Godzilla (2014)

  • GodzillaGodzilla is half good. And half less so.
  • It begins promisingly by jumping into instant action, rife with jarring audio and emotional discomfort, for adolescent Ford Brody (CJ Adams), his father, Joe (Bryan Cranston) and his mother, Sandra (Juliette Binoche).
  • Initially, the film only gets better. By leaping forward fifteen years and presenting us an older Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, steady), now a soldier, who must contend with a father he mistakenly believes is crazy.
  • The disconnect between Ford’s perceptions and the audience’s awareness hooks us, draws us in, makes us dread upcoming proceedings.
  • Dread upon which director Gareth Edwards and writer Max Borenstein capitalize, by making us uncertain which characters are disposable and which are essentially immortal.
  • In these early stages, Godzilla builds tension slowly, using shadows and subtle audio to deliver frequent surprises, wildly turning events, all of which promises to give us a rare monster movie, one which we cannot predict.
  • Then, after approximately fifty minutes, we finally see Godzilla, the famed monster. And what a sight it proves to be, a stunning CGI creation if ever there was one. At that point, we become convinced: this picture will be terrific.
  • Which is why everything thereafter disappoints.
  • From that point, Edwards and Borenstein stop developing characters at all.
  • There’s Ken Watanabe, playing a nameless academic. And Sally Hawkins playing another. And Elizabeth Olsen, looking gorgeous despite ever-building danger. And David Strathairn, charged with portraying a clueless Admiral, whose apparent purpose is making things worse.
  • Even Ford, who had been nominally developed early, is all-but abandoned. Now he’s just a guy trying to get home, no matter the cost. Too bad he’s unable to escape terrible events, often by sheer chance.
  • Worse, the writer and director stop surprising us. All of these named actors are surrounded by constant death, of course, but none of them will die. We know this and are proven correct time and again.
  • In other words, the human characters are now irrelevant and the surprises have stopped altogether.
  • So what do Edwards and Borenstein do? Continually resort to cheap narrative tricks that supposedly create tension. A school bus is trapped on a crowded bridge! A child has been separated from his parents just as the monsters arrive! And so on!
  • The tricks don’t work, and we stop caring about the human beings altogether.
  • Now we just want to see more of Godzilla and his foes, because the monsters are infinitely more interesting than the humans.
  • Which has something to do with the technical achievements in creating them, no doubt. Watching these monsters is a visual effects spectacle.
  • The trouble is the monsters aren’t enough to make Godzilla resonate. The characters might have been. So might have been a surprising narrative. Or deeper exploration of the film’s environmental-minded themes.
  • But we don’t get any of that.
  • Instead, we view a standard popcorn flick, one without thematic heft or insight into human beings.
  • Final Grade: C-
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30 thoughts on “Godzilla (2014)

    • In the end, it is. Which is a shame – I can see why some have loved it so. The first fifty minutes are borderline excellent. Had the entire film equaled the beginning’s quality, I might have given this an A-minus.

      But the last fifty minutes, in my opinion, are closer to F-quality

      So on balance, the picture is, as you said, ‘Meh.’ I wouldn’t recommend you run out to see it anytime soon.

  1. I’m not a fan of the character development (or lack thereof) here either. The human characters aren’t good at all, and it really hurts the film. That being said, the tension-building is excellent and Godzilla looks incredible! Great review.

    Adam.

    • The characters are bland and annoying, no doubt. But I think the storytelling for the first hour is pretty awesome. Once the monsters show up, as cool as they are, the story goes down hill fast.

  2. Your concerns are valid. I agree with them, but I didn’t mind it as much I suppose. I believe the characters did just enough to make us care, but still were pretty uninteresting if that makes sense. ATJ is pretty weak here, along with others. Weird, because I like most of his work.

    I confess I probably loved the spectacle more than anything else, which it nails perfectly.

  3. I enjoyed this quite a bit. I didn’t care about the humans. It was all about Godzilla for me. A real throwback to films like Alien, another movie about a creature as humans simply got picked off one by one.

    • Yes. With the exception of Ellen Ripley, who was not only well developed but also instrumental in the plot. The Aliens were the visual attraction in those movies, I grant, but I’d argue Ripley is the reason we cared about and remember the flick. She makes it resonate.

      Nothing serves the same purpose here.

  4. As I LOVE Pacific Rim, I thought I’d wholly enjoy this one but heh it was nowhere near as much fun. It took way too long for the monster to show up and the mood is just too grim to be entertaining. I wish they had made it lighter and fun like Pac Rim, but ah well, it’s kinda forgettable. Plus I think they made Aaron Johnson’s character so boring, tho I generally like him as an actor.

  5. I think this had a chance to be a perfect movie if they had decided to center it around Cranston and his quest to avenge the death of his wife. When he was onscreen, the film had nothing but my full attention. They really should not have turned it towards his son…

    • I agree it was far better when Cranston was the focus.

      But I would have been fine, I think, with the shift to his son, if they had continued making the people at least marginally interesting. And/or continued surprising me by being willing to kill characters I figured would never die. That they did neither of those things is why the narrative fails for me.

      But it definitely fails. So I would have preferred they’d stuck with Cranston, too, in the end. 🙂

  6. I’ve defended this many times before, so I won’t go into detail here, but I think the shift away from human characters – and any real focus on humans – is deliberate, to evoke the impossible scale of natural disasters (the fact that the film’s initial settings are Japan after an earthquake-esque disaster levels a nuclear-power plant and the Philippines – after its recent typhoon – is a long way from accidental). Obviously this shift away from humans doesn’t work for everyone, but I think it gives the film a thematic heft to go with its hefty monsters. I can totally understand why the lack of a relatable/interesting protagonist would be a sticking point, though.

    • Interesting argument. I might agree with it more heartily if the movie, at various points, weren’t hinting at other ideas, including humans’ culpability in destroying the Earth. Humans woke up Godzilla and his enemies, during World War II. Humans are hubristic enough that they think they control nature. And so forth.

      That the filmmakers include these references to humans’ responsibility means, in my opinion, that they shouldn’t completely ignore their human characters. Even if they are also trying to show us how badly natural disasters, at any point, can destroy all that we think we’ve built.

  7. I heard a rumor that original this was supposed to have a female lead, so it’s a big shame they didn’t do that, I’d definitely want to see that more if it was led by Olsen who from what I read doesn’t have much to do here.

    • She doesn’t. But none of the characters do. In all ways, the characters simply don’t matter.

      A female led monster movie, though, generally speaking? I’d be all for it. I basically for Hollywood breaking any and all stupid gender-based ways of operating.

  8. Great write up, although I evidently thought more highly of the end result. For me there was a conscious decision that the human characters were to play second fiddle to Godzilla and Mothra. Ultimately demonstrating that our presence would be insignificant to the presence of such power. I did a detailed write up myself http://wp.me/p32hec-Q0. I’d be interested to know your thought as we have quite different viewpoints 🙂

    • I just went back to work, so have been and probably will be away from Blogville for a spell. But when I find ample time again, yours will be the first link I follow.

  9. Good work man.

    But I didn’t come for the humans. I came for Godzilla, and it was delivered upon far beyond what I could have ever expected. One of my favorites of the year.

    • I agree Godzilla itself and the other monsters were pretty awesome.

      But, for my money, that is never enough to make a movie better than average. Even monster movies needs something that resonates, and I don’t think this one has it. Glad you found more to like, though.

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