Film

'Godzilla' Is Paint-By-Numbers Monster Movie Making

This reboot is a pretty pedestrian affair, managing to pull out all the tropes you've come to expect from monster movies without offering anything new.


Godzilla

Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Rated: PG-13
Blu-ray: Godzilla
US Blu-ray release date: 2014-09-16

The decision to make a new Godzilla movie means a lot of story choices are cut off from day one (although I'm still waiting for a rom-com set amidst a giant monster movie). Unfortunately, this reboot of the venerable franchise is so paint-by-the-numbers that the only point of watching it is to see how cool a giant monster battle can be with today's advances in CGI.

If you've seen any previous giant monster movies, Godzilla's storyline will seem very familiar to you: Something awful happens, but it's covered up by the powers that be. Several years later, a lone conspiracy theorist follows the threads left behind, convinced that he's on to something. A scientist knows a lot about what's happening because he's been studying it for a long time as part of a shadowy government project, but he doesn't know as much as he thinks he does. The crap hits the fan because, of course, the powers that be can't control what they've captured. The military gets involved. Cities are destroyed. A final showdown occurs. Threat nullified. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. For now.

It may also help to relate the plot according to the many well-worn tropes used in this film:

The conspiracy theorist: Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston). The story opens on a happy family: Joe and his wife work at a Japanese nuclear power station, and their son Ford is trying to figure out how to hang up a birthday banner for his father without being caught. While mom and dad are at work, though, violent tremors cause a reactor leak, and the power station eventually crumbles; Brody's wife is among the victims.

Fast-forward 15 years to 2014: Brody remains in Japan while his son is now an adult with a wife and child in San Francisco. He's convinced that he will figure out the mystery behind what happened in 1999, thanks to the clippings hung all over his walls. (Don't modern day conspiracy theorists keep all their clippings in Google Docs? Or maybe that's what the government wants them to do.)

The military guy who has a skill that will of course pay off later (in this case, dealing with bombs): Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). After we fast-forward to 2014, Ford must leave his wife and son behind to go to Japan and deal with his father, who has again been arrested for trespassing in the quarantined area where the power plant was. He's a pragmatic realist who thinks his father has gone off the deep end. Conveniently, his wife is a nurse, so between the two of them, we'll get plenty of scenes dealing with the military response to the monsters and evacuees from the carnage.

The scientist who has been studying monsters and delivers plenty of key exposition slathered in gravitas: Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe). Serizawa shows up early and often, and when the elder Brody figures out what's really been happening at the power plant, he admits what he knows, thus vindicating the father in front of the son.

Serizawa has fallen prey to the "humans think they know everything and are about to get their comeuppance" trope, and the situation at the former power plant goes awry, although not for the reason you might expect: It turns out they've been holding a monster other than Godzilla there, and it breaks free. Then we learn that its cocooned mate was held in a nuclear disposal facility, and—oops—it wasn't as dormant as everyone thought it was, so now the monster's mate is on the loose too.

The two monsters head for a romantic rendezvous, so lady monster can get her eggs fertilized by guy monster, and Godzilla shows up to take out the two of them. While Devlin and Emmerich's awful late '90s Godzilla cast the iconic monster in the role of bad guy, this time he's a force for good, albeit one that will destroy a lot of stuff during his battle with the other monsters.

The rest of the film plays out pretty much the way you would expect it to, although Cranston's character unfortunately makes an early exit. His son is given a couple pointless scenes where he helps a child who has been separated from his parents—we already know he's a good father, husband, and son—and then Ford hooks up with the military. Naturally, it turns out he's the only guy around whose expertise with bombs will help them with their plan, and that leads to that really cool paratrooper shot that was shown in many of the trailers.

So, what's good about this film? Well, director Gareth Edwards' choice to use a cinema cinéma vérité-like style for the first two acts is fun; we only get glimpses of the monsters here and there, such as when Ford's wife is running into a BART station and the doors close just as Godzilla is about to lay a smackdown on a monster, or when Ford parachutes into the carnage and we see bits and pieces of Godzilla from his point-of-view. In fact, Godzilla is only seen here and there until the third act, when Edwards shows us the final battle royale in all its glory.

Unfortunately, that doesn't make up for the rest of the film's "seen this before" feeling, but perhaps another director can build on that in the inevitable sequel.

The film is found on a Blu-ray disc and a standard-def DVD, with a code included for a digital download. All of the bonus features are found on the Blu-ray disc, and they're split into two sections: MONARCH: Declassified and The Legendary Godzilla. The former includes three short pieces that repurpose some of the film's footage to explore the cover-up of Godzilla's existence. It's mildly interesting, although the narrator of the Godzilla Revealed piece is particularly bland; you'd think he would be a bit more breathless and excited, since he's supposed to be a conspiracy theorist piecing together the available evidence.

The other section delves into behind-the-scenes stuff, with plenty of self-congratulatory comments from the cast and crew as they talk about the special effects, the decision to not show much of Godzilla early in the film, and so forth. The original 1954 movie is touched on a bit.

And that's it for the bonus features. No retrospective of The King of Monsters' career or commentary track, which is a bummer. The former probably would have been more interesting than the movie.

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