Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla was the first movie of the summer I was looking forward to (unless you count Captain America sort of starting the summer movie season way early at the start of April). An awesome giant monster plus Bryan Cranston? What more do you need?
Well, it turns out the answer is it needs a lot more monster and a lot more Cranston. In fact, the monster and Cranston levels are kind of deadly low here.
The first half hour or so of the movie is great, exactly what I wanted. Cranston’s intense, troubled, pro-active, an all-around compelling hero coping with serious tragedy and uncovering a compelling (if obvious) mystery. The mood is serious, the Hiroshima-based concerns of the 1954 original intelligently updated for the post-Fukushima era. The quarantine zone, with nature growing over abandoned civilization, is a thing of eerie beauty. When the first kaiju emerges, the attack is genuinely terrifying. Had the first 30 minutes just been a Godzilla-unrelated short film, it’d be winning all the awards at every horror festival.
But the movie continues from there, and it turns out Cranston’s not the main character of the movie at all. Rather, it’s his son, played by Aaron Johnson, and he’s a completely void of any charisma. I don’t think he shows a single real emotion in the whole movie, which is ridiculous given everything he goes through. There’s no fun or interesting supporting characters to pick up the slack either; Oscar nominees Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins just slum through roles that require nothing of them except a couple lines of exposition and two expressions (seriousness and awe).
But you don’t see a Godzilla movie for the humans, right, so how are the kaiju? Unfortunately, the movie kind of screws up there too. At first it seems to be working a big Speilbergian build-up where you don’t see the monsters and it’s pretty effective. Then you get to see Godzilla and he’s AWESOME and then he starts fighting the other kaiju… for 15 SECONDS and then they cut to AFTER THE BATTLE’S OVER!?! What a tease! Slow builds are great but show us what you’re building to! Don’t just cut away just when the action starts!
There’s a few annoying tease-cuts and eventually some solid action but it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed. If you want a good modern kaiju movie, Pacific Rim and Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host (not the Stephanie Meyer movie) are much better options. Edwards’ movie does some things right, and it’s never offensively bad, but you can probably wait for TV for this one.