Godzilla’s trailers are excellent. The feature is completely unrelated.
The film, which was supposed to be about nuclear physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and Godzilla, is actually about Navy Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects, weird giant bug things that eat nuclear radiation. According to Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), both Godzilla at the M.U.T.O are ancient beings from when the earth was young and radiation was rampant on its surface. They burrowed underground and underwater as the planet developed, only to rise again when awakened by nuclear submarines and power plants. There is literally no way for Serizawa to know this, but it’s a movie so just go with it, OK?
The first thing to understand about this movie is what a terrible bait-and-switch it is. The movie promises Bryan Cranston, but it does not deliver Bryan Cranston. Bryan Cranston’s character dies 20 minutes in. His character’s son, played by Taylor-Johnson, takes the lead role and while Taylor-Johnson is a fine actor, the One who Knocks he is not. People expecting to see Bryan Cranston in his first major role since the end of Breaking Bad, which should be anyone who’s been paying even basic levels of attention to their surroundings for the past few months, will go home feeling cheated.
Godzilla, despite being the titular attraction celebrating his 60th cinematic anniversary as a living natural disaster, spends most of the film underwater ignoring the perfectly destroyable aircraft carriers on either side of him. Most of the monster action is taken by the M.U.T.O. With only minor edits, Godzilla could have been cut out entirely. People expecting Godzilla, which should be anyone who was aware of what ticket they were purchasing, will go home feeling cheated.
That said, it’s actually an OK movie. Director Gareth Edwards, who got the gig on the strength of 2010’s excellent Monsters, delivers another startlingly human drama about heroism and tenacity in the face of impossible odds. Despite his fault of not being Bryan Cranston, Taylor-Johnson plays a serious badass in this movie, and audiences are sure to be inspired by him.
At it’s heart, the film is a prototypical Godzilla movie with a 2010’s special effects update, and that’s not a bad thing. Most audiences will leave having seen an OK movie but unable to appreciate it because of the incredible movie they were promised.
The film never matches the previews’ wild-eyed buildup of impending doom except during the HALO drop sequence — you know, the sequence that was shown almost in its entirety in the announcement trailer — and that was mostly successful because of the first-person shots, the half-muted choir and psychedelic clouds. Godzilla doesn’t symbolize nature restoring balance as much as Serizawa waxes poetic about it — seriously, is he a scientist or a stoner? Nothing he says could ever possibly be tested or quantified, he’s basically just white noise that sounded good in the trailers. Like Godzilla, he also could be easily cut. Despite carving paths through Honolulu, Las Vegas and San Francisco over the course of the movie, the vast majority of monster action takes place off-screen. Anyone expecting to see CGI rip apart civilization, which should be anyone with a brain, will go home feeling cheated.
The insults stack up as the film progresses when a plan to draw the monsters “miles out over the ocean” becomes a plan to draw the monsters “into the heart of San Francisco, pop. 800,000” and a nuke that “makes the ones we used in the 1950s look like matchsticks” becomes “the nuke from The Dark Knight Rises that can go off, like, a half-mile off the coast and not even cause so much as a large wave.”
If you see this movie — and that shouldn’t be discouraged, because if you’re a fan of the series it’s really quite good — don’t pay for it. Because of the malicious advertising gimmick, it’s important that this movie not make money. It is opening in May opposite “Holy crap, foreign people can play baseball too?! I had no idea!” The Movie, so it’s going to make a boatload anyway, but try not to contribute.
Godzilla is going to be a pretty solid blockbuster in a few years when it’s syndicated on TNT, but right now, it’s bitter disappointment in a film canister.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for.