Between the 30 plus films devolving from the grounded themes of the 1954 original, the campy cartoon series, and the failed 1998 American adaptation, the bar for a good Godzilla film has been lowered significantly. Because of the low expectations of the general public, early trailers for Gareth Edwards' reboot, due in theaters this Friday, were absolutely mind-blowing. Going into the movie, my expectations were high, and the technical aspects – the score, effects, and acting — delivered. The movie might have been perfect had it more consistently laid the groundwork for the payoffs in the third act.
If I had to compare Godzilla to three well-known films they would be Jaws, Jurassic Park, and 2012. The film's scope is huge, and the monster battles feel very real in comparison to the fanboy-drool-inducing action of Pacific Rim. Quick note to those hoping for a crossover: I don't see it happening. They really are very clearly in two different cinematic universes.
How Godzilla is like Jaws:
Director Gareth Edwards teases the audience again and again until a reveal that leaves the crowd cheering. The obscuring of the title character is both brilliantly executed and unexpected in today's "show everything" effects world. The score by Alexandre Desplat heightens the tension and does a good job of not telegraphing the surprises.
All the teasing and all the tension pay off in a satisfying final battle. The fight is animalistic. It isn't choreographed "monster-fu." It looks like something more akin to Animal Planet than Power Rangers.
How Godzilla is like Jurassic Park:
Present day audiences are not able to connect with fear of the atomic bomb or nuclear power the way audiences did with the original in 1954. Instead, screenwriter Max Borenstein taps into our fear of nature itself. Since the beginning of time we've built shelters to protect from the "monsters" who would destroy us. Our technology makes us believe we've insulated ourselves from the effects of nature. Godzilla is the monster of our primal fears made big enough to match our shelters.
How Godzilla is like 2012:
Do we go to a monster movie to see amazing acting? Not really. But emotionally connecting with the human characters would have elevated this from a good movie to a legendary movie. Despite an amazing cast, the weakest part of Godzilla is our connection to the characters. With so many people dying we should feel sad about the loss of life, but we are either not given enough time to bond or are not given emotionally compelling reasons why we should care.
Bryan Cranston gives the strongest performance of the group, but he's also given the most to work with. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen have zero sexual chemistry and their husband-wife dynamic just falls flat. This shortcoming was driven home when I watched The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a few hours after screening Godzilla, and Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone's chemistry makes that movie.
Comic book movies or franchise films like the 2009 Star Trek are able to take shortcuts with character dynamics because there is a level of audience familiarity built in. With characters we know nothing about, like in Godzilla, the story elements need to hit at multiple levels very efficiently.
The newest Godzilla by Legendary Pictures is the best Godzilla since 1954. It succeeds as a monster movie and has great visual effects. The score is brilliant and scenes like the halo jump are better because of it. The cast is great, but the character development is lacking. If you are a geek, it's a must-see movie from a promising young director.
For my full thoughts on Godzilla, check out my spoiler review.