As summer blockbusters begin to hit the big screen, Godzilla simultaneously meets and defies the expectations of its genre.
As one of the most internationally recognizable icons of Japanese pop culture, Godzilla has had an unfortunate history in the hands of American filmmakers. With the failed rendition of 1998, a reboot was definitely necessary, and with the promise from Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. that they would be going back to the original 1954 film for inspiration, the public's expectations heightened. The producers can breathe a sigh of relief because they succeeded. As other summer blockbusters begin to hit the big screen, Godzilla simultaneously meets and defies the expectations of its genre.
In 1999, scientists Ishiro Serizawa (played by Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (played by Sally Hawkins) are called to a quarry in the Philippines. They discover a massive skeleton along with what appear to be two eggs, one of which has hatched. Across the sea, near Tokyo, Japan, a nuclear plant has begun to experience seismic activity. One of the plant's supervisors Joe Brody (played by Bryan Cranston) is suspicious that it isn't an earthquake because it occurs in patterns. He sends his wife Sandra (played by Juliette Binoche) with a team to investigate the core for damage. Another wave of seismic activity brings an explosion, and Sandra and her team don't escape. The plant is destroyed, and the entire area is evacuated and quarantined under the guise that an earthquake caused the release of radiation.
Fifteen years later, Joe's son Ford Brody (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an explosive ordinance disposal officer with the U.S. Navy, has just returned to his wife Elle (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam (played by Carson Bolde) in San Francisco. Before he can even unpack his bags, he receives a call from the embassy that his father Joe, still in Japan, has been arrested for trespassing in a quarantined area. Ford reluctantly travels to Japan and tries to convince his dad to forget his obsession with the events of 1999. Joe persuades his son into accompanying him into the quarantined zone, saying that this is the only way to find out the truth about the disaster that killed his wife and Ford's mother and to prove that he isn't crazy.
When they arrive, Joe discovers that there is actually no radiation in the area, proof that this was a cover-up. They visit their old home to pick up some disks with data recording the seismic activity. They then realize that there is still some activity in the plant and are soon arrested by security who then take them to a secret facility built inside the plant's ruins. At the center of this facility is a large chrysalis that Drs. Serizawa and Graham are studying. As Joe angrily explains that he knows something is going on, the chrysalis breaks open, and a colossal winged creature devastates the facility and flies off.
Despite a stellar cast, made up of quite a few Oscar and Golden Globe nominees alike, the performances are rather drab. Perhaps it's because the monsters in all their glory dominate viewers' attention, but the many characters along the way seem rather flat. The actors definitely try with Bryan Cranston giving a heart-wrenching performance as Joe Brody mourning his wife, but there are just so many characters that there is hardly time for them to seem like nothing more than extras. Then again, that is almost what they are since the movie is really not about them at all.
While some might complain about the slow build-up to the namesake monster's appearance, the choice is not to the film's detriment, especially since it does not follow the campy tone of its predecessors. Taking cues from such classics as Steven Spielberg's Jaws, director Gareth Edwards builds tension this way without wasting time. Considering the movie's more serious tone, he gives viewers drama that is neither over-the top nor unnecessary. Instead, Edwards manages to marry the human world with the monster world almost seamlessly, giving Godzilla and the other monsters more of a connection. Throw in great visuals, and this film becomes exactly what a great summer blockbuster is supposed to be.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures.