Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody
Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ichiro Serizawa
Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody
Elizabeth Olsen as Elle Brody
Carson Bolde as Sam Brody
Sally Hawkins as Vivienne Graham
Juliette Binoche as Sandra Brody
CJ Adams as Young Ford
David Strathairn as Admiral William Stenz
Richard T. Jones as Captain Russell Hampton
Victor Rauk as Sergeant Tre Morales
Patrick Sabongui as Lieutenant Commander Marcus Waltz
Catherine Lough Haggquist as PO #1 Martinez
Eric Keenleyside as Boyd
Directed by Gareth Edwards
In 1999, Japan was rocked by tremors that decimated a nuclear power plant, creating a highly irradiated quarantined district and killing the wife of scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston). 15 years later, Joe is still obsessed with finding the cause of those unexplained tremors as they resume while at the same time his grown-up son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is returning from military duty. They soon learn that a mysterious egg found 15 years earlier is ready to hatch unleashing a large insectoid creature on earth that’s about to bring back an even larger adversary from the bottom of the sea.
Trying to reinvent the Godzilla movie 60 years after Toho Studios turned the giant fire-breathing lizard into a household name could potentially be a thankless effort, even with a long enough gap since the failed 1998 Roland Emmerich effort that one can hold out hope it can be done right. With Gareth Edwards, director of the low budget, indie monster movie “Monsters,” at the helm, Godzilla is transformed into a large-scale disaster movie that takes cues from Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” and his “War of the Worlds” remake where the fantastic is always grounded in reality with much of the tension created by the human characters experiencing the destruction caused by these massive creatures.
One can easily go into a movie like this thinking they know what to expect even with the different approach taken by the filmmakers, one that doesn’t relegate Godzilla to simply showing up at a city and destroying everything in his path, but instead giving him a very specific purpose to the story. At times it’s surprising how much they get right, even if one has to have some patience before we get to see our hero fully on screen, especially following a disappointing reveal when a giant radioactive “egg” hatches and it’s not Godzilla inside. Instead, it’s a “MUTO,” a giant flying mantis-like creature whose body emits EMP-like radiation that downs any plane that tries to get near it. It’s soon chasing after the mating call of an even larger female MUTO that starts to lay waste to Las Vegas.
Taking the reins on a far bigger budget and making the most of it, Edwards successfully proves his mettle as a director with absolutely fantastic set pieces in terms of the scale of the destruction and devastation in the monsters’ paths. Although Godzilla himself doesn’t appear front and center for some time, it just makes his every on-screen appearance a special one, even creating tension when we’re just seeing his spikey “fins” churning through the water. This Godzilla really has personality as well, and when the monsters are on screen, especially when they’re fighting, it’s everything anyone can possibly want from a Godzilla movie with state-of-the-art computer animation work making the creatures seem as real as the cities they’re destroying.
Fans of Guillermo del Toro’s own Godzilla-inspired “Pacific Rim” might wonder what sets this movie apart, the most noticeable difference being the lack of any sort of humor or comic relief to take away from the serious nature of monsters razing everything in their path and potentially killing thousands of people while doing so. Even with that in mind, there’s always an underlying silliness to the concept, which fits in well with the Japanese films, though it’s always played so seriously it never takes away from the impact of the devastating destruction. Just the fact that certain scenes go to great effort to recreate two of Asia’s most horrendous natural disasters gives you some idea that things aren’t being taken lightly.
As far as the humans go, Bryan Cranston mainly appears in the first act, bringing intense emotionality to a scene where his character watches his wife (Juliette Binoche) being enshrouded by radioactive mist. After that opening prologue, it’s not long before Cranston is going overboard with his overacting and the story thankfully shifts focus to his son, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is conveniently everywhere whenever the monsters attack. Taylor-Johnson doesn’t really offer much in terms of being the film’s action hero focus except being able to handle the physicality of such a role, while Elizabeth Olsen takes on a minimal nothing part as his wife who doesn’t bring much to the story expect to add a few teary moments of her wondering when her husband might return to San Francisco.
On the other hand, the somewhat unconventional casting of dramatic actors like Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe becomes one of the film’s greatest strengths since they bring actual weight to even some of the harder to fathom exposition. This is especially true of Watanabe’s character when he explains the origins of the MUTOs and how they lay dormant near the earth’s crust eating radiation, which sounds absolutely ridiculous, as does the explanation for Godzilla’s existence, but there’s something to Watanabe’s delivery that makes you accept it.
There’s a lot to enjoy in this latest attempt to bring everyone’s favorite giant lizard back to the screen and while as much as “Godzilla” works due to the great efforts made to keep everything grounded with its human characters, once the monsters start fighting, you forget about them completely.