe, an obsessed scientist no one will believe (until the monsters appear and his research becomes crucial). Cranston makes Joe the movie's most interesting character. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kickass) plays his son, Ford, a soldier, and Elizabeth Oleson (Martha Marcy May Marlene) plays Ford's wife, Elle. Ken Watanabe (Inception) demands your attention as a scientist, delivering some of the movie's best lines. Aside from Cranston and Watanabe, the human characters felt a little bland, particularly Ford, who we follow for most of the film. While I rooted for the human protagonists, I would have no problem following different characters in a sequel, as long as we get the same, awesome Godzilla.
In addition to the great cast, the film is smartly vast in scope, trotting the globe from Japan, to the Philippines, Hawaii, and LA. However, I had some suspension of disbelief issues with the fact that Johnson’s character kept running into the monsters across multiple different countries.
Edwards does a great job as director, especially consider that this is his first big-budget blockbuster. We can see that he hasn't lost sight of the human characters, and he expertly frames the action to reveal and obscure things in the way that adds the most tension. Some of the most amazing shots come when Edwards frame's the shots from the ground, following a person in the foreground while we witness breathtaking destruction occurring in the background.
One of the things that may surprise viewers is the classic style of pacing, much more akin to the 1954 original than to the fast paced disaster movies more common today. The film is very much a slow burn, withholding the titular monster for almost half of its run-time, and still using him sparingly until the climactic battle. This approach works to masterfully build tension, but some moments feel too much like teases, cutting away just as a fight is about to erupt.
All of this is worth it, however, by the time we get to the climax, which delivers on all fronts. There were a few times in the third act when the audience was moved to cheer and applaud because they were so excited about what was happening on screen.
I saw the film in IMAX 3-D. I highly recommend the IMAX experience for this movie, as Godzilla towering over skyscrapers becomes all the more impressive when you have to crane your neck to see him. The 3-D is fine, but not at all necessary to enjoy the film. Thankfully, the movie doesn't use any in-your-face 3-D gimmicks, but after a while, the 3-D effects are barely noticeable.
Overall, Godzilla is the perfect popcorn movie, with stunning visuals, thrills, kickass monsters, satisfying moments, and real emotional depth. Aside from some of the slow pacing, and a few bland characters, I would consider this to be one of the best monster movies ever made, and if Edwards is behind it again, I'm incredibly excited to see where the franchise goes from here.
Godzilla opens on May 16, 2014 in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D.