The TL:DR Non-Spoiler Review Summary
I really enjoyed Godzilla (2014). The visuals were spot on. The soundtrack was exquisite and it played very true to the original foundations of the character and series. This can be an issue for some I suppose, especially people expecting a hard-action super fast extravaganza. The pacing is a lot more even and Godzilla is treated like a force of nature rather than a “character”. Overall I highly recommend it.
Spoilers and Analysis Review
Godzilla, the 2014 release, is the first American-produced Godzilla movie since the train wreck that was put out in 1998 by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. The less said about that horror, the better. This new release was handled by Legendary films and written by Max Borenstein and David Callaham. The director of the film is Gareth Edwards who has a small resume, but happens to be the director of the upcoming Star Wars anthology movie “Rogue One”.
The story begins with the discovery of large spores inside the skeleton of a long-dead giant creature in the Philippines by Doctor Ishiro Serizawa, played by Ken Watanabe. One of the spores hatched while the other remained. The occupant of the hatched spore makes its way to a nuclear power plant supervised by Joe Brody, portrayed by Bryan Cranston. The creature causes the entire power plant to collapse, killing Joe's wife in the process.
Fast forward fifteen years. Joe's son Ford is an EOD Lieutenant in the US Navy, married and has a son of his own. He lives in the shiny city of San Francisco but must return to Japan to bail out his father when he's arrested for breaking into the old area near the power plant. They get captured and meet with Dr. Serizawa just in time for a huge flying monster to hatch.
Through a series of events, the monster and a distant mate make their way to San Francisco, as a new monster that the military had tried to destroy 60 years before surfaced, named Godzilla. All three leave a trail of destruction in their wake before a huge showdown in San Francisco as Ford Brody runs around their feet trying to stop a nuclear bomb from annihilating the city.
You might think that a story with this level of traveling seems like it could be hard to follow, but the movie flows perfectly. You clearly see the progression from location to location and it never feels rushed or forced. Many “action” films as of late seem to want to push the constant noise and movement into your face. They never have quiet moments to just let scenes breathe or to establish mood and tension. Godzilla has this in droves. There's a wonderfully set up scene involving a train bridge, with Ford and other soldiers checking ahead for the monster.
Speaking of scenes like that, each scene immediately after the power plant collapse could be its own poster, or a framed print. The sense of scale is enormous and the effects nicely integrated. One thing I had a slight issue with, visually, was the colors becoming muted around the point a the monsters all convered on San Francisco. A lot of greys, but it's done to highlight the oranges and, even more so, highlight the lighting of Godzilla's signature breath weapon.
The actual monster fights are filmed very well. They have a strong feeling of the suited monsters from the original Godzilla movies, but with the added ability that CG animation brings to the table. The way Godzilla takes out each of the monsters is very brutal but also satisfying.
I also enjoyed the point of view of Godzilla as a force of nature, like a hurricane, rather than a monster. He's filmed that way and the encounters are depicted that way. It was how he was envisioned in the original movie. Like a typhoon created through irresponsible nuclear testing. In 1954 it was a warning against us destroying ourselves. In 2014 he stands as a reminder that nature is a force completely beyond us. That in the words of Dr. Ian Malcom, “Life finds a way.” In this age of global warming and climate change fears, and even fears of the next terrorism strike just around the corner, Godzilla is that reminder that there are forces completely beyond our control and that at times we are smart to just get out of its way.
Looking at the characters, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody was all right. The character served as more of a camera character through which we see the most intense moments. He's not unlikable at all, if not completely memorable. Ken Watanabe was good as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa. I like even more that the character's name is a direct homage to Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, the scientist who killed Godzilla in the original 1954 movie.
A point of contention for me is the character of Joe Brody, Ford's father. Bryan Cranston is amazing in the role. But he dies immediately after the new monster emerges. After his setup it felt like an extreme let down for his character to just die like that with little to no real impact on the plot. His death was a serious loss to the story and I'm not entirely sure why they felt the need to kill him off at all. Ford doesn't treat it like some sort of vendetta against the monster.
The soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat is without a doubt one of the great standouts of the movie. This is honestly the first time I've ever heard a soundtrack by him and I get serious John Williams vibes from him. The main theme (which I've had almost on loop since I started writing this) has callbacks to the original Godzilla theme while also being quite its own thing. The whole soundtrack stands on its own.
I loved this movie. The more the post-movie fridge-logic that happens the more I love it. It was the perfect antidote to the past year's constant stream of dumb loud action movies. The movie at no point seems to talk down to its audience. We're there to feel the power and spectacle without that spectacle being the core epicenter of the movie.
I can understand why some people may not like it. Those who enter into it with the expectation of a big budget monster smashing movie will be disappointed. This film focuses on the people in the path of the hurricane and their efforts to get to safety. It's clear the people who made it approached it from a grounded, yet respectful admiration for the original films that made Godzilla the King of the Monsters.