'Godzilla' Is an Old Fashioned Blockbuster... and That's a Good Thing

A lot of early reviews claim that "nothing happens" in the first hour of this film. Those opinions couldn't be more wrong.

Godzilla (2014)

Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2014
US date: 2014-05-16 (General release)
UK date: 2014-05-16 (General release)

Sometimes, my fellow film critics infuriate me. One of the most highly anticipated movies of 2014 has to be Gareth Edwards reboot of the beloved giant lizard Godzilla. Back in 1998, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, hot off their success with Independence Day, were hired by Tri-Star Pictures to fulfill their rights agreement with Japanese producer Toho Studios for a trilogy of American Godzilla movies with the only prerequisite being they stay "true" to the original films and warn against nuclear proliferation and runaway technology. Naturally, the duo ignore most of said prerequisites. While there was promise in their approach, the final result was a ridiculous combination of showboating set-pieces and lax character development. Audiences agreed.


Now we have Edwards and his far more faithful approach. When it opens on 16 May, this new Godzilla will feature a familiar origin story, a pair of competing creatures, and one of the most amazing final monster battles ever conceived. It will have all the familiar beats the fans have come to love, it will offer up jaw-dropping special effects, and, while limited in demographic, may set the stage for a series of movies featuring the beast. We will discuss the actual film in more detail in a moment, but let me get to the gist of my previously mentioned problem with those in the cinematic Fourth Estate.

Naturally, some got to see this film days before I did, and when they were allowed to post their reviews, a weird kind of consensus started. For many, Edwards did a lot of things right. But the one thing he got wrong, in their opinion, was the main attraction itself. To be more specific, there was a near universal dismal of the fact that the director decided to hold off on a major reveal of Godzilla until almost an hour into the plot. They bellyache that this is "antithetical" to the approach taken by today's blockbuster filmmakers and, as a result, undermines the narrative and the material's intentions.

Sure, some cited the slow burn style as "reminiscent" of the old school popcorn title, many pointing to Steven Spielberg and films such as Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as examples of this holding back intention, but that didn't make the decision any more palatable, at least in their eyes. They mention Michael Bay and his slam bang, over the top Transformers franchise, the various Avengers and other superhero films, and conclude that, in 2014, we can't have a movie where "nothing happens" until an hour in, and especially when that 60 minutes contains limited Godzilla sightings and not very much else.

My first reaction to this is "HUH?". Are we talking about the same film? The storyline stretches out for several decades. We learn that the A-bomb tests in the Pacific during the Cold War were actually designed to keep a rogue "alpha hunter" creature at bay. We also learn about the discovery of a dormant parasite (nicknamed M.U.T.O.) that eats radiation. Before you know it, our hero Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) a nuclear engineer working at a Japanese power plant loses his wife (Juliette Binoche) in an accident which may have something to do with these creatures. Then the M.U.T.O. "hatches" and starts looking for a 'mate.' With the help of scientists Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), as well as input from Joe's adult son, Lt. Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the US military tries to stop the fiends. Our only hope, however, is a more dominant force of nature - the aforementioned "alpha hunter" Godzilla.

There's a lot more to it. A lot more. But let's get to those previously discussed complaints, shall we? First off, there's a whole lot more than "nothing" happening here before Godzilla finally gets a hero moment. We have the opening credits which hint at the Pacific nuclear tests connection. Then get the nuclear power plant accident. Doctors Serizawa and Graham also uncover the M.U.T.O., said beast comes back to life and decimates what remains of the former power station, and then heads across the ocean to meet up with a potential mate. There's a big league beat down in Hawaii, complete with a horrifying tsunami and a battle at the airport, and it's here, at this moment, when Godzilla makes his first major appearance. It may indeed be about 58 minutes in, but the impact is incredible.

By the time our scaly savior and his pair of competing creatures meet up in San Francisco for one final confrontation, we are prepped for something pretty amazing and Edwards delivers in spades. The fight is a stunner, and showcases exactly where this franchise could go should the movie be profitable enough to mandate some sequels. More importantly, it's not just another in a series of similar spectacles. Each set-piece in Edwards' film is handled differently. The opening montage is suggestion. The first nuclear plant attack is sudden and shocking. The birth of the first M.U.T.O. sets up specific character concerns with the Hawaii material extending that subtext while creating new ones. Indeed, everything that came before -- or the "nothing" as some critics are calling it -- serves to make the moment Godzilla faces off against these beasts even more profound.

Apparently, the last few years of wall to wall CG magic have turned an already ADD addled press corps into an even more hungry for instant gratification gang. Because he's only hinted at in the first 45 minutes or so, they complain about the movie being mediocre. What did they want? No character development? A M.U.T.O. rising up from the first five minutes and Godzilla arriving a minute later for the first of several very similar fights? Go back to the original and tell me when the creature shows up there?

And by the way, what's wrong with following Spielberg's example? I get sick and tired of the contemporary critic badmouthing one of the greatest filmmakers of all time simply because he was unbelievably popular. Jaws and Close Encounters are classics, and while the King of the Blockbusters may have offered up quick glimpses of the dinosaurs in something like Jurassic Park, the approach everyone seems to be clamoring for didn't do so well in the Lost World sequel now, did it?

Granted, everyone is entitled to their opinion and those who were bored or "tuned out" until the big lizard showed up can clearly claim the same. But to say "nothing" happens is beyond ridiculous. In fact, as one of my fellow critics accurately said, if they want to say Godzilla didn't show up until an hour in, that 200% true. But a lot happened before then. To argue differently is insincere, and infuriating.







The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.