Godzilla (2014) Review

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The Godzilla movie they advertised is better than the Godzilla movie they made…

The following was originally posted on Mike Jones’ Culture Smash blog and reposted with added screenshots and juvenile captions from yours truly. I quite enjoyed the film, and honestly consider it wonderfully subtle and fairly goddamn excellent. It does, however, have numerous rather obvious and well publicized shortcomings, so while I agree with Matt’s review almost 100%, I’m admittedly far more forgiving having recently suffered through the last American Zilla effort. Some of the glaring stupidity involving Godzilla’s human players aside, I’d happily pay to see the film again, and be first in line for another entry from Gareth Edwards specifically. –C.Ant

Audience expectations are a dangerous thing, not just for the audience but for the film presented. If the audience expects something that the movie doesn’t present, can it really judge the movie fairly? If I have it in my head that Godzilla is going to be a grim, brooding, $150 million horror film retrofitting the classic monster as a force of nature and a prominent figure in its own film, is it my fault if I don’t get that? And is it my fault if I don’t like what I get that much?

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Two character actors you probably can’t name are the closest thing to “leads” Godzilla has

I say this because Godzilla was advertised as a completely different movie than the one currently in theaters. The good news is that the movie in theaters isn’t bad, and at times it’s excellent. The bad news is that the movie in trailers and commercials looks so much better than this film. Instead of Bryan Cranston as the main character, we get Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Instead of a compelling mystery story, we get a trite “nuclear-family is in danger” story. Instead of a genuinely unnerving and nerve-wrecking horror vibe, we get a slightly darker Pacific Rim vibe.

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What, you don’t recognize a beefed up Kick-Ass?

Cranston, in limited screen time, proves he can be a compelling presence without Walter White’s baggage. He knows what notes to hit for a character that could be much more boring thanks to the average screenplay he works with. Despite his age, he probably has a long career as a movie star ahead of him. Cranston plays Joe Brody, a man obsessed with finding the real cause of a 1999 meltdown at the Japanese nuclear plant he used to run. He drags his son Ford, played by Johnson, into the Quarantine Zone caused by the meltdown to search for proof. Johnson, so good as the titular character in Kick-Ass, is painfully dull here. He has the same vacant expression for when his dad asks him to go to the Quarantine Zone as he does when a giant monster wreaks havoc in that zone about 10 minutes later.

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Okay, Bryan. I want you to act the shit out of a couple cornball lines and then disappear from the movie forever.”

With no Bryan Cranston and less of a focus on these two characters, the movie becomes far less engaging since the real story is Ford trying to get from Japan to San Francisco to meet up with his boring wife, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and their son. Because of Johnson’s bland performance, he fails to engage the audience with his character on any significant level. He acts as a blank slate. He has no range of emotion or vocalization. He flatlines as a performer. All Olsen can do is cry for her husband. Juliette Binoche dies in the first 10 minutes of the movie. Once again, the female gender gets sidelined. Ken Watanabe is playing the movie’s Godzilla expert. He and his partner, played by Sally Hawkins, play the exposition people, telling us Godzilla’s history and function as nature’s balancing force. According to Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa, Godzilla exists to bring nature back into balance. And that’s why he’s looking for the MUTOs.

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Almost every shot of Godzilla is seen from a human perspective. On the ground, eye level, or through the glass of skyscrapers, windshields and television screens

And those MUTOs strangely enough take precedence over Godzilla in the story and the screen. In fact, he doesn’t show up for about an hour, and only then in glimpses.  The  giant Cloverfield-looking MUTOs move the plot along. Godzilla only exists in this movie to fight them.

Slowly building to the reveal instead of just showing him early on is not a bad idea, and it kind of works in this movie. When he finally shows up in all his glory, he looks incredible. He’s gigantic, as tall as the skyscrapers. But if you’re going to build up to the monster’s reveal, you need to have an engaging human story on the way there. And this story does not engage. But what’s really…just weird is how much more screen time the generic-named MUTOs get. They cause a ton of havoc, destruction, and make the movie pop in the first couple of acts.

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For all of his faults in directing actors, director Gareth Edwards has a lot of positive qualities. His 2010 film Monsters shares a lot of the same flaws, but it also foreshadowed his many gifts. If you’ve seen that movie, you got an inkling that he might be a master of building up dread and holding tension. Godzilla confirms it. Every scene that either involves a monster or leads up to a monster is outstanding. Edwards manages to instill dread, fear, and tension in the audience before inspiring a true sense of awe. The point-of-view shots help with this. He keeps his camera near human characters to let the audience view these gargantuan beasts from their perspective. It gives the movie a powerful sense of scale, since we can see just how big they are in comparison to us. Edwards keeps his camera still and allows the overwhelming feeling that scale inspires to sink in, while still ever-so-slightly shaking the camera to affect the fear the characters feel.

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The Godzilla mini -movie you may remember from the Super Bowl

The best the movie gets is the HALO jump scene, glimpsed at in the first trailer for the film. This scene illustrates all of Edwards’ skills perfectly. In the lead-in to the jump,Edwards establishes the soldiers’ fear; they recite bible verses and Ford looks gloomily at a picture of his family. Then the plane opens up, and we glimpse the sky, reddened and darkened from the smoke coming from below. Edwards doesn’t reveal the cause of this atmosphere just yet. Alexandre Desplat’s score, now emulating chamber music with high-pitched vocals backing the diegetic sounds, underscores the scene like a horror film. In an extreme long shot, we see the soldiers, trailing red smoke from the flares attached to their legs, falling towards a city on fire and utterly demolished. The cause? Godzilla and a MUTO, brawling, smashing, careening through skyscrapers. All seen through Ford Brody’s mask.

That scene establishes character, massive scale, and point of view, through which Edwards evokes terror, dread, fear, and awe all in the course of less than two minutes. Edwards comes close to this greatness with other fantastic scenes, as well, which disappoints me even more that he can’t get his human characters right. Too often, Edwards cuts back to these characters that has failed to make resonate with the audience.

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Loved seeing “so much” of you in Oldboy *giggle* But no so much here

But the scenes like that make the movie worth watching. And if the whole movie had been of those emotional roller coaster scenes with better performances and Godzilla as the terrifying force of nature, it would have been phenomenal. It would have been the movie Legendary Pictures advertised.

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My overall reaction to Godzilla’s status at the end of the movie

Instead, we got a good version of the monster-punches-monster movie. That’s all well and fine, and I’m willing to see another Gareth Edwards Godzilla, but I was sold and hyped for a much different movie. A more interesting movie that doesn’t treat Godzilla like a tertiary character.

Find more of Mike Jones work on his Culture Smash blog and follow him on Twitter.

GODZILLA GREATNESS ON AMAZON!! 

20 thoughts on “Godzilla (2014) Review

  1. I have recently seen it and I understand and agree with many of your points, we were sold another movie. BUT I have also now seen it twice and on the second viewing I enjoyed it more. This was because the first time around I was expecting certain things to happen, such as how the fights played out, thus getting mildly frustrated when they kept cutting back to the humans. On second viewing however I knew was going on and so just sat back and took it all in, without the guess/busy work.

    I had a similar experience with Pacific Rim, a good monster movie is one that stands up on repeat viewing in my opinion. And yes, I to am more than open to sequels.

    For all its faults I am happy with this film, glad that the big G is back in the mainstream and being successful.

  2. Good review, and I understand many of your concerns. I don’t think the problem is that Godzilla is a “tertiary character”, as you put it; the problem is that the main human characters are so bland that you don’t care about them in the slightest. That being said, making Godzilla the “tertiary character” gives him weight whenever he appears on screen. When you look at something for too long, I feel it desensitizes you to its majesty and wonder. Keeping Godzilla near the rear instead of the forefront accomplishes this. Personally, I enjoyed the movie very, very much, and I loved going in without the slightest idea of what was going to happen, which added more wonder upon first viewing.
    I wrote my own review, albeit much more pedestrian than this.
    http://docsuave.tumblr.com/GodzillaReview

  3. I’m amused of how a lot of the complaints I hear about the movie isn’t really regarding the movie’s actual quality, but how the movie failed to meet the preconceived notions of certain viewers. In this reviewer’s case, it’s that it wasn’t a more serious, scary movie with Godzilla as the sole main threat. In notorious fanboys like Angry Joe or MovieBob, is that they don’t show Godzilla and the monsters fighting enough. It’s like when a ton of idiots got mad at Iron Man 3 because it turns out the Mandarin there isn’t what they expected, never mind that the twist was actually pretty clever and well done.

    In my personal opinion, I enjoyed the movie a lot, and perhaps one of the reasons I liked so much is because it DEFIED those expectations. I expected Cranston’s character to have plot armor during the entire movie because he was the highest profile actor here, and was genuinely shocked and moved when he died. I expected Godzilla to emerge from that cocoon they were researching, and was surprised and fascinated when it turned out to be something else. I expected the soldiers in the movie to pull several ” ‘MURICA FUCK YEAH” Moments and save the day against ridiculous and unrealistic odds… and was refreshingly pleased to see that they actually barely mattered.

    I will definitely agree that Johnson and Olsen aren’t very compelling or interesting characters, but the one advantage I see to that is that they didn’t really distract from the shots and tension building from the scenes with the monsters. It was a rather dull, but passable enough human story to drive the rest of the plot forward that allowed us to view the going ons of the monsters via a human perspective, and that’s what I thought was really cool.

    Johnson’s character wasn’t important because of what he did, but because of where he was at the right moments and because he served as our avatar to see the monsters acting and fighting around him. It was a cool way to build up tension, and it also differs from other Kaiju or horror movies before it, I think.

    So, was it a perfect film? not at all, but I definitely feel that it’s a much better film in it’s own right than a lot of people give it credit for… I mean, if you want only monster fights to be the main center of attention, go watch “Pacific Rim” again. If you want the more serious, horror like film, go watch the original 50’s Godzilla instead. Those experiences you want have already been made, so why want/expect everything new they make to be more like those?

    1. I basically came to a similar conclusion on my second viewing, as said in my original comment, without any of my previous expectations clouding my judgment.

      I hope more people do the same, cooling off in the long term.

    2. ……I agree with BladedFalcon and Stabby Joe, although I am thrown off with how many people did not think it was a good adaptation of the series. So the expectations from the trailers depicted a different mindset….boo hoo. Did we all forget the 98’s catastrophe that put this series on a hiatus ( on the western side)? Did we expect freaking Mr. white riding on Godzilla’s back screaming “I am the one who knocks”? I believe that when 47 ronin came to be, it was a huge let down solely (mostly at least) because Keanu was not the sole focus. Many movies now follow the standard outline of the typical action flic, and I am for sure glad that at least this movie brought in a different aspect that many people did not see coming. The only thing I definitely saw coming was Godzilla was being a badass of lore and Fords “……ok that is a shitty name” mother dying in basically act 1. Good on them.

  4. This is almost exactly the review I wrote in my head. I was sooooooo looking forward to a disaster movie, but it turned out to be a half-step combo of Pacific Rim and Cloverfield. I loved the directing though, I think the movie’s biggest problem was the script… and the fact that the ending was completely stupid.

    1. You mean the climax of the battle? Because I thought that was pretty incredible. The third act and “idea” of buildup are great.

  5. As expected, most of my gripes had to do with Ken Watanabe’s impossibly perfect, impossibly dramatic English. There is not a Japanese scientist alive who has both 1) English that poetically eloquent and 2) that much of an accent. I will put money on this.

    “The arrogance of man is thinking that nature is in their control and not the other way around.”

    Uh-uh. Not in a million years does an English-as-a-second-language Japanese scientist in the midst of a dino crisis just bust that out mid-conversation like he just thought it up. A literary laureate, maybe. A Japanese scientist writing an ESSAY, quite possibly. But COME on. THAT was the most front-of-mind phrasing? COME on.

    Also the scene where he goes, “We call him…[dramatic pause, zoom, glare]…GOJIRA.”

    Like, how is his English-speaking audience supposed to react? “Oh okay don’t know what that means thanks.” Or “Holy shit that sounds like a cross between a gorilla and the Japanese word for whale!”

    And then suddenly everyone’s actually calling him “Godzilla,” like the media is somehow aware of Japan’s name for the beast but unaware that we’ve had a standardized way of romanizing Japanese words for like 130 years.

    I like Ken Watanabe and all, but every Hollywood movie he’s in goes something like this.

  6. I’m in the odd position of reading (negative) critiques of this film, and thinking “You’re not wrong or off base…but I don’t come to your conclusions either.” It may have helped that I read similar sentiments in advance, and I adjusted my expectations accordingly. I was also kinda prepared to not like it at all. Thankfully that did NOT happen.

    People like to toss around the title of “new Spielberg”, but I think Gareth Edwards might have a legitimate crack at it. All of the set pieces were so well built up and executed, they became the old school method of action sequences becoming mini stories in themselves. Pair Edwards up with a good writer, and he’ll be a force to reckon with.

    I’ll be seeing it again this Monday with a friend who hasn’t seen it yet, so I’ll be VERY curious to see his 1st opinion/my 2nd viewing opinion.

  7. If your biggest problem was that the film didn’t match up to the admittedly excellent trailers that we were given, I strongly, strongly advise that you go see the movie a second time. Try to get the preconceptions about this film out of your head and critically observe the film that we were given. I think that you’ll find that the movie drastically improves in this regard on a second viewing.

    Sure, the dark, serious film that we were shown in trailers LOOKED good. But how many times have we been shown an excellent film idea in trailers that falls completely down in execution? *cough* Man of Steel *cough* It would take some serious filmmaking skill to make another terrifying, horror-based single monster Godzilla movie work. The original film was birthed out of the fears and emotional scars of an entire nation after a planet-changing war. You just cannot get into that mindset again in the year 2014, so it would have been a long shot to imagine that lightning would strike that particular angle again. The film we got takes a vastly different approach that is in better alignment with Gareth Edwards’s talents. This is not in any way a slight of Gareth Edwards, mind you- I thought his direction was absolutely fantastic in this film.

    Say that the marketing mislead you, fine, but I really hope that those walking away disappointed simply because of adjusted expectations will give this film another chance. This film, despite being a huge studio tentpole, seemed very much like it was made with genuine love and respect for the characters, and it was willing to take much bolder risks (such as keeping the monster unseen for so long) with the material than most blockbusters for the sake of making a memorable film, rather than just making a quick buck off a popular property. Even if you do not like the film, you should hopefully at least show it some respect for that.

    Oh, and I loved the MUTOs, and I am genuinely puzzled when some people refer to them as generic. They showed a heck of a lot of character for giant bug monsters.

    If you’ll allow me to plug my own thoughts, my review is here:
    http://maxplusplus.wordpress.com/2014/05/18/godzilla-2014-review-the-once-and-future-king/
    I really love what you guys do here at Laser Time, so I hope you don’t mind me showing some of my own work around here.

    1. I got past that preconception. But I couldn’t get past how the failure of human characterization. That is the film’s big problem. And people might not care about human characters in a Godzilla movie because they’ve never had good characterization. To that, I say “why should a $150 million film, with this much talent in front of and behind the camera, repeat the same mistakes of a bunch of low-budget B-movies?” Especially when the film is asking us to care about these people.

  8. My two experiences with Godzilla have been the ’98 film and the new one, so I can’t say I was disappointed.
    In fact, I enjoyed it a lot. For some reason I didn’t really mind the actors everyone else was hating on so much.

  9. Yeah, most of my gripes are pretty much covered in this review. I don’t mind the slow build up, or lack of Godzilla screen time (in fact, I was expecting that going in having recently re-watched the still-excellent original movie). My two main problems where the boring uninteresting human drama and characters, and the fact that the MUTO’s got the lion’s share of the plot focus and build up, reducing Zilla to a supporting role in his own movie. I personally didn’t find the Cloverfield monsters that great anyway.
    I’d like to give Godzilla a second viewing soon, but X-Men is currently next up on my list.

  10. “The arrogance of this movie is thinking we the audience care so much about these non interesting humans.” – That was the quote right?
    Yeah the parts of this movie that are bad-ass are truthfully bad-ass. Like fist pumping awesome type of action. But there are only like 3(at most 4) of those moments. The rest we follow future quicksilver look bland.
    Everything he did was bland including him leaping off a broken bridge with a train that is on fire carrying nukes following him while a MUTO eats it…. ok that sounds better then what it was i promise you.
    Too many fights were covered via CNN in this movie, just wanted more of the big guy.

  11. I went in to Godzilla almost expecting a train wreck on the level of the ’98 movie so my expectations were pretty low but my biggest problem was that too many of the fights were shown on tv for a few seconds then we get to see the aftermath, but i feel that just made the fight at the end of the movie all the more epic, but the people were boring and i didn’t give many shits about what happened to them.

  12. I’m in complete agreement with this article. had the film had stronger leads (like Cranston and Watanabe) it could have been exceptional. as it is, it’s a flawed but totally enjoyable flick. when Godzilla gets to let loose at the end I was 10 years old again. and when he delivered his Fatality I think I giggled in joy.

  13. I shared the same thought s while I was watching this movie. The guy from kick ass killed this movie. Honestly Jamie Bell would of been perfect because he is just as bad as Arron but he at least can act like he is excited or scared. If they had a better lead actor this film would of been legendary. Its awesome that Arron is bulking up for Avengers but his voice just is-int there; so I don’t take him seriously. I was glad the director did the Ridley Scott alien thing and did not over show Godzilla. I still give this movie an A- and hope the sequel has a better lead that I can believe in.

    P.S. JGL would of killed in this role because we would be afraid for him. He is not physically imposing so we would worry about him getting hurt or killed while on his way to his family. Maybe future casting who knows thanks for reading.

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