Godzilla Movie Review
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?