Godzilla is a remake of the 1954 classic that helps audiences forget all about that 1998 incarnation of the legendary monster. The film takes much of the political message of the original and infuses the story with a modern touch that articulates how arrogant and careless the world has been in its conflicts over the years. The allegorical nature of Godzilla and America’s belligerent use of nuclear weapons on Japan during World War II allowed for the original story to carry more meaning than standard monster fare. This new film is modernized in every way while retaining that same urgency about the forceful use of catastrophic weapons, twisting the story to insist that the nuclear weapons were being used to kill these creatures, creating them stronger due to their dependence on radiation to grow. Godzilla and the other creatures in the film have been lurking underneath the ocean floor and surface of the Earth, stealing away radiation from the world’s core and using it to stay strong.
The human story of Godzilla focuses on the Brody family, picking up in 1999 Japan as Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Sandra (Juliette Binoche) work at a power plant. After a freak accident leads to Sandra’s death, Joe becomes convinced that something else went wrong at the plant that the government is not telling them. The readings aren’t consistent with his previous findings and demonstrate that the accident wasn’t created by humans or the elements, but something…else. Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his student, Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), meanwhile, are discovering an ancient skeleton that looks like a monster no one has ever seen before; after the accident at the plant, they are sure that these accidents are the signs of an awakening. The story jumps 15 years later to follow Brody’s son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), dealing with his father’s delusional state and attempting to balance his military career and his personal life. His wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), is a nurse who encourages Brody to visit Japan with his father when everything is unleashed.
Godzilla doesn’t need a human story as well rounded and resonant as the one found here, but it’s a welcome surprise in a feature that only demands high octane action. That’s a testament to Borenstein’s screenplay and its ability to navigate human characters alongside the monster action at the center. While the script would hold up fine in another person’s hands, director Gareth Edwards’ minimalist sense of storytelling is tremendously impactful on the film’s effectiveness. His previous effort, the independent feature Monsters, emphasized characters and plot over flashy visuals and monstrous special effects. Yet he is given the opportunity to combine both here to surprising effect. Edwards uses a perspective that is quite rare in blockbusters, helping the audience visualize the scope of these monsters and their place in the cities. There are iconic shots in the film due to Seamus McGarvey’s beautiful cinematography: a brilliant staging to demonstrate the effects of an EMP on a pilot, the collapse of a building during Godzilla’s fight, and Godzilla destroying the Golden Gate Bridge, to name a few. Most of the film’s action shots are from the POV of an innocent bystander or the central characters, making the film feel all the more awe-inspiring and spectacular.
And Godzilla himself. How could I forget? It’s a marvel of special effects and the first sight of him in full is reminiscent of the reveal of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Godzilla’s stature is towering and powerful and downright terrifying, although the film does something special we rarely see in monster films. Godzilla is a creature we cheer for because he is integral to humanity’s survival; his need to kill these creatures to save himself also works in way of him saving everyone on Earth. It lets the audience marvel and relish in his destruction of buildings and landmarks and enjoy his utter carnage. The performances in the film are also strong, with Cranston providing a terrific anchor in the first half before switching to Taylor-Johnson’s humanist approach to his character. Edwards emphasizes the way that this story affects humans, a rare accomplishment in the age of the mindless summer blockbuster. He creates a film that looks stunning in IMAX and 3D, sounds tremendously powerful on a great sound system, and stands to be about something while delivering all the goods we need from an $160 million epic. Simply put, Godzilla is awesome.
Grade: ★★★★½ (out of 5)