Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Since his first onscreen introduction way back 1954, when it comes to monster movies, there is literally no bigger figure than Godzilla. Even without any real knowledge of his story, just saying his name conjures up images of his menacing presence and the path of destruction left in his wake. Not being a monster movie connoisseur, I must admit that films from this sci-fi/action sub-genre generally don’t excite or raise much interest in my seeing them. But after a month long, constant barrage of trailers for this latest incarnation of Godzilla, with each imposing version being more of an attention grabber than the previous, I was actually looking forward to my matinee showing this last Thursday.
Godzilla starts off promisingly ominous. For those unaware of the background story, the film explains it this way. These creatures are remnants of millions of years ago, when the earth was much more radioactive. With radiation being the creatures’ main source of food, as the earth was becoming less radioactive, the creatures began hibernating deep in the oceans or underground, so they could survive by absorbing the earth’s natural radiation. In the opening credits, the movie suggests that the infamous Bikini Atoll nuclear bomb tests off the Asian coast back in the 1954 were in fact the cause of the initial appearance of the Godzilla from the depths of the oceans. The film then jumps to 1999, where a strip mining company in the Philippines is culpable for disturbing two unidentifiable pod like eggs deep underground, with evidence that one has already hatched and its inhabitant has escaped into the nearby ocean.
Mysterious and unidentified seismic activity causes a cataclysmic destruction of a Japanese nuclear power-plant. Unfortunately, this accident takes out one of the film’s most gifted actors within the first fifteen minutes. After the impetuous death of yet another the film’s stars, the fate of the entire film is left in the hands of Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. Johnson of Kick Ass fame has had a modestly creditable start to his career, with respectable performances in Nowhere Boy, Savages, and Anna Karenina, and Olsen has been riding her 2011 critically praised Martha Marcy May Marlene performance all the way to the bank recently. Unfortunately, in this film these two just don’t have the chops to carry this behemoth of a blockbuster. As an onscreen couple, if I may borrow a line from the film Meet Joe Black, “this relationship has all the passion of a pair of titmice.” The best facial expression of anxiety or fear Johnson could muster up looked more like he was in the presence of a pungent aroma only he was privy to. And Olsen unfortunately is relegated to the “wife left behind” character whose lasting contribution to the film winds up being the stereotypical gaze to the heavens in horror face that has now become all too cliched in these type of disaster films.
The supporting cast looks great on paper, with names like Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn, and Sally Hawkins gracing the screen with their talented presence. Unfortunately, thanks to film’s disposable script, that’s about all they were asked to do. Watanabe’s face was stuck in perplexed confusion mode for the entirety of the film (see picture below). Hawkins, who was just nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her breakout role in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine was nothing more than a glorified gopher assistant to Watanabe, and the military unit they gave Strathairn to lead felt like some scrounged up, last minute, amateur hour casting call.
Godzilla isn’t bad, but unfortunately it isn’t all that great either. Director Gareth Edwards adeptly utilizes today’s CGI technology to create terrifyingly realistic looking monsters. His M.U.T.O.s, or winged, insectoid like creatures are fiercely arresting, and Godzilla’s formidable depiction and deafening scream alone gave me chills. However for a film entitled Godzilla, it was…a bit unexpected to see how little screen time he was actually given compared to his grotesque counterparts. While the battle scenes between these ancient creatures initially caused a pulse raising, dreaded wonderment, the awe unfortunately wore off. After such impressive build up, this version of Godzilla, while markedly better than the dreadful 1998 Rolland Emmerich version, still turned out to be yet another run-of-the-mill disaster “blockbuster.”-JL