Fifteen years after a suspected earthquake destroyed the nuclear plane where his parents worked, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) returns to Japan to bail his father out of jail for trespassing in the quarantine zone. While in Japan an ancient and dangerous threat arises, and it is not long before the mythical and mysterious Godzilla surfaces to protect humanity and restore natural balance.
It feels like it has been years since we have had a decent creature feature; even last year’s Pacific Rim skimped on the kaiju and never really gave us a chance to see more than a glimpse of them. Thank heavens then, for Godzilla.
Like many of the great monster movies over the years, the focus is given to the humans, with the monster filling in the gaps and providing jeopardy; it’s a shame that the humans feel so one dimensional though, as it feels we are often sitting through the human story just to get a glimpse of the monster. To be fair, this is not really the fault of the actors, whose parts are drawn as thin as possible, leaving the characters feeling one dimensional and vague. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as Ford, is the hero of the piece, but other than learning that he is a US Marine who finds himself in the right (wrong?) place at the wrong time, and he has a young family, we learn almost nothing about him. Elizabeth Olsen is a nurse who cares for her kid, Ken Watanabe is an obsessive scientist who puts himself in danger for a glimpse of his obsession, Bryan Cranston plays a man who, when his wife is accidentally killed, looks for a reason beyond accident, for her death.
Screenwriter Max Bornstein obviously tried to take a page from both Jurassic Park and classic Godzilla movies books, and succeeded to a degree. This time out, Godzilla is not the bad guy, he is the lesser of two destructive forces, determined to vanquish his enemy and, in the process save humanity. The focus of the story is really the people whose lives are thrown into turmoil by the arrival of Godzilla and his foes, but without a real hero to root for, and without characters that are fully rounded, we are given little reason to see evil defeated, other than – y’know – it’s evil.
Director Gareth Edwards tries, like Godzilla himself, to find a balance, but ultimately fails. Taylor-Johnson’s character feels so wooden and one-dimensional that it is hard to root for him. Elizabeth Olsen’s Elle fares slightly better but she has very little to do, and there simply is not enough Bryan Cranston to go around. What we are left with, then, is a character we should root for because he is human, and some monsters who are not really bad per se, just destructive. The set pieces are huge and loud – as we would expect – but like so many movies that have gone before, most of the action takes place at night, which seriously diminishes its impact.
In all, Godzilla is a loving homage to the monster we know and love, with some serious issues. The humans are not developed enough, the action almost always takes place at night and we are never really given anyone to root for. Still, some of the set pieces are a lot of fun, the movie is big and loud and there are some shots – like the Marines parachuting through clouds – that are seriously impressive. The trouble is, the movie does not add up to a very impressive whole.