Monster action and mayhem, that’s why audiences will go see the new Godzilla directed by Gareth Edwards. And yes, you get plenty of destruction: cities get destroyed, army vehicles get tossed about and there are plenty of nukes included in the film. What there’s a lot less of in the movie is of its titular creature: it’s not until the third act that Godzilla really gets its chance to shine. Up until that point you get teased plenty, with semi-reveals that cut to news rapports of the aftermath instead of showing you what you actually want to see. It’s a bold decision one could certainly get away with if the climax is absolutely fantastic. Sadly it isn’t, for a multitude of reasons.
Godzilla‘sfirst act is great: there’s no monster to be seen but we get introduced to the Brody family, and here the movie actually puts effort into building its characters. Bryan Cranston’s Joe, Juliette Binoche’s Sandra and their son Ford live in Japan, where mom and dad work at a nuclear power plant. This being a disaster movie things obviously go horribly wrong, causing great pain to the family, something they haven’t recovered from years later. When Ford, now a bomb-disposal expert living in San Francisco played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, gets a call stating his dad has been arrested, he travels to Japan to bail out his father who has his very own theories about what happened at the plant years ago. Before long the two stumble upon the truth and that’s when the film really becomes the monster movie it set out to be. Sadly, after that point the characters become nothing more than vessels that spout incredible forced exposition and awfully hammy dialogue. It’s a stark contrast with Cranston’s riveting performance and Binoche’s very human and warm acting that came before it. The focus shifts to their son instead, a bland army man who doesn’t say or emote much, which reduces the sense of awe the film’s going for. The movie tries to be about humans, tries to tell a story about what would happen to our world when enormous monsters would suddenly erupt from the earth and started causing havoc. It’s a smart and commendable approach, but it doesn’t work when most characters are seemingly unfazed by it: Ford is a man that just does what needs doing and we never get the sense that he’s slightly worried about the events or his personal stakes. Entire cities get leveled and we’re treated to men shouting orders and informing the viewers what’s next, instead of moments where these characters are allowed to mourn, panic or feel enraged. We only get one character that behaves remotely human, but she’s reduced to nothing more than a damsel in distress: Elizabeth Olsen plays Elle Brody, Ford’s wife, and all the wonderful actress gets to do is cry, scream and cry some more. It could’ve worked if we had at least some inkling of who she was, but the character’s so thin that’s impossible to feel for her. Additionally her own husband doesn’t seem to really care that much about her, which makes the entire plot fall flat.
In short: most of the human element of the story doesn’t work, but that’s what you’ll have to bite through to get to the good stuff. The third act finally gives you the monster action it’s been teasing throughout the first two acts, but it doesn’t quite work because it’s over before you know it. What does work about it, and about the entire film, is that it looks absolutely stunning: the cinematography, creature design and special effects are top-shelf and work wonderfully together. Godzilla is really a magnificent creature to behold and it’s hard not to jump out of your seat to applaud when he strolls onto the scene in all of his glory. Unfortunately the context is where the film falters: the amount of destruction is immense, but because no one in the movie really acknowledges it or seems to care about it, it loses its weight. Much like Man Of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness before it, it just gets silly after a while and you’re left with the realization that you’re just looking at very pretty FX work. It clashes with the serious and grounded tone Godzilla‘s striving toward, in a way it didn’t with Pacific Rim, a film that didn’t take itself this seriously and just offered up fun and spectacular escapism. In the end you’re left with a movie that can’t meet the expectations it’s built up itself, even though it looks stunning and it’s peppered with some intense moments throughout. The lack of a likeable protagonist and some gravitas would’ve gone a long way; Godzilla itself, a force of nature, is a wonderfully made creature but it can’t provide you with the emotional connection you need to keep you invested in the dull and convoluted story.
Godzilla is a disappointment. Despite its beauty and visual artistry it’s a bland and forgettable affair because, for most of the movie, there’s really no one to care about or root for. 5/10