In 1999, the Janjira nuclear plant was mysteriously destroyed with most hands lost including supervisor Joe Brody's colleague and wife, Sandra. Years later, Joe's son, Ford, a US Navy ordnance disposal officer, must go to Japan to help his estranged father who obsessively searches for the truth of the incident. In doing so, father and son discover the disaster's secret cause on the wreck's very grounds. This enables them to witness the reawakening of a terrible threat to all of Humanity, which is made all the worse with a second secret revival elsewhere. Against this cataclysm, the only hope for the world may be Godzilla, but the challenge for the King of the Monsters will be great even as Humanity struggles to understand the destructive ally they have.
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
. Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson
, CJ Adams
, Ken Watanabe
, Bryan Cranston
, Elizabeth Olsen
, Carson Bolde
, Sally Hawkins
, Juliette Binoche
, David Strathairn
, Richard T. Jones
, Victor Rasuk
, Patrick Sabongui
, Jared Keeso
. Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Let's be honest: you love Godzilla. Who wouldn't? And even if you were one of the few who didn't quite love Gareth Edwards' Monsters (not monster-y enough...?), you'd find it hard to deny its impeccable technical mastery and surreal beauty. So, how could the twain meeting, not unlike a couple of frisky extraterrestrials, not make for a modern monstrous masterpiece - the 'Christopher Nolan of giant monster movies', as the sepia-toned poster screamed?
Well, quite easily, apparently. It was tacitly assumed that Edwards would retain Monsters' artistic grit but substantially ratchet up the pace, mayhem and fun in a fashion befitting Godzilla. Instead, Edwards' crack at Big G is a misguided, soulless, plodding, jingoistic, reluctant blockbuster so hell-bent on realism (and there's a pretty tenuous grasp on that here as well) that it squashes virtually all the giant fun they set out for.
The film starts strong: a brief surge of tension with a harrowing radioactive meltdown, followed by a blur of cryptic exposition, with the words 'prehistoric mega-predator' uttered a lot, with a cheeky potshot at the 1998 monstrosity to boot. It's all a bit clumsy, but eerily fun, and enough to pique excitement. This is a Godzilla movie! This dreary start is only the calm before the storm. But Edwards carries on, scene after scene of barely lit scientific subterfuge, and it lags enough for questions to start bubbling: how does Ken Watanabe's mysterious scientist know this storied palaeontological history? Surely it's not just because "he looks wise and Japanese"...
But that's okay, because the fun really kicks off when we... get to spend lots of quality time with Aaron Taylor-Johnson sleeping his way through the prestigious role of 'abrasively bland military meathead'. Thrill as he...suppresses sentiment and forces awkward chemistry with his wife and kid, and, um, sulks through unresolved tension with his estranged father. Whee. But hey - Edwards has bagged the beloved Bryan Cranston. Now the fun starts, as his intrepid scientist...grimaces and yells trailer stingers for 25 minutes before Edwards pulls a Psycho and kills him off for forced dramatic effect, right when he was becoming interesting?! Oh no. Oh hell no.
Oh yes. Gasp as this mega-blockbuster lumbers along, agonizingly slowly, indecisively flitting back and forth between a bevy of quality actors (hello David Strathairn and Sally Hawkins!) playing virtually nameless, one-dimensional characters, expressionlessly mumbling their dialogue - generally variants of "oh no!" - as if off cue cards. Marvel at the excruciatingly long cutscenes of military jingoism, where nameless men in camouflage frown a lot, and sit around aimlessly. Rah. But it's all worthwhile, as, roughly four hours into the film, we have our first monster sighting! At long last, it's... "Muto"? What the hell is that? Yup - our main playmates for the toy soldiers are two generic Cloverfield rip-offs, who squawk and flap around whimsically as scientists grimly ponder their motivations. And, yup, we get to watch them bang too. And, it's...surprisingly boring. Yikes.
But behold! After all this agony, there he is - Godzilla! The king of monsters! Look at him in all of his awe-inspiring glo- hey! Get those needless foreground set pieces out of the way! Tilt that camera up! Gareth. Buddy. How can you be this cruel.
You get the idea. 'Realism', to Edwards, means the titular character cameoing in his own movie (less than fifteen minutes of screen time!!). Instead, swathes of hilariously uninteresting grunts shuffle back and forth, each time coming precariously close to a monster action setpiece that would probably be tremendously fun if Edwards showed it, instead of playfullysadistically obscuring most, aping a horror trope that became tiresome eight years ago. But no - fun is nowhere near gritty enough for the realism on display here. Realism - like Taylor-Johnson's butthead popping up at each successive monster sighting through rampant coincidence to lend 'human scope' to the carnage (it doesn't). Or his dreary wife (poor Elizabeth Olsen tries, but deserves much better) making absurdly nonsensical decisions, including child abandonment, to require saving and venerate his manliness. But let's not forget Watanabe, whose performance consists of staring, bug-eyed and slack-jawed, into the distance. Over. And over. And over. Watanabe either has a shaky grasp on how PTSD works, or, breaking the fourth wall, is sharing his reflective horror at the disgrace unfolding around him. I prefer the latter. Let's be honest: he's really just here to say "Let them fight!" anyway.
And when Edwards reluctantly, fleetingly, indulges, it's...yeah, okay, it's pretty darn cool. Edwards still has an undeniable penchant for atmosphere and set design, and, aesthetically, he's made another downright beautiful film (when the perennial sepia murk clears away enough to see it). Alexandre Desplat's bombastically roaring musical score breathes as much radioactive fire into the proceedings as possible, but he's got his work cut out for him. And Big G himself is a visual triumph, all scales and sinews heart-poundingly rendered, and it's stupendously fun watching him show the Mutos who's boss. Heck - he's such fun I'd even watch a whole film about him! Someone should give that a whirl sometime.
Despite all of these abundantly warranted criticisms, there's a rather excellent film lurking in Godzilla's ponderous belly. It's about twelve minutes long, and consists of all of the time he's on screen. Thanks to the power of YouTube or blu-ray track skipping, you too can witness this cinematic marvel - and cast aside the bloated, sludgy carcass weighing it down. Otherwise (and I never thought I'd say this), if you're hell-bent on an English language Godzilla, there's that 'we do not speak of it' one from the 90s starring Matthew Broderick the worm guy and half the cast of the Simpsons. It's trashier and sillier, but at least more fun, and - tragically - aesthetics aside, there's not much of a jump of quality.
Review by pyrocitor from the Internet Movie Database.