Back in May of 1998, several friends and I skipped school to have a tailgate party at the movie theater in anticipation of the release of Godzilla. We ate food, threw around a football, and talked about nerdy things. Once we were able to line up, we made sure we were first in line. (Related note: If you live in a city where you still have to line up for movies, get your life together. Reserved seating is the only way to live.) Imagine our disappointment when our hype for the film fizzled out like a dying candle. Poor acting, clichéd characters, and a Godzilla that seemed more like a big (and then sometimes small, and then big again) T-Rex with a bunch of baby dinosaurs. That was a defining day in my life- the day I realized that movie trailers can lie.
Fast forward to May 2014. Godzilla has been remade again, and frankly, it has big shoes to fill. Godzilla is such an iconic character the world over with a long history in film. And it has the monumental task of pulling itself out of the giant crater that the 1998 version created. Luckily for us, it succeeds magnificently.
The new Godzilla is, at its core, a disaster movie. Sure, it’s a monster movie, but the film is more akin to disaster flicks like Volcano and Dante’s Peak, but without the quippy one-liners. The majority of the movie is about humans preparing for and trying to survive an attack. Much like the 1954 original, Godzilla takes it’s time to get to the monster and the action. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but it makes the more intense moments that much more impactful. The first half of the movie in particular tells the story about a family with ties to the events surrounding Godzilla. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) is at the top of his game, giving his character a strong drive and genuine emotion. He’s not a cardboard-cutout character like we saw in 1998, but a fully developed man with strengths, flaws, and vulnerability. Several of Cranston’s scenes are quite heartbreaking, and it’s easy to see why producers chose to use him in the film. In a story full of monsters and explosions, Cranston adds a heart to the movie. Elizabeth Olsen (In Secret) is also noteworthy as a mother/nurse who is torn between protecting her son and her patients as well as finding her husband. She conveys a lot of different emotions with just a look of her eyes or the movement of her mouth. Unfortunately, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), as the lead in the film, is a little bland and one-note. The second half of the movie follows Taylor-Johnson in full soldier-mode, and while the spectacle ramps up, the dramatic story is a little muted.
Perhaps the best thing about the movie is how reverential it is to its origins. There are direct ties and footage related to the original 1954 version of the monster, but there are also elements peppered throughout the entire movie. Japanese imagery abounds, even when the events hit the United States. Story elements from the original movies are recreated here, although sometimes under different circumstances. And Godzilla itself is the anti-hero destroyer/savior of cities we want to see, rather than just a rampaging dinosaur. Once we finally get to see the monster in its full glory, the action is amazing. There are several genuine stand-up-and-cheer moments as Godzilla wrecks shop.
I definitely recommend that you run out and see this movie. It’s a big screen theater kind of film. In fact, if you can see it in IMAX, do it. The sound and visuals are great, the story is there (at least for the first half), and it will make you love the Godzilla franchise again.