“Godzilla” Movie Review

     I’m not certain why exactly Legendary Pictures chose Gareth Edwards to helm a $160 million summer tent pole when he has only a single feature film credit to his name, thus lacking the kind of polish and know how to effectively bring a franchise such as “Godzilla” out of ruin.  First time directors like this are normally hamstrung by the studio money men, creating the “hack” label for the director as the finished product is typically meant to appease mainstream audiences.  It’s no surprise that this new version of “Godzilla” is clearly influenced by a number of successful filmmakers and film formulas which have proven successful in the past. Being a reboot of sorts means the likelihood of any originality depends solely on how the human characters are drawn and how meaningful they come across on screen.  As it turns out, the various characters in “Godzilla”, for the most part, spend their screen time with their mouths gaping open and horrified looks on their faces as they merely observe, just as we do, the giant monsters doing battle and destroying the city in the process.

     With the famed 1954 film from Toho Film Company in Japan as a starting point, Edwards creates a modern tale that has everything from Ridley Scott’s “Alien” to Steven Spielberg’s  “Jurassic Park” to thank for several scenes in the first and second acts of the film.  Beginning with an early sequence which has a group of scientists, led by Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) in the Philippines exploring a dark misty tunnel, not unlike those in the derelict spacecraft from “Alien”, which leads to the discovery of a pulsating egg sack of some kind.  The scene is played for suspense in much the same way Scott did in “Alien” and I half expected the sac to burst at some point, exposing a radioactive beast on an unsuspecting crew member. 

     In a later scene, images of both the initial attack by a Velociraptor, as well as by the T-Rex in “Jurassic Park” instantly came to mind as we are shown a secret containment area in Japan where Dr. Serizawa is studying that very same egg sac which seems to have grown considerably in the 15 years that have now passed.  When the monster within is revealed, it is clearly agitated and escapes as we hear electric metal wires designed to imprison the beast snap with exactly the same sound effect used when the electric fences in “Jurassic Park” break.  It’s also raining out, and Edwards throws in several shots of people in vehicles looking out as the monster approaches, instantly recalling Dr. Alan Grant and John Hammond’s niece and nephew trapped in a Ford Explorer as the T-Rex approaches. Throughout these scenes, there is a clear “been there before” feeling that supersedes anything the characters are doing and this is above the actual fact the film is a sort of remake. 

     To make matters worse, the third act mimics the very worst aspects of the “bigger is better” summer film trend.  The human characters take a back seat completely to a showdown between Godzilla and the two villain monsters in the film, shot in numbing fashion the way your standard Michael Bay or Zack Snyder action sequence normally plays out.  Like Shia Labeouf’s “Sam Witwicky” of the first three “Transformers” films, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s “Ford Brody”, a U.S. Navy EOD Specialist, seems to follow the action from coincidence to coincidence. Starting first in Japan, while bailing out his conspiracy theory obsessed father, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and ending in San Francisco amongst an elite Airborne unit sent on a mission sure to result in death, he appears everywhere the monsters go in-between.  I suppose films like this need a central character to follow along with, but with a tone clearly meant to be grounded in reality (unlike the Roland Emmerich film 16 years ago, there is not an ounce of humor to be found), It’s unknown why there’s a need to spare a character like Ford, just so we can have someone to grab on to at the end.  Perhaps the scene reuniting he and his wife, Ellie (Elizabeth Olsen) was deemed crucial by the filmmakers and thus Brody needed to survive one death defying tangle with the monsters after another.

     The story, credited to “The Expendables” scribe Dave Callaham, begins with a familiar government cover up narrative that indicates nuclear testing done by both Japan and the United States in the 1950s was actually an effort to destroy Godzilla, a giant reptile deemed as a threat to mankind.  In 1999, an accident at a nuclear reactor facility in Japan is deemed the result of an earthquake, but Joe Brody, an engineer at the facility, believes it was caused by something else.  The monsters, including Godzilla, are found to be dependent on radiation as a sort of nourishment, if you will, making them stronger even when actual nuclear weapons are deployed against them.  The plot here centers around the three monsters arriving in San Francisco, bated in by nuclear weapons the Armed Forces intend to use to kill them.  It’s unclear why there is wasted screen time involving tanks, battleships, and soldiers firing their weapons at these monsters when they have absolutely no effect.  Even worse, as I mentioned before, there are literally dozens of reaction shots of nearly every actor in the film just staring at some horrific occurrence with absolutely no dialogue, just an open mouth and a dumb look.  If it were me, I’m running, not staring.  I suppose Edwards felt he needed to fill the time in the third act with something cool enough to be deemed worthy by the summer time movie going masses.  Like Snyder’s “Man of Steel” last summer, “Godzilla” spends a lot of screen time trying to set up a serious, yet intelligent, storyline only to then fall into a realm of needless and overblown action sequences more suited for a video game.  GRADE: D