Join Amazon Prime - Watch Over 40,000 Movies & TV Shows Anytime - Start Free Trial Now
INTERACTIVE (Rate the Review)
Subscribe to our update feeds:

Cinema Signal: A modern version of a legend that's been breathing fire for decades. Green-amber. MOBILE version |
. "Godzilla"

A showcase for the beasts

Having never seen any of the prior Godzilla films I had no idea that this legendary sci-fi wonder was so charming. Or, is that just director Gareth Edwards' ("Monsters") and writers Max Borenstein's and Dave Callaham's version of the gigantic Komodo dragon which the Toho company took out a mortgage on 29 versions ago when the F/X we see here weren't even dreamts of.

In any case, this is (1) a monster of a message film, blaming a whole lot of damage and destruction on our overuse of nuclear energy (which causes the bad critters, the MUTO, long dormant, to come alive because it's what they live on) and, (2) thanks to the craftsmanship of the CGI team, the effects are duly monstrous, seamless and of great scale.

Now, if only there weren't so many continuity discrepancies.

Actually, that's minor against the second pillar of the story: the human factor. For this we have Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, "Anna Karenina"), a dad returning from a tour of duty as an explosive ordinance disposal officer (first referred to as a captain then a lieutenant) in the U.S. Navy. Wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen, "Martha Marcy May Marlene") and young son Sam (Carson Bolde) are the family that await his return. You can't have a monster movie without characters through whom we experience the disaster ahead on an emotional level.

A film only about behemoths ain't gonna hack it at the boxoffice, which is why King Kong had his Ann Darrow; The Hulk his Betty Ross.

We start out in 1999 with scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, "Inception") and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine") in the Philippines when what appears to be fossilized bones of a gargantuan creature is discovered. Accompanying it are two egg-shaped pods, one of which appears to have hatched. Soon after, perhaps using the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster during the 2011 tsunami in Japan for story veracity, the fictional Janjira Nuclear Plant near Tokyo is breached by something unexplainable, resembling serious seismic activity. But, actually, far worse.

It results in Ford Brody's loss of his mother Sandra (Julliette Binoche, "Cosmopolis") when she runs into the plant corridors to search for the cause of the shaking and is entrapped. Now, Joe's whole life is dedicated to finding a way to kill these MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), which will eventually number three.

By 2014, dad is sounding like a raving lunatic talking about the echolocation methods he's been using to track communications between the nasty creatures. To prove to his son that he's not a nutcase, Joe takes Ford to the Janjira plant where they find zero radiation. None. Zip. All gone.

The Brodies are commandeered into a secret lab where Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn, "The Bourne Legacy") and the scientists are secretly studying a huge chrysalis containing the creature that fed on the plant's radiation. The chrysalis hatches and brings forth a mighty winged organism with an appetite for nuclear radiation and no regard for heavy duty concrete.

By the time the nucleatic bad boys are joined by a female in mating mode, the idea of spawning more of its malevolent kind as their primary purpose is galvanizing. We get a load of the female's array of "eggs" waiting to be fertilized -- each one transparent, glowing and containing a baby MUTO. OMG. We now grasp the existential threat these babies pose to mankind.

As they join up in San Francisco, an even greater force of nature charges across the Pacific Ocean toward them. With 89 jagged spikes in dorsal alignment, shrugging off military weaponry, this amphibian of leviathan proportions has also picked up the signals from the MUTO, its natural enemy. It is Godzilla. Held back for a dramatic entrance.

As peril and destruction reign down on the infrastructure of the city and, as monster meets monster in furious rage, the human factor suffers by essentially underwritten, cliche'd parts and a cast that is unable to escape their mere function in the story. This is mostly a showcase for the beasts.

Olsen is sweet and plain as an everymom. From Taylor-Johnson, I got a certain deficiency of charisma. Hawkins is buried by her minimal role and Ken Watanabe is stolid and lumpishly awkward. But don't blame them; it's not such a sharp script for the humans who could have used a dose of wit and appeal.

We all know how important a driving, pulsating musical score is to a sci-fi movie. But, it occurred to me while watching "Godzilla" that Alexandre Desplat's ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") sound track is so present that it qualifies as a third pillar of the movie. It's certainly a big part of the socko factor. While the expert cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is tremendous and significant, and all production values are pro, I can't remember a film that was as dependent on its roar of a sound track.

In the mists of an aftermath, a moment occurs when man and brute cross a chasm of communication. Silently, wordlessly, everything comes to a stop as Godzilla faces Ford... and any doubts about what the big reptile has done for mankind is dispelled. It's that moment when a fire-emitting beast can be thought of as "charming."

While Edwards may have been chosen to direct because of his successful work in animation, his emotional and aesthetic connection to his animatronic subject makes it more than just a tribute to the 60-year longevity of his title character's legend. With the cinematic techniques available today, he's taken it to a place of respect by a wider, hero-seeking audience that might just be receptive to a sequel.

Click for full list of movie reviews

                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

Won't YOU start or join the discussion about this movie and/or review?
Worries? Concerns? Want to know more? Just click the button...

  Like      Follow    Cinema Signals

Release order
Alphabetical order
To Jbmovies
(sample frames from movies photographed
by Jules Brenner)

All Reviews
Books, DVDs, Music, LA Restaurants

Godzilla, in all his roaring, beneficent glory.

Quick Note, yo:
Your appreciation for this review resource can be expressed by a visit to our sponsors.
(just a click will do it)