Godzilla movies, with the exception of the decent 1954 original, have never been good movies, right?
Instead, they are movies some of us enjoy watching because they deliver a fun dose of camp. Godzilla movies offer the brain a chance to relax and watch something unintentionally laughable.
That said, I’m a Godzilla fan—to a certain extent. I used to watch the Thanksgiving Day marathons on TV back in Long Island, N.Y., when I was a kid. I had a special place in my heart for King Kong vs. Godzilla, and appreciate the fodder that Godzilla and Gamera movies provided for Joel Hodgson on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Well, the new, Gareth Edwards-directed Godzilla is, by millions and trillions and billions of miles, the best Godzilla movie ever made. It’s no contest: This movie tramples the other Godzilla movies underfoot like Godzilla trampling a water tower with cheesy dolls meant to be humans hanging on to it.
Edwards (whose lone other feature directorial credit is the amusing, low-budget Monsters) captures that summer-blockbuster vibe of yesteryear, back when suspense and perhaps just a touch of human drama took precedent over wall-to-wall CGI fireworks. He also manages to capture some of that old-school Toho Godzilla goofiness to go with the film’s mostly serious tone. Even though the film’s monsters are CGI, there are some monster gestures in which the moves have a nice, man-in-suit quality to them.
It’s pretty obvious that Edwards is saluting the all-time blockbuster king, Mr. Steven Spielberg, with this movie. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play a father-and-son team with a last name of Brody; Roy Scheider’s name in Jaws was Brody. Many of the initial Godzilla shots include overhead, swimming glimpses and those jagged Godzilla back points cutting through the surface like a shark’s dorsal fin. Cranston’s slightly crazed, obsessed, gloriously overacting scientist dad rings of Richard Dreyfuss’ mashed-potato-sculpting kook in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
In a way, Edwards is hamstrung by the limitations of his reported $160 million budget, but he certainly makes the most of it. Big special-effects extravaganzas usually cost a lot more than that these days, so just as Spielberg was forced to show less of the shark due to the thing being broken, Edwards only shows the right amount of Godzilla—because that’s probably all he could afford. It turns out to be a blessing, because it makes the final chunk of the film, in which Godzilla is featured prominently, all the more rewarding.
That’s not to say the buildup to Godzilla’s entrance is at all boring or lacking in action. Edwards and his team have come up with a nice Godzilla enemy in the MUTOs, creatures that are trying to mate and snacking on nuclear missiles and waste. The first hour also features impressive tsunamis, nuclear-plant destructions and enough hints of Godzilla to make the buildup impressive.
When Godzilla does make his big appearance, we are greeted with his wonderful, primordial scream that is super-sweet inside a big IMAX theater. The sheer majestic power of this sound had me leaning back in my chair and smiling.
Ken Watanabe plays what is essentially the Raymond Burr role from the original Americanized version of Godzilla—that of a big star inserted into the action whose main purpose is to look really, really concerned. Taylor-Johnson is the film’s hero, and he’s OK, if perhaps a little dull. Playing his character’s wife is Elizabeth Olsen, who might not have much to do in the movie, but she does perform the best running-away-while-looking-over-the-shoulder move in the film.
The final sequence, in which Godzilla goes head-to-head with the MUTOs and levels San Francisco, gets my vote for Best Monster Mash ever.
If I’m Warner Bros., I’m on the phone right now with Universal to see if I can borrow Peter Jackson’s King Kong for the inevitable sequel.
Godzilla is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.