He has a star on the walk of fame, an MTV Lifetime Achievement Award and his own cartoon. He is Godzilla.
In over 30 movies, he has had a son, fought King Kong, and flattened countless buildings. Godzilla (Gojira in the original Japanese release) started as a cautionary tale about nuclear war that grew into its own franchise. Like so many pop icons, Hollywood had to getting on the action. The original Japanese releases and several others of his films were reedited to add American elements. In 1998, Hollywood decided to create an All-American movie. The Matthew Broderick vehicle was critically lambasted and fans of the franchise were horrified (Put it this way: when RiffTrax set out to purchase the right to riff this version, the Kickstarter campaign met its goal in 16 hours).
Then Hollywood tried again this year. Awakened and rejuvenated by a nuclear power plant, a large insect like creature attacks Tokyo and heads to American to reconnect with its mating partner in Yucca Flats. These events cause Godzilla to awaken in order to restore peace to the planet. Viewers follow a father and son who know something is terribly wrong with the current earthquakes shaking Japan.
The movie tries to pay homage and treat Monster Zero with respect and reverence but fails. The biggest issue is that the movie spends too much time on flat characters no one cares about. While Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche do well with what hey have, the writers didn’t give them much to work with. The lead is horribly flat. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has one expression and voice tone throughout the movie, unable to show vacillating human emotion. To be fair, the producers asked him to try to compete with a giant dinosaur. Only Ken Watanabe’s character gives the proper awe and respect to the monster. His performance is spot on as always.
Unbalanced and capricious, the movie obscures the kaiju battles only letting viewers peek in on the monster bashing action. There are many, many shots of kaiju feet and scared looks by the stereotypical characters (even Frank Darabont couldn’t bring suspense to these scenes). When the battle is finally the focal point, destruction and mayhem take the stage. This is what Godzilla should be: monsters beating the crap out of each other and destroying things.
While Godzilla isn’t a bad film, it fails to capture the thrill and reverence of this iconic creature. If the sequels can lend more toward action at the end of the film instead of the characters, the movies could be everything viewers want them to be. We’ll see if director Gareth Edwards understands this and brings it into the other films.