Run time: 123 mins
In Theaters: Friday 16th May 2014
Box Office Worldwide: $525M
Production compaines: Toho Company, Warner Bros., Legendary Pictures, Disruption Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Gareth Edwards
Producer: Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull
Screenwriter: Max Borenstein
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody, CJ Adams as Young Ford, Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody, Elizabeth Olsen as Elle Brody, Carson Bolde as Sam Brody, Sally Hawkins as Vivienne Graham, Juliette Binoche as Sandra Brody, David Strathairn as Admiral William Stenz, Richard T. Jones as Captain Russell Hampton, Victor Rasuk as Tre Morales, Patrick Sabongui as Master Sargeant Marcus Waltz, Jared Keeso as Jump Master, Luc Roderique as Bomb Tracker, James Pizzinato as HALO Jumper, Al Sapienza as Huddleston, Brian Markinson as Whelan, Yuki Morita as Akio's Mother, Chris Shields as Dispatch Officer, Catherine Lough Haggquist as PO Martinez, Eric Keenleyside as Boyd, Ken Yamamura as Takashi, Hiro Kanagawa as Hayato, James D. Dever as Captain Freeman, Ty Olsson as Jainway, Kurt Max Runte as Crow's Nest Tech, Jill Teed as Head Nurse
Also starring: Aaron Johnson
For a blockbuster about gigantic radioactive monsters, this is a remarkably humane movie. But then that's no surprise for a film from Gareth Edwards, whose micro-budget Monsters (2010) showed that effects-based movies don't need to sacrifice characterisation and real emotion. So while this film is still a big action romp, it's also cleverly grounded by believable people.
It centres on Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), whose life was upended in 1999 by a nuclear accident in Japan that killed his scientist mother (Juliette Binoche) and turned his father into a conspiracy-theory nutcase. Now just as Ford returns from military service to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son, he's called back to Japan as his dad spots tremors similar to those 15 years earlier. And as three terrifying creatures rise out of the earth, Ford is drafted in to help protect humanity. Following the beasts via Hawaii and Las Vegas to an epic confrontation in his hometown San Francisco, Ford works with scientists (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) and military commanders (David Strathairn and Richard T. Jones), eventually realising that the big-daddy monster Godzilla might actually be trying to help.
One of the more interesting aspects of Max Borenstein's script is that it reveals fairly early on that humanity is responsible for all of this and also helpless to avert the coming cataclysm. And yet the military machine does what it can, firing pathetic bullets and mobilising nuclear warheads because that's all it knows how to do. This approach adds a moral complexity that plays out in the decisions the characters have to make along the way. Taylor-Johnson is fine as the bland but muscled everyman at the centre, but Cranston steals the film with a far more textured role. Watanabe proves to be a master at the distant stare, while everyone else just runs and/or yells like real people would.
There are some contrived plot points and the pacing drags badly in the middle, but the film is livened up by witty directing touches that include references to all kinds of genre films, plus Alexandre Desplat's superb monster-movie score. Impressively, Edwards resists letting the film slip into a full-on effects extravaganza, keeping the visuals gritty and real-looking. Even the monsters have an earthy gravity to them: when was the last time a climactic battle between duelling animated characters was genuinely moving?