It’s the return of the classic Monster Movie with another reboot of “Godzilla”. This installment begins in 1999, one year after the previous big screen version, which was panned by critics and audiences. Following a few scenes in the Philippines, where fossils of a ginormous, dinosaur-like creature have been discovered, the story moves to Japan, where we meet husband and wife nuclear engineers Joe and Sandra (played by Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche), who both work at the nearby power plant. They have a young son named Ford. Joe’s been tracking unusual signals and disturbances at the plant and on this day, his birthday, a major catastrophe occurs, resulting in numerous deaths (and featuring the most powerful scene in the film).
The story then flashes forward to present day, and Ford (now in his mid-20s and played by “Kick-Ass” star Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is returning home to San Francisco and his young family following more than a year of military service as a bombs expert. But when he’s told that his father has been arrested back in Japan for snooping around the area of the earlier disaster, he heads there and learns that Joe has been spending the past 15 years trying to discover what really caused the accident that destroyed the nuclear plant (the government blamed it on a 6.3-magnitude earthquake as a cover-up).
And soon, the truth becomes clear. The government has secretly been holding a “MUTO” (massive unidentified terrestrial organism) on the site of the former plant. But they can’t hold it for long. And soon a second one arrives. These killer creatures feed on nuclear power – and they’re pretty hungry (especially the pregnant one). And once they’ve gobbled-up all the radioactive waste in Tokyo, it’s off to Hawaii. Is there anyone or anything that can stop them? A (possibly) mad scientist (played by Ken Watanabe) thinks Godzilla will save the day. But can you count on the world’s most infamous monster to be a hero or will he simply join with the MUTOs and “send us back to the Stone Age”, as Cranston’s Joe predicts?
Visually, “Godzilla” is sensational. There are numerous destruction scenes of Japan, Hawaii, Las Vegas, and San Francisco and they’re all jaw-droppingly realistic. Godzilla himself has been criticized for being a little “chunky”, and his battles with the MUTOs do take a lot out of him. He could probably have lost a few pounds for the shoot. The MUTOs, with their long, thin legs, muscular bodies and lethal jaws, are quite impressive. And the score, by Alexandre Desplat, is bold and retro – perfectly stylized from the classic Hollywood Monster Movies of yesteryear.
But after the initially strong emotional set-up, “Godzilla” loses its punch fairly quickly and is never able to bounce back. Director Gareth Edwards is smart in holding-off Godzilla’s first appearance for awhile, but once we witness his first battle with the MUTOs, there’s no element of surprise or “wow” factor left for the critical second half. Even though I avoided every trailer, clip and commercial, by the midpoint of the film it was easy to see where it was headed.
Taylor-Johnson is solid, but he can’t quite carry the movie on his own. Thankfully he’s got a fine supporting team behind him. Cranston gives a heartbreakingly effective performance. Elizabeth Olsen (a prediction – she’s an Academy Award-winning star in the making) shines in her few scenes as Ford’s wife. And David Strathairn adds some credibility as the tense Navy captain.
“Godzilla” is rated PG-13 for consistent and intense action/violence including some frightening images. It’s appropriate for kids 12 and up. Sophisticated, but too straightforward, this is a good effort, but not the colossal Summer blockbuster we were all hoping for.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Godzilla” gets a B-.