I walked out of my showing of Godzilla with incredibly mixed feelings. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not a great one either. It suffers from pacing issues and some stiff performances, but it also has a big ass monster fight in the style of the 30-odd movies that have come before this one.
Is that enough though? That’s the problem: I’m not sure it is.
There’s a lot of great acting talent in this movie: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn, the list goes on but at the end of the film it feels like much of this talent is wasted. Bryan Cranston is pretty fantastic for his part as the gone-slightly-nuts-because-his-wife-died-and-government-is-hiding-the-cause engineer, but Ken Watanabe spends most of his screen time in a weird kind of daze, Elizabeth Olsen is relegated to making scared faces at the thought of losing her husband, and Aaron Taylor Johnson is either really stiff or really stiff because he’s a military guy who isn’t that good with expressing emotions (and I can’t tell which).
The plot is kind of great in that it has a nice, long, slow build. You don’t even see Godzilla for a full hour and the first big monster fight against “MUTO” is cut away from and only shown on TV screens after the fact. This probably isn’t going to go over very well but it’s designed to get us to the big finale without the film blowing it’s wad at the half way point and I respect that.
Oh, and did I mention that Godzilla is the good guy here? This isn’t a bad thing I just felt like it was kind of under developed. The only real sign that we get that he’s a good guy is that Ken Watanabe’s scientist character says at one point that he believes Godzilla exists to restore balance to the world and then how when the entire US Navy is following him across the Pacific Ocean Godzilla doesn’t attack them. I feel like a single small exchange between two character here would have made this clear. “Why doesn’t he attack us?” asks someone. “He doesn’t care about us.” replies Ken Watanabe, but that never happens.
To be fair when Godzilla makes landfall in Hawaii he causes a tsunami which kills hundreds of people. It’s pretty clear that Godzilla doesn’t care about the humans, only about killing the other Kaiju, but at the end of the film Godzilla is named “King of the Monsters” and “Saviour of the city” and I felt myself questioning why anyone would think that when he spends most of the last act smashing another monster through buildings, levelling most of the city.
That last act is pretty spectacular at points. In fact it seems like director Gareth Edwards was really going for a fusion of amazing CGI and old school man-in-suit type action and that is really achieved. Godzilla in this film really does move and act like Godzilla from the past. The fighting is brutal but awkward, graceful but stilted. It’s a strange contradiction but it works.
My main complaint would be that in the third act there’s not quite enough Godzilla action. What there is is amazing but the film cuts back to Aaron Taylor-Johnson just a little bit too often for my taste as it really disrupts the flow of the fights and the tone of the film; it can’t always seem to decide whether it wants to be a movie about giant monsters fighting or humans running around while giant monsters fight, and while I can see why it wants to be both it didn’t quite work for me. I really would have preferred to just watch the entire last big fight uninterrupted, or at least interrupted less, so I could follow the fight and start to root for Godzilla for reasons other than that I’d been told to.
Also, and your mileage may vary on this, but one of the MUTOs powers is the ability to generate an electro magnetic pulse to knock out electric fields around him. This is a cool idea and it works really well in the city scenes, however the film repeatedly shows military hardware being affected by this but there’s never a scene where a military guy says something like “I thought our gear was shielded from EMPs!” so someone can say “We’ve never had EMPs this big before” or “there’s something different about this EMP” or something. This is a nitpick to be sure but I found it really distracting.
If this is sounding pretty negative that’s because it is. I came out of the theatre with very mixed emotions because the things that work in Godzilla work really well but there’s a bunch of other stuff that really didn’t work for me at all. I expect someone to accuse me of not liking the slow buildup but there’s a whole stretch in the middle act where it just sort of plateaus until the last act starts.
At the end of the day I think I may have been let down by my own expectations. I really wanted this movie to be great and it’s just pretty ok.