Years ago, Turner Classic Movies ran a bunch of old monster movies. The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Thing, and so on. I recorded them on a VHS tape that ran out half way through King Kong (It wasn't even the Peter Jackson version!). That tape is still stashed with other bootlegged TCM movies in a box under my childhood bed, just in case I ever own a VCR again. I grew up watching old sci-fi and monster movies like these with my dad. To me, the best part was always the monster. Even when the technology was only as sophisticated as claymation, the monster was more fascinating than any plot to save us from it. You can imagine my disappointment, then, when the latest Godzilla movie oversold and under-delivered on the big guy himself.
Director Gareth Edwards's Godzilla largely focuses on the work of a handful of scientists investigating radiation and seismic activity. In the beginning, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are engineers at a nuclear power plant in Japan. Joe has already been tracking weird seismic activity and other strange readings at the plant, trying to determine how to prevent a meltdown, when a "natural disaster" causes the plant to implode (or something). Fifteen years later, his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has just returned from deployment to his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and young son when he receives a call that his father has been arrested for trespassing in Japan. Naturally, he hops a flight to bail his dad out of jail and together they head back to their old neighborhood, which has been quarantined after the nuclear meltdown, to retrieve floppy discs (which prove more useful than my VHS tapes) from their old house. You see, for years Joe has been obsessed with finding out what happened the day of the disaster, hoping to prevent similar events and to let go of his grief over the loss of his wife in the "accident." Around the time of Ford's return, Joe tracked similar seismic activity to the day of the event 15 years earlier, and, with impeccable timing, a giant monster emerges the day they go back for the discs. A lot of destruction happens and the rest of the movie follows Ford, the U.S. Navy, and scientists Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Viviene Graham (Sally Hawkins) as they try to stop giant radiation-eating monsters that are not, in fact, Godzilla. They're actually kind of counting on Godzilla to help them take out the other monsters and save San Francisco.
I know that Godzilla is a ridiculous story. I did not go to see Godzilla for an ingenious plot or even for stellar acting. I went for the monsters. Instead, what I got was so much human drama that by the time Godzilla showed up, I was pretty checked-out. Godzilla is really cool. The special effects team has created a monster that took me back to how I felt as a child watching Jurassic Park. He's big and scary but also intriguing and apparently sentient. Every time I got excited about him, however, the film diverted focus back to the people. And the people are not that interesting.
Ford is a stock hero character. He has no real flaws, no real qualities. He's a Lieutenant in the Navy and is good at following orders and dealing with bombs, but he doesn't do anything except be an uncomplicated good soldier and man. Similarly, his wife is played by the immensely talented Elizabeth Olsen but, her character is not developed at all. The most interesting character, Bryan Cranston's Joe, doesn't survive the first act. I cared so little about the humans in the movie that I struggled to stay awake. Godzilla should not put me to sleep.
The best part of the film for me was a rather intense scene on the Gold Gate Bridge featuring a school bus full of kids, a pretty gutsy bus driver, and Godzilla. As the bus driver tried to get off a bridge congested with tanks and police officers and Godzilla threatened to tear down the bridge, I found myself eager for more scenes like this one and less about the mating patterns of the other monsters or the humans, for that matter. I rate Godzilla 2/5 stars.
Godzilla was written by Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham and directed by Gareth Edwards. It runs 123 minutes and is rated PG-13.