Horror Movie Review by Michael Arruda
He’s the King of the Monsters, and has been since he debuted in his first feature film 60 years ago in 1954. I’m talking of course about Godzilla, and he’s back on the big screen in GODZILLA (2014), a stylish reboot by director Gareth Edwards.
For some, this movie is being hailed as one of the best in the series, a phenomenal motion picture that deserves four stars. For me, it’s an okay giant monster movie that in spite of the creative talents of its director, suffers from a lackluster story, dull characters, and way too little of the main star— and I’m not talking about Bryan Cranston.
I’m talking about Godzilla. The King of the Monsters just might need a new agent after this one.
GODZILLA opens in 1999. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) send their young son off to school and then head off to work at the local nuclear power plant. On this fateful day, there is a nuclear accident and Sandra is killed.
The action switches to present day, where the adult Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has just returned to his family after a tour in the military, but before he can even settle back in with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son, he receives word that his father has been arrested in Japan. Ford decides to go off to Japan to help his dad.
To Ford’s dismay, he learns that his father is obsessed with trying to prove that the nuclear accident which killed his mother was not the result of a natural disaster but of something else that the government is covering up. Of course, it turns out that Joe Brody is correct, that there has been a major cover-up, that the true cause of the disaster was a giant monster called the MUTO, an acronym for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.
There are two MUTO, a male and a female, and they are a threat to the world, which is why suddenly Godzilla emerges from the depths of the ocean to defeat these monsters, to make things right. Who knew Godzilla was so thoughtful?
While the strength of any Godzilla movie has never been its story, I thought the plot to this latest GODZILLA movie was considerably lame. The reason for Godzilla’ appearance is all right, and admittedly it’s consistent with a lot of his appearances in the Toho films, in that he shows up to defeat the bad monsters and save the world, but this was mostly the case in the silly Toho films from the 1960s and 1970s.
In the Toho Godzilla movies from the 1990s and 2000s, Godzilla was a bit more menacing, and so I expected more from this 2014 film in terms of Godzilla. Not that Godzilla is back to his silly superhero self. He’s not. He’s rather scary looking here. However, he doesn’t do much in this film that makes him frightening to humans. In fact, the military spares him throughout, since they’re constantly advised by Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) that Godzilla might be their best bet to defeat the MUTO. I found the military’s easy acceptance of this theory farfetched.
The best Godzilla movies are the ones where you’re not too sure about Godzilla. He’s fighting those bad monsters, sure, but he’s destroying cities and killing people, too. In this movie, Godzilla comes off like the savior of the world. I almost expected to see a halo around his head.
Godzilla’s screen time is also limited. No surprise, since director Gareth Edwards did the same thing with his earlier monster movie MONSTERS (2010), a stylish film that skimped on the monster scenes. Similarly, Edwards does some stylish things in GODZILLA, but Godzilla and the MUTO monsters are featured minimally.
The screenplay by Max Borenstein is disjointed and uninspiring. Its multiple storylines never quite seem to gel with each other, and there isn’t one strong narrative holding it all together, mostly because the main storyline is nothing special. Strangely, the Godzilla plot seems to be the least important part of the entire movie, playing second fiddle to the MUTO and the Aaron-Taylor Johnson storylines. The Bryan Cranston subplot is not much more than an afterthought.
Bryan Cranston is a terrific actor, and he could have been the glue that held this narrative together, but he’s simply not in it enough. His role is very, very small.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody is rather dull, largely because we never really get inside his head. He’s putting his life on the line to stop Godzilla and the MUTO, while also trying to get back to his family, yet he doesn’t seem scared at all. He should be terrified.
Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife Elle does seem terrified, and when she’s frightened, she’s very good, but that’s about all she does in this movie, act afraid.
Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa gets some of the worst lines in the movie, delivering such simple utterances as “Godzilla must fight the MUTO,” and “Godzilla will save us.” And the camera always seems to be closing in on his face for some dramatic revelation, but all he has to say is silly nonsense like “Let them fight.”
David Strathairn, who I usually like, is wasted here as Admiral William Stenz. He’s one of the more ineffective military leaders you’ll see in a monster movie. The monsters are running rampant destroying cities left and right, and Strathairn’s Admiral is in his command center listening to Dr. Serizawa utter his absurd lines of dialogue.
And while the CGI effects look good, I wasn’t blown away by them. I thought Godzilla looked decent, but honestly, he didn’t look any better than the man-in-suit TOHO films from the 90s and 2000s.
I didn’t see it in IMAX, but I did see it in 3D, and I wasn’t impressed with the 3D effects at all.
GODZILLA never drew me in to a level of fear or suspense or even excitement where I was psyched to see the final battle between Godzilla and the MUTO. We continually see the monster stuff happening from a distance without getting in close, and I just didn’t get the sense of the human fear, loss of life, and destruction. Director Edwards’ idea of showing us the destruction caused by the monsters is a headline scrolling across the bottom of a television newscast saying “Honolulu destroyed. Thousands missing.” In terms of effective storytelling, that just doesn’t cut it for me.
But I do like Edwards’ style when he does decide to show us things. Godzilla’s first appearance is a good one, although it’s brief. I thought the sequence on the train where Aaron Taylor-Johnson has to save a young boy while the monsters are attacking all around them was effective, as was another scene involving a train, when the military is transferring a bomb across a fog shrouded bridge and the MUTO attacks them.
I also liked the attack scene on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. So, there were moments I definitely liked. But there just weren’t enough of them.
This combined with a lack of Godzilla, no interesting characters other than Bryan Cranston’s brief role, and a mediocre story that never wowed me, made GODZILLA a major disappointment for me, an uneven film that failed to make me forget the TOHO productions which inspired it.
The King of the Monsters deserves better.