Godzilla (2014)

Final Rating: 6.8/10

Newcomer Gareth Edwards knows a thing or two about making exciting monster battles. To see Godzilla all primed up (with the occasional battle scar, but they just make him look as though he has aged well) fighting the MUTOs while civilization around them dies is such a bombastic experience. That being said, that’s the one thing about the film that isn’t either hit or miss. Everything ranging from the acting, the story, the editing and even the music will either feel just about right (like a well established city) or of the mark (like the remains of an area Godzilla himself has squashed). It isn’t fair to claim that not everything in this film was full of effort, as everything, even the bad, had effort put into it.

That mentality applies to all, except for bits of the story.Godzilla tries to establish a lot of character development and its trials are very much appreciated. However, it jumps the gun far too often, not only diminishing its previous hard work but also taking away the credibility a movie with this much creativity should truly have. We see a father, who is shunned as a crazy conspiracy theorist by most, and his son of whom disbelieved him as well until monsters started ruining the city. We see this big build up to these creatures. The son is on a train with a gaping hole spilling passengers out as he clings onto a young child to prevent him from falling out; All of this during the first battle between Godzilla and one of the MUTOs. The film decides to skip this first fight, show the son on the ground, safe, with the child the next day. How was the fight resolved? How did they get out of the train? How did anyone survive? Who even survived, for that matter? We never find out. Now, initially I thought that perhaps this movie tried to encapsulate the situations through the points of view of these characters, but that is virtually impossible. They were on the train hanging for dear life the entire time. They had no choice but to see the fight. As well, we would have surely seen them get out of the train if this were the case. Imagine if you were watching The Dark Knight and you see The Joker urging Batman to hit him with the batcycle, and suddenly it is the next day and Bruce Wayne has a bruise on his leg as he is enjoying breakfast in bed. You can guess he made it out okay, but with that mentality, you may as well just have an opening scene and a closing scene in every movie if you have to piece together the most substantial parts.

Apply this huge paragraph of confusion to many, and I do mean many, situations. How can any man claiming he’s a part of the navy just be taken in without any background checks? How did the mom fare out during all of this? What ever happens to Ken Wantanabe and Sally Hawkins’ characters? Did they even truly matter if we don’t see their resolutions at all? How can a father meet up with his son and not the wife in a relief hotspot when the son was purposefully taken far away and the wife is a nurse of whom would most likely be helping or know people at said hotspot?  

There are far too many plot holes that aren’t created out of complicated writing but out of laziness. If the company ran out of money to film some scenes, that may be understandable. However, a budget of 160 million is hard to overlook. The movie does a good job trying to do more than just make a monster movie, as it combines a statement on nuclear warfare with the sense of mystery a movie like Alien or Jaws carried. A lot of the travels to finding these creatures is covered fairly well, with scientific practice being used sensibly and not stupidly (as you find can be a very often occurrence in disaster films). It is just a damn shame that a movie that does have refreshing plot points will also fall completely flat at other moments (especially when these sore spots happen during crucial parts of the film).

As stated, apart from the story’s complete focus in some areas and lack there of in others, there is at least some sort of effort in everything else. Bryan Cranston is absolutely fantastic as the former nuclear plant supervisor who witnesses many heart breaks and humiliations. He is only a minor character but he makes the beginning portion of the film (the essential build up to the mayhem) an absolute wonder. Ken Watanabe is also spectacular with his eyes full of tears, his breath full of worry and his mind hesitating to spill what realities people truly need to face. He is joined by Sally Hawkins who is his scientist co worker and is a bit underused but works well as a catalyst for both the film’s plot and Watanabe’s thought processes. Elizabeth Olsen shows off her acting talent once again as Cranston’s daughter in law (a nurse fighting off her fears to assist others), and Juliette Binoche has a very short but sweet part as Cranston’s wife. The awkward character descriptions are because they are all centered around the main character Ford Brody, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Cranston and Binoche’s son, Olsen’s husband). His American accent is good. His stance as a member of the Navy is real. He follows protocol and sternly jumps into attack mode. As much as Taylor-Johnson gives it his all, he is missing the emotions and sense of wonder that all of the previously mentioned characters have, and it is sad because he really does try hard. It is just a bit of a downer if a character who has seen a lot of miserable events in his life just reacts normally to situations. David Strathairn, who is usually a great actor, does a very forceful and jarring job as an admiral where almost all of his lines are spurted out. When he is up against a sorrowful Watanabe, it is just impossible to notice how stiff he is here.

The music is lovely, but it is the placement of said music that determines how well or badly it is used. During the battle scenes, the music fits superbly and makes a thrilling scene even more so. Then there are some moments where the music is a square peg trying to fit into a jigsaw puzzle. When Binoche’s character is making a sacrifice that Cranston dreads, the music should not be fast paced and chaotic. This is a horrible time for Cranston’s character, and not a barrel of fun for the audience either. The editing, too, was terrific or dodgy, but the editing for the most part did a good job as even the hiccups were miniscule in comparison to the largely noticeable mistakes in story, acting and music.

The film redeems itself not just with the emotional opening parts (save for the odd score choice), but for the main purposes of the film: The monster battles. The effects are pretty astonishing, and every part of the battle is crisp, easy to follow and even a bit inventive in style. With modern CGI, it is still amusing to see the many ways artists are learning to channel physics and how they would work in such situations, and seeing large monsters crumble a city realistically is quite a sight. The fights affect the characters in relation to where they are effectively, and (when the fights aren’t being skipped, that is) are a rush of emotions to watch. While it doesn’t excuse the problems with the movie, the main goal of the film was at least done well. The many efforts Edwards and the crew made to make this film more than just a monster movie had good intentions but weren’t fully realized many a time. It is better than having just a monster movie with fighting only after all, but if they really went the full mile and tidied everything up, Godzilla could have been as massive as the creature it tells the story of. For now, we have a good effort but not a great one.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.