80%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (3 Votes)
77%

Visual amazement struggles with choppy plot direction.

Fifteen years after a nuclear disaster wipes out a power plant in Japan, a mysterious creature comes back to life. At the same time, a subterranean dinosaur, thought to be extinct, rises from the depths, seemingly to engage this anomaly. But much more is afoot, and more is at stake than the humans could possibly imagine.

Suspend your disbelief for two hours and try to imagine creatures that feed on radiation. Feed on as in their bodies absorb and, for all intents and purposes, metabolize it. The Janjira nuclear power plant collapses after a series of earthquakes in Japan. Just before this happens, a cave is discovered on an island in the Philippines containing the bones of a gigantic animal, with fresh track marks leading out to sea, headed north. Power hungry, you say?

Flash forward to the present day. An American whose father worked at that power plant in Japan must fly overseas to get his father out of jail. His crime? Trespassing on the same island where Janjira once stood. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) seems to be going mad in the eyes of his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who has grown from past struggles into a U.S. Navy technician in Explosive Object Disposal. Ford lives in San Francisco with wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son Sam.

With a little coaxing, the Brody father-son team goes on an expedition and the two discover that the radiation from the fallout has been completely wiped away much sooner than it should have. Shortly after this revelation, the two men are apprehended by authorities and brought to a facility built on the power plant’s former grounds. Overlooking a gigantic hardened chrysalis, Navy Admiral William Stenz (David Straithairn) weighs his options while Joe spins a twisted tale of government cover-ups of a prehistoric animal that will be revived and wreak havoc on mankind.

Soon after, the cocoon-like mass morphs into a creature that looks like a mash-up of Rodan and the Kamacuras – to non-followers of kaijuology, picture a cross between a bat and a locust. Before taking to the air, the MUTO or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism shows its superpower of emitting an electromagnetic pulse which shuts down all electrical machinery.

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After making short work of its human “captors,” the MUTO heads east to the western world, where his flightless mate has been lying dormant for several years, carrying hundreds of eggs ripe for fertilization. Following by sea, the Navy soon detects that the MUTO is being tailed underwater by a giant reptilian beast thought to have been killed decades earlier in a nuclear conflict, covered up as a “test.” Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) identifies the underwater animal as “Gojira,” who has been roused from his slumber by the disturbance in nature’s balance caused by the awakening of the MUTO.

The kaiju monsters eventually make it the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The first battle takes place in beautiful Honolulu, with moderate glimpses of the action taking place while the focus stays on getting the humans to safety. After leaving several buildings demolished, the creatures continue east, toward the Bay area of California. 

At the same time, the larger female MUTO awakens from Nevada’s Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository. A romp through fabulous Las Vegas ruins several more hotels, as the grounded monster makes her way toward her mate, converging in the Bay area of California.

Knowing that the future of their race is at stake, the humans must take action to keep mankind safe. And Godzilla takes on the role of humanity’s unwitting protector in a battle to the death against a potential brood of monsters.

There isn’t much else going on other than a lot of running from the creatures, longwinded conversation of their origins and plans, and just a few too many unnecessary subplots that take away from the true elements of the story. The ultimate battle of the movie’s titans takes so long to get to that some audience members may not even care to see it. However, dazzling visual effects and genuine performances by the actors make the movie watchable and borderline satisfying.

It’s been sixty years since the King of the Monsters rose from the Pacific Ocean to wreak havoc on mankind. Throughout the years, he has had many sequels and re-imaginings on television and in print, evolving from menace to hero in order to fight against and with many monsters on screen. The collaborative brainchild of several Japanese filmmakers also inspired characters such as Gamera and even the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. 

An American adaptation of the original Godzilla story was released in 1998, subjecting New York in place of Tokyo to the monster’s mayhem. It was directed by Roland Emmerich and produced by Dean Devlin, who were hot off their success from 1996’s summer blockbuster “Independence Day.” Their version of the kaiju’s emergence received mixed reviews, got slammed by quite a few film pundits, and seems to be generally unaccepted among true Godzilloids. (Does Godzilla’s fan base even have a real nickname?)

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In order to make a movie for release around the time of this anniversary, Legendary Pictures needed to gain rights to the property from the Toho Company in 2010. It was around that time that director Gareth Edwards was making waves with his low-budget alien invasion thriller “Monsters.” It was also his first feature film, after some years working on television documentaries, mainly in the visual effects department. “Monsters” earned Edwards six awards from different independent film, festival, and critics associations. 

According to a 2011 report by The Hollywood Reporter, Legendary “sought [Edwards] out” specifically to work on this monumental rebirth of Godzilla, releasing the movie a year after “Pacific Rim.” The movie was generally liked for its style and “fantastical imagery,” as summarized by RottenTomatoes.

While the visual effects of Edwards’ “Godzilla” are certainly breathtaking (rendered in 3D during post-production), the kaiju fight sequences seem to be the background of the story, and not its main focal point. Emphasis is placed more on the human element. In addition to be overlong, the movie’s simplistic story is made unnecessarily complex, all but leaving the audience with no one to root for when the final battle occurs.

Despite this and major scientific logic flaws (putting the “fi” in sci-fi), “Godzilla” just falls short of disappointment. Fans of the legacy may not approve of Godzilla’s supporting role in his own movie, but the beautifully rendered radioactive lizard does stand out in each of his scenes. Though the persistent shift of attention may become frustrating at times (just show us the monsters fighting!!), there is enough throwback value to satisfy fans while just barely keeping the awe of new-coming audience. Otherwise, this is generally a single view outing. 

Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston.

About The Author

Contributing Writer

Herbert M. Shaw began writing movie reviews for his high school newspaper and hasn't stopped since. In 2005, his radio program "The Shaw Report" was started with WCDB Albany 90.9 FM in Albany, New York, and lives on with online streaming at www.wcdbfm.com. In addition to film and TV reviews, Herbert also covers a variety of pop culture events surrounding technology, gaming, and the arts. He has covered every single New York Comic Con since 2006, and writes an annual Oscar prediction guide.