Running time: 123 minutes
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Bryan Cranston
Who to see it with: Giant monster lovers
It's been almost exactly sixteen years since the release of America's last production featuring Japan's best-known giant monster. (Godzilla 2000 was imported from Japan for a brief theatrical run.) Unlike the 1998 film, in which scientists and soldiers battled the creature, Godzilla has more in common with the series' films that pit the beast against similarly sized opponents. Conspiracy theorist Joe Brody (Cranston) and his soldier son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) join together to investigate a suspected cover-up of a nuclear meltdown's real cause, ultimately bringing them face-to-face with a seemingly unstoppable, radiation-seeking MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). The appearance of another creature—one that, while destructive simply due to its huge size, seems primarily interested in fighting the MUTO—leads two scientists (Watanabe, Hawkins) to propose a controversial alternative.
Godzilla presents its story of humans dealing with giant, fighting monsters in a very grounded, restrained manner. You see very little of the title character until the final act. Earlier appearances by the creatures are often brief, shrouded in darkness or presented through distant perspectives, like news footage of one fight feels like a bit like a tease. More attention is paid to the less interesting humans' reaction to the madness. There's more restraint than expected in a summer blockbuster, giving the less frequent, more spectacular scenes a greater sense of anticipation and satisfaction. The sense of scale is awesome—even when the creatures are off-screen, the shots of their massive caves and trails of destruction make their presence felt and really make the humans seem puny in comparison.
The early portion of the story that builds Joe and Ford's relationship provides a solid emotional foundation, but once the military begins pursuing the creatures the plot mostly serves to string together massive, special effects-filled events. Aside from Joe, the characters have little to do other than speak the usual action/disaster story dialogue and run from their fearsome tormentors. Fortunately, the great special effects and the impressive direction make up for the average, sometimes boring characters. Brief glimpses of innocent bystanders running to safety sometimes seem unnecessary, but they stop the longer sequences from becoming tiring, tedious special effects showcases. Godzilla's plot and human characters are nothing special, but its cool visuals and effects impress more than most blockbusters'.