I am not generally a big fan of monster movies. That said, I really enjoyed Del Toro’s Pacific Rim last year, so had hope that future monster movies might take a page form his book. Sadly, that was not the case for Godzilla. Oh, and for a film about Godzilla, there was very little Godzilla actually in it. What’s that all about?
When I complained to monster-movie loving friends that the genre of film tended to lack plot and characterization, they shrugged their shoulders. That’s what monster movies are, was the response I generally received. Surely I am not alone in seeing that there is great potential in this cinematic genre – once they start to include actual plots and good characterization (you know, motivations, agency, etc).
There was so much wrong with this film I’m not sure where to start. But I would like to call out the ridiculous trope of disaster films at play in Godzilla, where no matter how ‘international’ they try to make the story out to be, it turns out that all the death and destruction (and therefore the world saving) happens on US turf. Why is that?!
Plot (if you can call it that)
Back in 1999, Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Sandra (Juliette Binoche) Brody work at a nuclear power plant in Japan. An unusual seismic event causes the destruction of the plant and Sandra’s death. The nuclear fallout quarantines the area where the family lived. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, scientists (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) discover the remains of a giant animal, with several egg sacks.
Fast-forward 15 years to 2014. Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is working in the US Navy ass in explosives disposal. His time at home with his family, following a 14-month deployment, is cut short when his father is arrested in Japan for having trespassed in the quarantine zone.
Ford’s father Joe has been obsessing, for fifteen years, over the accident that killed his wife, and is convinced that another catastrophe like it is about to happen. The two of them sneak into the quarantine zone but are quickly picked up by police. This time, however, they are taken to the science facility studying the phenomenon causing the seismic activity: the birth of a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism).
Joe’s research over the years helps the scientists figure out what is about to happen, but the information arrives too late. The MUTO escapes and begins to wreak havoc on the world (aka the United States of America). Ford is caught up in the fight to protect his country from the MUTO, its mate, and a potential predator worse than both of them combined: Godzilla.
Looking at Godzilla through rose-coloured glasses
I have already established that I didn’t think much of this film. However, I won’t write it off completely. There were some good elements. The CG monsters were very well done and the fight scenes were great fun – there just wasn’t enough of it. The set design of the quarantined Japanese city after 15 years of desertion was magnificent. The set and visual design generally was excellent, with some beautiful shots of the city and the destruction.
While I think that the script criminally underused them, Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen were exceptional. While Cranston’s performance was brilliant, it did feel like the script – and his epic dialogue – was written to be able to use Byran Cranston to the best of his abilities, rather than the story necessarily requiring or deserving that level of intensity (for instance, he gives an epic speech in the science laboratory demanding to know where his son is, but at no point has it been suggested that his son is in any danger, so why is he so upset about it – other than the fact that Bryan Cranston is AWESOME at delivering upset dialogue like that).
The harsh reality
This film sucked. Straight up sucked. What was wrong with it? What wasn’t wrong with it! And where do I begin? The original set-up had a lot of potential – they could have gone all Captain Ahab and Moby Dick with Joe Brody or played up the fact that the MUTO’s could disable all electronics, forcing the story to go down a Battlestar Galactica route, using only very old technology (which they did a little bit, but there could have been a lot more).
How about not just filling me with terror – I hope above all else that humanity isn’t this ridiculously stupid should any kind of disaster like this actually befall us. They establish that electronics don’t work against these monsters – and yet they keep sending in jets and helicopters, that of course plummet to the ground… EVERY GOD DAMN TIME! How many times does it have to happen before they LEARN?!
The main protagonist is Ford Brody. His name should be Mr. Bland. He is given no characterization, barely a few minutes with his on-screen family, and has zero agency throughout the entire film. He is carried along by other people, his job, or simple coincidence. When he does finally make an active decision, it was such an obvious decision I’m surprised no one else got to it before Mr. Ineffective did! Aaron Taylor-Johnson was good in Kick-Ass, wasn’t he? He has one facial expression for the entirety of this film – I only hope that he lifts his game for The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
If I didn’t know better, after seeing this film I might wonder whether all Ken Watanabe could do is stand around looking stressed. That is almost all he does through the entire film. Although, props to him for hugging a moleskin notebook to his chest for most of it too. As far as scientists go, he seems fairly ineffective. There isn’t really any point to the scientists as they don’t come up with any great plans to destroy the creatures – that’s all handled by the military. So why are they there? What is the point of them?
None of the characters grow or change during the course of the film. There’s no real consequence for any of their actions – they don’t even ‘save’ themselves, they have to let Godzilla do it for them. So what’s the point of this film? If we get attacked by big scary monsters, let’s just hope there are bigger, scarier monsters out there to take care of them?
There are a lot more issues with this film, I could probably continue ranting for a good few hours. But let’s end with this: for a monster movie, a Godzilla monster movie at that, there is very little monster fighting. And even less with Godzilla. I wonder who the writers/studio/director were hoping to aim this film at – it doesn’t have enough monsters to appeal to the monster movie fans and not enough plot/characterization to appeal to… well… anyone else.
Verdict: Truly awful. I’ve not seen the 1998 film, but I’m told it is definitely better than that – that’s something, I guess? Don’t waste your money unless you are a die-hard monster movie fan, and even then, you might want something with a little more monster for your money.