Even though the buzz surrounding the new Godzilla incarnation was largely positive (those trailers were brilliant), there were reasons to be concerned. Director Gareth Edwards previous film, Monsters, was kind of boring until the final 15 minutes. The protagonist, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, continues to be shoehorned in high-budget Hollywood flicks despite being fiercely uninteresting. The screenwriters’ most remarkable credit before Godzilla was… The Expendables.
All these potential pitfalls make their way into the movie. Sure, the film gets the monster and the mythology right. It even features a couple of major surprises I won’t spoil here. Unfortunately, all of it feels disjointed and there are no emotional stakes to speak of.
The only decently scripted bits are at the beginning: Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), an American engineer and his family witness a nuclear plant meltdown in Japan (not-so-subtle shades of Fukushima). The event claims Joe’s wife’s life and sends him on a tailspin.
Cut to 15 years later. Joe’s son, Ford (Taylor-Johnson) is an army guy with the uncanny ability to disarm nuclear bombs. He also has serious daddy issues. Both come handy when he is forced to travel back to Japan to rescue his father from the condemned facility. Of course, there is something hiding at the place. Something… big.
The story unfolds in stilted fashion. The effective beginning is replaced by the destruction of landmarks (there goes the Golden Gate, again) and the most perfunctory characters ever: Stoic American soldier! His health professional wife! Mysterious Japanese scientist! Hard-ass high command! Tyke perpetually at risk!
The only character Godzilla gets right is, well, Godzilla. While the 1998 Roland Emmerich version was basically a Jurassic Park knock-off, Godzilla ’14 is the real deal. The creature has no major regard for humans. In fact, practically nothing mankind does to deal with the many threats at hand has any effect on the outcome. Godzilla does whatever it wants whenever it feels like it. The Aaron Taylor-Johnson character is always around, but as a witness. As heroes go, this is a very passive one.
The battle scenes are very poorly conceived. More often than not, we watch the monster battle [REDACTED] indirectly, through TV screens or from awkward points of view. Other than the final brawl, these fights have no beginning or end, they just take place. I imagine director Gareth Edwards was striving for realism, but the outcome is more frustrating than thrilling.
IT OCCURRED TO ME THAT…
… The tremendous cast at hand is wasted in underwritten roles, particularly Sally Hawkins (Oscar nominee for Blue Jasmine), who spends the entire film walking behind a constipated Ken Watanabe stating the obvious.
… Gareth Edwards does a good job emphasizing the size and volume of Godzilla. One feels genuinely puny.
… Nobody does borderline dementia like Bryan Cranston.
… The number of senseless and stupid decisions the military takes to deal with antediluvian creatures is off the charts.
… If you eat radiation, do you poop nukes?
… I couldn’t possibly care less if Aaron Taylor-Johnson finds his family or not. Considering the amount of time dedicated to him, this is a significant failure.
Two and a half mecha-prairie dogs.