Well folks, the time has come and gone since our favorite monster graced the silver screen once more. While I’ve been excited about writing my review since opening night, but elected to give it some time to let my thoughts solidify to give you the most honest review I could, and to give everyone a chance to see the film for themselves (this is also your spoiler warning). To my surprise though my feelings changed very little since seeing the film so here it is at last, Sidian Lazarus’ review of Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla!
I’ll begin by reflecting on what everyone went to see in the first place…the MONSTERS! Thankfully I was not disappointed in this area. Leading up to the film a couple of things concerned me about the designs, particularly that the Mutos, particularly the female, resembled the monster from Cloverfield a bit in design. While I’m very much a fan of that film, the kaiju in Godzilla films are loved not only for their design, but for their personality, something I feared that the Mutos would be too alien to convey. Thankfully my fear was unfounded as they showed a great deal of personality and emotion for their design, and it worked surprisingly well. Instead of simply feral beasts for Godzilla to conquer, they displayed a level of intelligence and really made the film more enjoyable.
Secondly was Godzilla’s design, and while I was optimistic going into the film, I won’t deny that I was also slightly concerned. In still shots and figures based on him I thought parts of the design looked awkward, with his small head and oddly shaped arms. It clearly looked much better in motion and it was a treat whenever he appeared on-screen. His feet did look strange in a couple of shots but the overall design was satisfying and did him justice. While I do feel reports of his lack of screen time was over-exaggerated, I think the film could have used much more of the big guy. Gareth Edwards concept of “visual foreplay” doesn’t make much sense to me when talking about a monster with 60 years of history. That concept may have worked if the rest of the film were so visually fulfilling that you forgot about it, but I’ll touch more on that in a bit. In the end the sparing use of Godzilla himself, combined with quick, sweeping and sometimes long-range shots of the action left me craving a bit more. Its like eating one slice of pizza, yeah it’s enough to get by but a second slice would REALLY hit the spot.
Which brings me to Bryan Cranston’s character Joe Brody. It’s strange when someone can simultaneously be a bright and a dark spot in a movie for me. Now before you sling curses at your screen directed at me, allow me to explain. Cranston was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Every moment he was on-screen I was completely entertained. He gave us that sense of tragedy and loss I was hoping for from this film since I saw the first trailers. Which is why for the life of me I cannot figure out why they killed him in the first act. This is by far the films most inexcusable sin, as it spends most of the early minutes of the movie setting him up as our emotional connection to the film. In that short time the movie succeeds in making us attached to this character and I was very much looking forward to that developing as the story unfolded, only to have him killed off and never replaced with someone else carrying that emotional weight for us.
I thought maybe Serizawa would fill that role but sadly I found his character incredibly lackluster, especially given his namesake. When you name a character after one so beloved it stands to reason that they should do that character justice and much to my chagrin the film fails to deliver here as well. Ken Watanabe, whom I consider very talented, was reduced to staring in amazement and occasionally spouting pseudo-philosophical catchphrases that sounded amazing in the trailers, but come off as hollow when the character is never developed beyond that. Even worse this made the shallow anti-nuclear sentiments fall flat.
What we are ultimately left with is Ford Brody, who plays a stoic soldier who barely speaks, a generic general who I couldn’t care less about, and Ford’s wife and child whose lack of screen time make them little more than an afterthought for most of the film.
Ford: “I can’t wait to get back to you…wait what were your names again?”
That assessment may seem harsh but I cannot help but imagine if the film had followed Joe Brody as the main protagonist instead, as it seemed to be doing in the beginning, giving us an opportunity to see his relationship with his son develop further and adding drama to Ford’s story by making him have to walk the line between helping his father and getting back to his family. Then picture this…the end is near and Ford gets the bomb to the boat just before collapsing. Ok we know that already happened and then he was rescued, despite the aforementioned Admiral Stenz specifically stating that wouldn’t happen. So instead we see Ford lose consciousness but as he fades out he sees a blurry figure standing above him. Minutes later he awakens to find himself on the dock and the boat sailing away, with his father on board. They share tearful glances and Joe calls out to his son something like, “I can’t wait to tell your mother what a great man you’ve become! Get back to Elle and Sam they need you. Send them my love for me.” Now Joe Brody’s death isn’t just some tragic kaiju casualty in the early minutes of the film, but a deep, emotionally heavy moment that mimics the original film’s theme of self-sacrifice for the greater good.
I normally try not to let my vision for a film go to my head, but I feel like a huge opportunity was missed and it made a kaiju-size difference. Not to mention the fact that repeatedly Bryan Cranston was marketed as the star of the film, I can’t help but feel a little cheated and deceived about his actual screen time. I know you might be thinking I hate the film by this point, which is not the case as I did enjoy it immensely, but I feel like it had the potential to be a pinnacle of the genre in terms of storytelling. Ultimately I am sad to say I don’t believe it ranks among the upper echelon of kaiju films. I’m not ungrateful for the movie and I think it is a great addition to the series, but it stings a little bit knowing that with a few tweaks it could have been so very much more. A true classic.
But enough negativity. We finally got a worthy American version of one of the world’s most iconic monster, completely healing the wounds that G98 left long ago. It felt like the page on that was finally turned, and I’m quite content now with Zilla’s new role as a completely separate monster and I think he makes a nice addition to toho’s roster of kaiju. The monster action was awesome and when Godzilla’s spines began to glow and he fired his beam I felt like a kid all over again. And that is what it’s all about. Even better is we clearly aren’t alone as the film performed very well and we now have two confirmed sequels to look forward to, ushering in what I like to call the Legendary era of Godzilla films. While not the perfect film I was hoping for, it gives us a ton to be excited for, and a great new universe for Edwards to build upon.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go wait impatiently for the dvd release.