This year marks the 60th anniversary of the original Godzilla film, when the King of the Monsters first emerged from the Pacific and terrorized Tokyo, Japan. Roughly 10 years after America dropped two atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II, Godzilla was artistically created to be a physical, living representation of the destructive force of those bombs. Even the texture of his skin is modeled after keloid scars, which were found on survivors as a result of the radiation. Godzilla’s arrival and subsequent attacks were spurred by the use of nuclear weapons, and he as a character wholly embodies the consequences of nuclear warfare.
60 years later, Godzilla remains a global icon, having spawned dozens of movie sequels, while introducing several other enormous monsters to battle with. Then 16 years ago, he was reimagined as he first came to America in Roland Emmerich’s lackluster 1998 film Godzilla, leaving many fans severely disappointed with not only the film, but also the new rendition of the famous monster. While Godzilla is visually depicted much more accurately in Gareth Edward’s new 2014 Godzilla than he was in ’98, his entire presence is surprisingly different than usual. This isn’t the angry, vengeful Godzilla of the past. He actually now seems almost entirely indifferent to humans. Unfortunately, as promising as this new Godzilla movie may appear to be, it falls far short of expectations, and dare I say, it isn’t even much better than the 1998 Godzilla.
Godzilla (2014) starts off pretty well, strengthened by the performance of Bryan Cranston, who plays Joe Brody, a nuclear power plant engineer living in Japan. Brody is present when an unknown disaster occurs at the plant, costing many innocent lives. Despite what the trailers suggest, Cranston’s Brody is not the main character of the film. Nor is it fellow all-star actor Ken Watanabe. The main character is actually only seen for about 4 seconds of the film’s original 2 and a half minute trailer. It’s Joe Brody’s son, Ford, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, in a performance that is decent but far from engaging. The protagonist Ford Brody is a character that is largely uninteresting, and who just casually wants to get back to his family after the monster invasion. He fails to convey any genuine sense of urgency amidst the chaos, although the same can be said for the entire cast, with the exception of Cranston’s Brody. Cranston’s performance is the only one that has any emotional weight to it, but he can’t carry the film alone. Meanwhile, Ken Watanabe is essentially reduced to being the quiet, ever-present voice of reason that no one wants to listen to. The film has a solid cast of actors, but they’re not given enough to work with in this convoluted mess of a movie.
For a movie that has so much death and destruction, the people in the film never seem all that concerned. You get no sense of global panic and hysteria. You have a 300-foot-tall monster destroying cities, with millions of people dying, and yet nobody seems all that freaked out by it. It’s almost like the situation isn’t treated as a serious threat, and there’s a major lack of suspense altogether. There’s rarely any edge-of-your-seat terror or excitement, and the lack of emotion just makes the action come off as sort of flat and dull. Not only that, the majority of the destruction that’s taking place isn’t even seen, with the movie instead opting to show you the aftermath. Throughout the first two-thirds of the movie, the camera continuously cuts away from the action you’ve been waiting for. Rather than showing you what you want to see in full-glory, the movie frequently will take you to a different location where you’ll briefly see a few seconds of the catastrophe being watched by someone on television. It feels like a cheap trick to build up to some amazing climax, but it’s incredibly frustrating. It’s like when watching a reality TV show and then the show cuts to a commercial break before revealing the winner. Perhaps it would be more forgivable if the end was enjoyable, but even though it does give you a full display of the showdown, it’s bogged down by a tiresome human story and still lacks any real emotional punch. Despite the fact that the movie tries to convey a serious tone, it’s also incredibly cheesy. To the extent that the big finale that this movie has been trying so hard to build up to ends up being almost laughable. Ultimately the movie ends up just being unsatisfying, disappointing, and overly long.
There are a lot of ways in which Godzilla goes wrong, despite the film’s great potential. One of my issues is with the musical score, which ends up coming off like a bad punchline. Music is supposed to accentuate the action and drama of a film, yet the film feels emotionless and boring. The only time the music really stood out to me was when it was being used to heighten the suspense of the climactic battle, and essentially narrate who was winning. It was done so ineffectively that it was both kind of comical and embarrassing. I also have an issue with all of the special effects, which are being touted as absolutely amazing. They’re not. However, I will say that the use of special effects in the movie is quite ambitious, but it works to the film’s detriment. There’s simply too much of them, and this excessive nature of the film is, I think, its biggest mistake. Godzilla (2014) is ridiculously CGI-heavy, and while their scope is admirable, I really think the quality would have been substantially improved if they didn’t overdo it so much. I think a less-is-more approach would have benefitted the film in many ways. It’s excessive to the point of making good things turn bad. Everything is way too over the top, causing the action to lose its impact. It’s evident the filmmakers were trying so hard to make this big-budget movie as epic as possible, but this enormous scale ends up backfiring. The rampage covers two continents, multiple cities, and even traverses the length of the Pacific Ocean. I can appreciate their attempt, but the movie is trying to do too much. In other words, Godzilla (2014) bites off more than it can chew.
I also have some problems with the film’s treatment of the titular character, Godzilla. First of all, for a movie named after him, he sure doesn’t appear much in it. He’s the reason why we want to see the movie, but he’s absent for the majority of the film. Even when he’s around, he’s largely obscured by CGI smoke and storm clouds, up until the final moments of the movie. I’m also not particularly fond of his appearance. He just doesn’t quite look like Godzilla to me. It’s like looking at a T-Rex head on Godzilla’s body. I’m aware that Godzilla’s facial appearance has changed many times over 60 years, but something just doesn’t look quite right here. Additionally, I feel that Godzilla’s face is actually too expressive in this new film. I wonder if this was done to cause viewers to feel more sympathetic to him, because in the film, Godzilla is actually depicted as something of a tragic hero, rather than a colossal beast. This is my biggest concern with the movie’s handling of his character. Godzilla’s destruction in the film is treated like it’s all unintentional, and just a result of his massive size. Even though humans attack him, he’s not angry about it or anything. Never mind the movie’s claim that all of America’s nuclear bomb tests after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were actually secretive but unsuccessful attempts to kill Godzilla. He doesn’t mind. He’s just a poor gentle giant that’s misunderstood. Really, Hollywood? Give me a break!
To say that Godzilla (2014) is almost as bad of a film as Godzilla (1998) is a statement that I don’t take lightly. It’s a bold and controversial thing to say, and it may seem a bit absurd considering that this film goes in the right direction, whereas the previous film was all wrong from the beginning. Yet while the new movie has all the right pieces for greatness, it extends its reach too far and attempts to do too much, while never managing to make any of it very good. In all seriousness, I was more entertained with the ’98 film than I was with this one. I can hardly comprehend how a movie with a giant 300-foot-tall monster destroying cities can be so boring. Godzilla (2014) focuses so much on trying to build up to an epic conclusion that it forgets to worry about making the audience care, or even about keeping them entertained, and it just gets worse as it goes on. It repeatedly tries to raise the stakes, as well as our expectations, while attempting to delay gratification until the end. It’s a risky move, and unsurprisingly, it certainly doesn’t pay off. On the bright side, Godzilla (2014) is probably a pretty sweet movie if you’re a 12-year-old. There’s plenty of action, some cool special effects, and he’s still a pretty awesome monster. However, for me, I was totally pumped up for this movie, but an hour and a half into it, I had endured enough and wanted to walk out. Godzilla (2014) disappointed me on so many levels. It’s a movie without a beating heart. It’s predictable, overly long, has uninspired characters and a weak story, and the action just never hits the right note. A little more emotion and a little less CGI could have a gone a long way in making this movie better. As a fan of Godzilla, I felt frustrated, detached, and perplexed with how they were able to do so much wrong when they had the groundwork for something great. You know, perhaps I’m wrong in claiming it’s comparably bad as Godzilla (1998). After all, the last time I saw that movie was in the theaters when I was 12.
5 Minute Movie Guy
*** (To see my complete thoughts on Godzilla (2014), check out my spoiler talk here!) ***