The new Godzilla film has been my most anticipated movie since Fellowship of the Ring, so you can imagine that I had pretty big expectations when I walked into the cinema. I was also excited and a little bit fearful – after all with high expectations comes a high risk of disappointment. Happily enough, I wasn’t let down by the film. I saw the 2D version.
I will try to keep this film fairly spoiler free, but if you are such a purist that you haven’t even watched any trailers, I suggest you stop reading here.
The basic premise of the movie is simple enough. There are giant monsters, they fight each other and mankind gets caught in the middle. However, I like how they’ve managed to keep the film feeling fresh and interesting instead of simply having a two hour CGI slugfest. Luckily, that’s not to say there isn’t a good bit of monster punch-out involved.
Let’s start with the best parts. First of all, the visuals. Godzilla looks very, very nice. The shots of Godzilla and the other monsters wrecking civilization (and there are plenty of those) are excellent. There’s a great sense of scale, and a feeling of weight often missing from CGI. The monsters feel big, heavy and physical as does the destruction they cause. There are some actually beautiful shots in the film, balancing serenity with destruction – an aerial shot of a Navy fleet following Godzilla was a particular favourite, as was Godzilla looming over the lanterns of San Francisco’s Chinatown. There’s plenty of colour and variety of locations in the film, from the islands of the Pacific to the deserts of Nevada.
The sound design was great as well, supporting the visuals. Again, the roars and screeches of the monsters are impressively loud and animalistic, and the theatre rumbled with the roars and the destruction. There is often a nice contrast in the film with calm moments in the audiovisual storm, before the movie again erupts into full-on chaos. My absolute favourite is a sound used a few times in the film, where the destruction of a tower building’s windows creates an ethereal, hauntingly beautiful tinkling. If you’ve seen Gareth Edwards’ previous film Monsters (and you should), there’s a lot of similarity in feel here.
The real beef of the film is of course the combination of monsters and destruction. After all, when you’re going to see Godzilla, you’re going to see a film with monsters destroying stuff. The movie does not disappoint. There is plenty of both available and with loads of variety. You will see the monsters fighting ships, planes, tanks, helicopters and infantry and destroying power plants, trains, skyscrapers and landmarks. There’s even a tsunami thrown in. Godzilla looks a lot like a catastrophe movie, as it should. The monster designs are very nice and things are kept interesting.
I want to dedicate a paragraph to the monsters themselves. Monster choreography in Godzilla is excellent. The battles between monsters look like something out of an awesome David Attenborough -narrated nature document. The monsters look, feel and act real, and mostly they don’t feel like movie heroes and villains, but simply giant, monstrous animals, which helps sell them to the audience. I also liked the fact that despite modern day visuals, they haven’t completely done away with the “man in a suit” feel of Godzilla.
As you might guess, the plot and the human characters don’t particularly shine in the film. Both are adequate for the film, and the plot has a few interesting twists, but let’s face it: in a genre film like this, I’m not going in to see awesome drama, deep characters and an intricate plot. If anything, the film tried to inject too much character and family drama into the film, but it didn’t really work. While it didn’t really fall flat on its face, the end result was still a little meh and felt unnecessary. The same thing plagues pretty much every big apocalyptic film (with the exception of Pacific Rim): the destruction of millions of people is not seen as tragic enough, but there always has to be the story of a family separated by the events. In Godzilla it isn’t as cheesy as several other films (say the god-awful 2012), but the plot device didn’t really work. All the actors turn in a solid day’s work, but there really isn’t anything remarkable on offer. There are a few minor irritations, my personal not-favourite being Ken Watanabe’s Japanese doctor, who should be an expert on the subject but tends to only offer cryptic and dramatic lines in a gruff voice instead of being of any help.
There was an element of environmentalism in the movie, which didn’t feel too forced, nor was it really heavy handed. After all, the Godzilla franchise has always been about radiation and its dangers, so this was perfectly in line with the previous films. In a great avoidance of plausible explanations (which never work in movies like this) it’s simply stated that the monsters thrive and feed on radiation. That’s cool with me.
In a genre movie like this, there’s often a tendency to go with a mass of obvious irritating tropes. Director Gareth Edwards and writer Max Borenstein are obviously quite familiar with these, as the movie often sets up situations like this, and then resolves them in a smart manner. An example is a scene where Godzilla is at Golden Gate bridge, and a courageous bus driver with a bus full of children decides to make a run for it through barricades, tanks and all. As the scene unfolded, I was rolling my eyes, as I knew exactly how it would turn out. Despite the chaotic situation, the heroism of the driver would of course clear all the obstacles previously established, there would probably be a groovy one-liner (“Hold on kids, this is gonna get bumpy!” or something similar) and then off they go. I won’t spoil it for you, but things took a more realistic turn. Things like this had me liking the film a lot. Other favourites included an intelligent, sensible military and its non-crazy, non-murderous commander – both aspects always missing from films like this.
Overall verdict: Godzilla is a nice catastrophe movie, and an awesome giant monster movie. It avoids most pitfalls of the genre and offers a wonderful audiovisual experience. If you go in expecting plenty of character development and an intricate plot, you’ll be sorely disappointed – then again, if that’s what you’re looking for, why on earth would you go see Godzilla? If – like me – you go in expecting to see cities levelled and monsters brawling against each other and the military, you’re in for a treat. Godzilla takes second place in my giant monster top 3, behind Pacific Rim but ahead of Cloverfield.