Over a year ago, I found myself seated in Hall H, the largest room at the San Diego Comic Con. The room had gone pitch black; the crowd hushed as the single screen extended to encircle half the room. Suddenly, an infamous, metallic roar cut through the empty stage, and the hall erupted into cheers of excitement. The rumour of a new Godzilla film was officially verified.
Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards, begins with the government cover-up of prehistoric monsters with nuclear missile testing throughout the fifties. In 1999, something causes the meltdown of a nuclear plant in Japan. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife in the disaster and becomes with obsessed with the strange events that occurred that day. Meanwhile, his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) grows up in America, trying to move on. He makes his own family, and joins the military.
After a call from police sends him back to Japan to get his estranged father out of jail, Ford is convinced by Joe to go back to the nuclear plant, now quarantined, to discover what the powers that be have been hiding. Events unfold as two large prehistoric monsters (MUTOs) lay waste to the West coast of America. After his father dies during one of the attacks, Ford makes his way back to America to help destroy the two moth-like monsters that have been attacking sources of nuclear energy. As he works with the government to lead the monsters away from the city, Godzilla finally makes his appearance. The battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs takes out much of San Fransisco. Meanwhile, Ford risks his life to get a nuclear bomb originally meant for the MUTO on a boat and as far away from the city as possible before it explodes. With the dawn of a new day, Ford is reunited with his family, and Godzilla – now considered a hero – drags himself back into the ocean.
Although I did not get the chance to see it in 3D, the visual and audio effects in Godzilla were stunning. No longer a man in a dinosaur suit, the artists clearly were trying to make Godzilla more lizard-like, and thus realistic. The MUTOs, based on the original franchise’s Mothra, had similar detail put into their design. The audience was just as shocked as the humans when they could see the radioactive eggs glowing through her abdomen. The sounds were just as intense as what the screen showed. The Godzilla roar had been remastered to be even more jarring, and cries between the two MUTOs were eerie.
One technique the film had mastered was suspense. Instead of giving the audience a full wide shot of Godzilla or the MUTOs immediately, the monsters are slowly revealed. Television screens with shaky footage and photographs of carnage lead up to a fantastic shot of Godzilla’s massive foot while Brody is stuck on the monorail. The buildup to the full reveal is breathtaking, as the designers have made these monsters much larger than any of their other incarnations.
I have two main complaints for the film. The first is the nearly complete Americanization of a Japanese franchise and legacy. True, it does begin in Japan and includes a famous Japanese actor as Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), but this feels like a gesture towards attracting a wider viewing audience rather than paying tribute to the original films. While in Japan, the protagonists are still white Americans, who then bring the film with them over to California, USA. What might have been an homage feels more like theft.
The second issue I had with the film was the somewhat out of place focus on the importance of family. Former Godzilla films focused on the dangers of nuclear power or genetic experimentation. However, this film chose a moral much closer to home. It is not that such a theme is bad; I simply believe that it did not belong in a monster movie. I also found it inconsistent, because the MUTOs were also trying to protect their own family, yet the protagonist was positively connected with Godzilla.
Although it was enjoyable, I would not suggest this film unless you have access to a large screen and/or a good surround sound system. It is the sensational experience that makes this film fun to watch and encapsulates the viewer in a world that otherwise would be completely absurd and far too American.