This review will be relatively spoiler free.
The setup for this movie begins well before you take your seat in the theater. One of my reactions to the first trailer for Godzilla was surprise that the king of monsters himself made an appearance. Monster movies normally guard their reveals closely, so a full frontal roar in the promos took me by surprise. By the end of the movie I was convinced this was intentional to alter the viewers’ expectations. More on this later, I just want to impress upon everyone how much work went in to every detail surrounding this movie.
If it hasn’t been said enough already, Brain Cranston is an exceptionally talented actor. Not ground breaking I know, but he really carries the opening. The other characters have been receiving some criticism, but I think there’s a point that has been missed. Ken Watanabe plays the scientist with an excellent mix of reverence and panic. Aaron Taylor-Johnson didn’t make me too excited for his upcoming Quicksilver roll in Avengers 2, but still holds down his part alright.
Overall though, the people were well acted, it’s just that they were ineffective. The people in the movie had little impact on the movement of the plot, but I’m relatively certain that was intentional. Much of the movie holds up this idea that humanity needs to take a long look at exactly what we control and what we think we can control. There’s the line in the trailers that says as much, but we also have almost every character at one point delivering lines via their reflection in either a mirror, broken window, or computer screen, and Watanabe’s character’s powerful moment bringing up Hiroshima in the context of consequences of wielding unknown power. Making the characters ineffective were another level of this and I think it’s important to not confuse intentional impotency with poor acting or writing.
The reflection shots aren’t the only example of fantastic directorial choices. The movie really gets the scale of these monsters correct. One series of shots that really stood out to me was a moment on a bridge. Two soldiers are walking along the bridge and the camera is just overhead looking down into the valley so we understand how high up they are. When a monster rises out of the gorge the soldiers lay flat on the bridge and the camera pulls back so we have the bridge and the soldiers in the foreground with the monster towering over them. These are giants and the movie takes every opportunity to exhibit their size.
Going back to my opening paragraph, when I saw Godzilla revealed in the trailers I figured there would be plenty of him in the movies. He wasn’t really there for the first couple scenes and I started to get anxious. The movie even goes so far as to cut away from some early fight scenes with no closure or winner revealed. By the time the climactic battle comes along I was practically drooling for Godzilla to be on the screen. I was impressed at the restraint of the movie and the way they teased his appearance in the early scenes and in the trailers.
I went to go see this movie in a group of nine people. Every one of us either had a degree in some science field, was active duty military, or both. This led to some fun nitpicking afterwards about some of the details in the movie. Radiation doesn’t work that way. EMPs don’t work that way(I really think EMPs are the new ‘reverse the polarity’). Why on earth would they scramble a C-17 out of Edwards Air Force Base when there are two bases closer that are both better equipped? EODs don’t receive HALO training. I could go on. Most of us went out to dinner afterwards and after having fun poking at some of those things for a while one of us said, “What about Godzilla’s finishing move at the end?” Everyone started talking over each other gushing about being on the edge of their seat and feeling the need to cheer. Honestly if the science had added up, I’m not certain it really would have been a Godzilla movie.
In the end, this is the best monster movie I’ve seen in years: the pacing is solid, the scale is appropriately monstrous, and there is a point that’s being made other than just insurance companies are all going out of business after the credits roll. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy a movie as much or more than Captain America again for at least a couple months, but after seeing Godzilla and with X-Men debuting this coming weekend, I’m going to need a bigger popcorn bucket.
★★★★★ – Writing, cinematography, and Godzilla. Oh my! A reminder of my rating system.