Godzilla (Warner Bros., PG-13)

film godzilla 75The final battle is teased out, so the excitement keeps building, rather than reaching a plateau before the actual climax.

 

 

 

film godzilla 500

I’m pretty sure that Godzilla was the first series of movies that I ever got into in a deeply nerdy way. Before I discovered Star Wars or James Bond, I could tell you the names of every monster Godzilla had ever fought and which film he had fought them in. I couldn’t do that now. I didn’t stick with the series in the same way I stuck with Bond or some of the others, but my love for monsters—and the king of the monsters specifically—has endured, and made me very excited to see this new film.

Another reason I was excited was to see the new movie from Gareth Edwards, director of the ultra low-budget Monsters. I really liked Monsters, but even if you didn’t like it, you’d have to admire the sheer skill and creativity that Edwards displayed in making it. He showed a remarkable talent for inspiring awe with limited resources, and never losing sight of the human characters and their relationships, even in the midst of some serious craziness. Those talents serve him well in Godzilla.

There’s an inherent problem with Godzilla movies in that you almost never care about the humans. They are either involved in their own melodrama, which distracts from the monster story, or they are directly involved in the monster story, in which case you know they won’t be able to make much of a difference. Edwards does a pretty decent job of making these humans work. He has a great cast, and he gives them plenty of time to flesh out their characters. Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson all get opportunities to show their acting chops, and even under-utilized performers like Juliette Binoche (!?) and Elizabeth Olsen bring a lot of weight to their roles.

The film’s greatest strength is also what is most likely to annoy large portions of the audience: It takes a long time to really get to the monsters. (There are multiple monsters in this movie, by the way. I don’t know if that counts as a spoiler, but most of the later marketing materials feature them, so I hope it’s OK.) I’m not saying that there are no monsters in the first half of this movie. We get a lot of hints of them, in the same way that we got hints of the monsters in Monsters. We see a tail here, a quick glimpse there, but it isn’t until the climax that the camera really pulls back and shows them in their full glory. Again, this will probably bug a lot of people, but I think it’s brilliant. It allows us to maintain a sense of wonder right up until the end. I love Pacific Rim, but the final battle in that movie feels slightly anti-climactic after the two amazing fights at the beginning and in the middle. Here, it’s teased out, so that the excitement keeps building, rather than reaching a plateau before the actual climax. And the teases are all good. Edwards has an amazing sense of scale and this movie feels huge, even when we are only seeing the results of the monsters’ activities, long after they have gone.

The trailers for Godzilla make it seem like a grim, intense story, much more along the lines of the original film. For a while it is that, but by the end, it’s a much more poppy spectacle, more in line with the monster mashes that people normally associate with the series. It’s not a completely smooth transition, but I’m glad that it happened, because the movie leaves you cheering, rather than feeling beaten down and exhausted. Godzilla does become a hero you can root for, and it left me remembering why this series was so important to me as a child. More importantly, it made me desperate to see a follow-up, which means that this reboot did its job exceedingly well. It may not be a great film but it’s a great spectacle, and the kind of spectacle that is rare in modern blockbusters. I loved it. | Sean Lass

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