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Review: Godzilla is Still King of the Monsters

Godzilla Reviewfile_176723_0_shock-score-8.90x72Godzilla, that towering creature that embodied nuclear fears before becoming a kiddie icon, has resurfaced in an all-new American production (we keep trying until we get it right) that manages to defy the excess of usual summer movie fare, yet still deliver on the breathless excitement one comes to expect from a film of this scale. And Godzilla himself has never looked better, doing all of the things we love to see Godzilla do. His actual time on screen may raise eyebrows, but director Gareth Edwards more than makes up for it with a very good film that has a robust, rock 'em/sock 'em second half that will have you cheering on the titular beast who proves he's still King of the Monsters.

Director Edwards – who previously helmed the 2010 DIY creature flick Monsters - applies the same aesthetic that made his feature debut feel refreshing to Godzilla. That is to say this movie isn't a start-to-finish, sustained action sequence that's out to desensitize us by the time we reach the big finale. Instead, Godzilla serves to re-introduce the sense of awe and wonder that has been lost in movies of this ilk, meaning…you're going to have to spend some down time with the characters before Godzilla comes up for air to do his thing. When those "G-moments" come, they're terrific rewards.

I just wish the character drama was as strong as the emotional weight I felt for Godzilla himself (hey, the movie is named after him, so I guess he deserves that). Adopting Spielberg and Irwin Allen-like narrative threads, Godzilla is primarily a chase film with the U.S. Army and a secret agency called Monarch (which has known about Godzilla for decades) on the trail of two MUTOs (Mutated Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), ancient parasites that have hatched and are responsible for the destruction of a Japanese nuclear facility in the '90s and Las Vegas, respectively. Their arrival has brought Godzilla – an "alpha predator"/prehistoric creature that thrives on radiation deep within the Earth – out of hibernation (classic Atomic Age film conceit). Caught up in this monstrous three-way is the Brody family – Bryan Cranston's Joe, Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Ford and his wife Elle (Elisabeth Olsen). Joe and Ford harbor painful memories; they experienced the nuclear disaster first-hand and their knowledge will aid the military and Monarch's Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe).

Godzilla places much of its dramatic weight on the family dynamic of Ford and Elle. Aaron Taylor-Johnson simply delivers wooden performance and Elle isn't given much to do at all but simply be at the right place at the right time to witness the disastrous events that occur when all three of the film's monsters intersect. Cranston, as usual, gives the film some much-needed color and gravity. Also on the clunky side of things is Ford's actual journey. The film propels him to Japan at the start of story and he has to find his way back home to San Francisco. The decisions he makes and the plot turns that alter his direct line back his family are a bit muddled. Further, Serizawa strangely disappears for a good portion of the film. His character – while important – is slightly mishandled. The ensemble cast are afflicted with pretty much the same problems many disaster movies have in which there is a fight for screen time or too little care is given to those who matter most in the story. Godzilla has the pieces in place for a strong "human drama" backbone, it's just not fully realized.

As you would expect, when the monsters are on screen, that's where the film excels. The MUTOs – multi-limbed creatures who have eyes that look like the headlights of a rad sports car – are a worthy addition to the kaiju canon. There are no subtleties to their existence. They're here to remind us nukes are bad, after all, that's what they feed on (Godzilla enters the picture as the one who has to clean this mess up) – which is a nice touch. They don't suffer the bane of being overdesigned like so many creatures are today, yet their texture feels incomplete. And the way they move is eerie. More than once, Edwards smartly uses their body language and presence to strike a gleeful sense of terror – the best moment coming when the passengers of an airport shuttle realize their transport is heading directly towards a MUTO looming over their track (next stop, a giant gaping mouth!).

Godzilla, on the other hand, is a brute who utilizes everything he's got – weight, height, occasional reach (I love his arms), tail and a few other surprises – to take on his enemy. There's no hesitation to his attack, he just dives right in, grappling with his opponent. And what he represents has adjusted slightly since the 1954 film. Here, he's more in line with some of the themes of the later films, sans the goofiness.  He's the "earthquake" or "tornado" or "violent storm" of a sprawling disaster film, unaware of the impact his presence has on us when he stomps around our cities. He's Mother Nature's champion. One more surprise our planet has to throw at humanity. He's not evil. He's merely going off animal instinct. And, as an audience, we love him for this. By simply being a beautifully-designed, well-realized creature we're on his side. When he suffers, we feel bad. When he triumphs, we're on our feet applauding. Edwards and his awesome visual FX team give Godzilla character without hitting the audience over the head with it.

And I should say that Edwards has a lot of fun depicting the monsters in action. It fiercely goes against the perspective of what you would expect and it works quite well. The first monster battle might infuriate some, but it's pretty damn clever, falls in line with that Monsters-like freshness I brought up earlier and left me smiling and wanting more. And again, there are some terrific rewards for being patient. That being said, Edwards still can't help himself to interupt his own visual give us some glorious wide cityscape shots with

I've seen Godzilla twice now and the film is even stronger on a second viewing once my expectations were set aside (I'm a big Godzilla fan) and I could digest the film a bit more. Edwards proved to be the right choice for this. His instincts were spot-on, even if the script needed perhaps one more pass, and I think this movie is going to propel him into some pretty big projects. As for Godzilla, I think they've finally got a reboot that works and I'm so ready to see what they do with him next.

  • David Burton

    Phew, thank God. After seeing another review before this, I was worried. This is getting me to feel good about it again.

    • Nate Leiper

      Trust me, I haven’t seen the movie and it’s great.

    • JimmyBoy

      Not according to Metacritic…

      • Brady1138

        Meta Critic needs to learn to not review every movie as though comparing it to an Ingmar Bergman film.

  • brenda

    I’ve read a few different reviews and this is the most positive one.

    • TheKillingWords

      IGN gave it a 9 and had almost nothing bad to say about it. The only negative was the human story was pretty blah.

      • cetrata

        When you anticipate a monster, of course the human story, no matter if its well developed or not, is going to seem like a waste of time to many and just want to see the monster show up.

  • bluskiff

    I hope the 3d is as good as spiderman 2. love good 3d.

    • RTurek

      The 3D is pretty great. I’m never a fan of 3D, but I liked it here.

  • kornzilla2k1

    Saw it at the Hollywood Premiere and it was amazing! See it on IMAX because it’s the best way to see the Big Guy in all his Kaiju glory! I give it a 9.5 and in my top 5 Godzilla movies. Loved it!

    • by

      imax and 3d not impressed by it saw transformers 2 in normal screen non imax and 3d made my ears ring it was so loud in there I was in middle row and very last row almost gave me headache but avatar had no choice to see that movie in piece of crap 3d with imax included all way in back had to go could barely hear movie and 3d effects was blurry

      • Scott

        3d and imax isnt for everyone. I personally like imax although 3d doesnt do much for me(I did think avatar handled the 3d extremely well). Its funny you mention the sound of imax because my brother said the same exact thing to me last week. The blurry 3d effects could have been your viewing angle. When I saw spiderman I noticed that if I turned or angled my head in different directions the picture quality took a dip.

        Godzilla seems like a movie that could benefit from the imax 3d experience to really sell the scope of the monsters. This is one of the few movies that I actually want to see in imax 3d

      • kornzilla2k1

        Sorry my experience was better than yours. I had an awesome viewing and the sound was epic.

  • Jay Last

    But do you really trust the review of someone who recommends seeing this more than once (unless you’re under 12)?

    • RTurek

      Real zinger there, champ. To quote yourself from another thread you frequent:

      “And remember, no matter how much you try, posting obnoxious, ridiculous comments on the internet will never make your package bigger.”

      • Jay Last

        Ah, so you follow my posts. That’s nice. However I was actually making a serious point, “champ”, so your immature response just proves it all the more for me.

        • http://moviepilot.com/desolateearth K. Lee Adams

          Out of honest curiosity what exactly was the point of your comment above?

        • AreYaKiddin’?

          Just face the fact he called you out on your own BS.

  • Rich Scarano

    Matthew Broderick cameo or no?

    • RTurek

      No.

  • Cassandra Castaldo-Glowacki

    Always take someone else’s review with a grain of salt. They are not YOU. Everyone will have different opinions – the media said “E.T” back when it was released was a bad movie. Ho hum….people loved it & it made millions. I know there’s been a mention of big G coming on screen late, but its no different than the Aliens movie. They too didn’t show up for over 45 minutes after the movie began. Why toss big G at us 5 minutes into the movie? I can’t wait to see this movie. It’s been too long since Japan even made another Godzilla movie (hint, hint Japan).

    • RTurek

      You see Godzilla in this film (not in his entirety) within the first five minutes! The problem is that everyone wants their cake right away and they’re not going to get it. There are many classic examples of late-ish monster reveals and Godzilla falls in line with that, but like I said, the rewards are amazing.

      • Troy

        I never wanted a Gojira or Destroy All Monsters, but something in the middle with a dose of realism and it seems that Edwards has delivered just that. Like you said in your review [lucky bastrd, you got 2 see it twice?!?], sometimes slow burns are worth the payoff in the third act.

        I’ve been a fan of Godzilla since ’67 when as a 3 yr old I watched my first Godzilla movie and nearly 47 years later, I feel like a kid again filled with anticipation.

        • Tomax

          slow burn and the unveiling makes for great suspense. you seeing this in imax? i don’t want to do 3d, but i have to choice if i want to see it on the biggest, loudest screen possible.

          • Troy

            No. No movie is worth driving 500 miles round-trip to go to an IMAX. Regular 3D for me.

          • Tomax

            Oh that’s different. Yea, there’s no way i’d make that drive either. Enjoy the show anyway! This is going to be awesome.

      • http://moviepilot.com/desolateearth K. Lee Adams

        Exactly! I’m happy to hear this movie takes its time with revealing Godzilla. I don’t want premature ejaculation. Give me nice, teasing foreplay and we can build to a “monstrous” orgasm!!!

    • AreYaKiddin’?

      The Japanese are done and distancing themselves from the “Godzilla” franchise.

  • Michael Brown

    not sure.. i mean the other american version, he never used a gamma blast at all. are they doing this with him also and we they try to kill him off. reviews are reviews but this is Godzilla we are talking abut. they did a couple spins on his origin and look but 1 thing never changed; his chaotic blast.

    • Chad Kuhns

      The atomic blast is very much apart of this film. Has a bit of unique, new spin on it as well, but fans of Godzilla will be more than happy with what is in store.

      • Michael Brown

        ok u said a unique new spin… how is that if may ask? and where do u get this info? the trailer never showed the blast being used.

        • RTurek

          The gamma blast has been repeatedly confirmed here at Shock from those in the movie (see our set report).

  • Douglass Parkhouse

    I have read that they did not even call it Godzilla once in the movie, is this true?

  • Chad Kuhns

    Great review. The movie’s human drama never really stands a chance, when it comes to expectations and anticipation. The best Godzilla movies use the human characters and their stories to drive the monsters’ narrative, not the other way around. I’m fine with the principle cast not really having a 100% cohesive story thread, because it ultimately is not their movie. Edwards used the human drama to ratchet up the anticipation as much as possible. We need to see the characters essentially validate that he’s THE monster, and give the audience that sense of gravity. We need the military types to be shown failing trying to stop him. We need to see people running for their lives. If you have those things, you have all the human drama you need, until it’s time to let the monsters loose and give the fans what they are waiting for.

    I’m beyond excited for this. I’ve read only one true scathing review, and the reviewer was openly upset that Godzilla had atomic breath and not his ‘usual, fire breath’ (grain of salt lent, and heeded).

    • Scott

      With any movie everyone has personal expectations and wants but this is especially true for movies based on existing franchises(godzilla, reboots, superhero movies, etc). The review you are referring to sounds like a die hard godzilla fan expecting and hoping the movie was as true to godzilla as possible. Everything I heard about this movie so far sounds like what I wanted: solid story, great scale, awesome monster action

      • Chad Kuhns

        The fact that the film has been embraced by Toho, with the current President of the company stating ‘that’s the Godzilla from my childhood’, was all I needed to allay any fears I had.

  • by

    regardless if review was bad or not I still would go see it I don’t rely on movie reviews for judgment takes to much of good thing away professional book review will give book 1 out of 10 but fan of series regardless of bad review of book is 1 will still read book that is what does fan makes judgment on there own decision not others do it for them to wait and find out if book is worth reading or not by proffesinal critic but it is good to know this Godzilla holds up after 98 version that was my only reason for reading this review find out how well it may stack regardless of good or bad ratings

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    yet another review i had to stop reading, why do you tell the whole story? cant you do a review without spoilers? jesus

    • HunsonAbadeer

      That’s why you just skip to the last lines on the reviews. Or even better just look for the score. :D

      • RTurek

        Sells the writing a bit short, don’t you think? How about I just put Godzilla 8/10? Hahaha.

        • HunsonAbadeer

          Don’t take me wrong, I bet your review is great but I just happen to like the full experience. I only watch the first trailer of all the movies I’m interested in and whenever a new trailer is on TV I change channel or run like a crazy so that I don’t spoil the surprise :D

          Yes, Im that crazy xD

    • RTurek

      Hardly spoilers. It’s a synopsis that lasts one paragraph.

    • AreYaKiddin’?

      There’s no spoilers in this review…what are you on about?

  • HunsonAbadeer

    If media is giving it an 8/10 then I’m likely to put on the top 10 of my favorite movies. Wonder if this will beat my #1 Kaiju movie of all times Pacific Rim ??

  • Hypestyles

    Godzilla should go up against ________ in the next film. I hope that the same creative team can be involved.

  • wargamer1969

    Anything has to be better than that last go round with Ferris Bueller in it.

  • Richard Valentine

    I saw a sneak preview last night… TERRIBLE! Godzilla only fights in the dark and instead of following the big guy’a action, they follow marines running around on senseless missions… if you’re a G fan.. prepare to be disappointed! 4 stars out of 10!

  • Juan Asilo

    well wont say much, if the film great is great,
    i mean ye guys didnt lie for the machine.
    awesome british flick, but hope next one
    mechagodzilla kick him.
    now buy that for a dollar.

  • Tomax

    I don’t like that i’m being forced to see it in 3D because i want to see this movie in the biggest format possible. I wish IMAX would give a 2nd 2D option in their theaters.

  • Rich Scarano

    hoping this is better than the 1997 original

  • Gabbi Cordero

    hey ryan. i’m sorry the film didn’t quite hit the mark or reach the heights you had hoped in spite of enjoying it. i imagine by now you’ve caught your 3rd viewing. i’ve heard you speak of horror having “event movies”. last year we did have the conjuring. i for one genuinely thought that with the serious portrayal, big budget, impactful marketing, and the steady buzz surrounding the film that this would be the movie to bring horror fans together to be the event film for 2014, but as i stated, though good, the film didn’t quite reach that bar.

    i really liked the film, and whereas i do share many of your exceptions to the executions, there was one standout scene apart from the battles. the shot after the tidal wave that hits the island and the flares are fired to reveal what was coming, a hush fell over the theater. you could hear a pin drop as the tension and expectation rose as all within attendance watched in silence to fully take in the aura of the reveal. as adults, we are granted so few moments of movie magic so prevalent in our childhood, but for an audience of adults, parents, teens, and children to pay reverence to this iconic movie monster was something really special for me

    i had hoped for a meatier story which the director had promised and better fleshed out characters. i remember reading edward’s assurance that the plot would not consist of some contrived romance and that gave me hope. the pieces are there for compelling human drama, they just weren’t properly assembled. i also agree on the two leads. aaron’s acting was regrettably wooden and the wife did no service to the plot nor the drama (better luck in avengers 2)

    listening to the impressions on the bloodcast was a punch to the gut as certain insights serve to further knock this film down a peg in terms of status. godzilla as a cgi version of a guy in a suit was met with a cringe over the accuracy of that assessment. i like the design but they could’ve slimmed him down some. he does look a bit “retired linemen” and the no neck is odd. at the airport when godzilla plants his foot, the sight of this big stubby cylinder of a leg stomping down made me happy we only saw his upper torso for the film’s majority. loved the spikes though. they looked like coral reef.
    Your claim that the MUTO’s appeared as staple removers was a bit disheartening. the LED bulb eyes was strange and the skin texture was awkward. however, noticing how the female dwarfed the male and had two smaller limbs near the chest made me smile as i thought of the alien queen. though their look was mishandled their movements were a thing of beauty to witness.

    Thematically speaking i don’t know IF the film was attempting to tap into any fear of nukes or just present a story using radiation to move the plot along. i only know that no such anxiety is present within the modern zeitgeist. if that was a theme of the film, it failed, if not, no harm.

    i stand amongst the camp that wanted to see more of godzilla, although i understand, maintain, and respect the age old horror tradition of not showing too much of the monster. the restraint is appreciated. also, admittedly, when i saw one monster i wanted more of them. i hate films announcing sequels the moment the current movie debuts, but in this case i was counting on it.

    it was strange that godzilla suffered from the same problem that rise of the planet of the apes underwent with mishandling its human cast and excelling with their computer generated characters. but if godzilla couldn’t be our event film of the summer, here’s hoping dawn of the planet of the apes will nail it.