The opening credits seem a little familiar. With black and white WWII-era footage of traveling navy ships, military men strategizing at a roundtable and a series of mushroom clouds ballooning over the Pacific, the first five minutes of the film play homage to Ishiro Honda’s 1954 “Godzilla,” the film that started the decades-long franchise and created a celebrity out of a monstrous reptile.
Unlike the original film, which focuses on Godzilla as a product of nuclear radiation and a reminder of the horrors that the U.S. military inflicted upon the Japanese with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” reboot goes with the times, basing all of Godzilla’s havoc and destruction in modern-day, big cities like Honolulu, Las Vegas and San Francisco in a time of technological and nuclear advancement.
Edwards distinguishes his kaiju film from the original Japanese and American versions even further by throwing in a couple more monsters for Godzilla to combat. This creates one of several subplots that comprise “Godzilla,” and unfortunately for the actors, the monster versus monster battles fought among skyscrapers and across bridges prove to be more compelling than the human-based storylines.
Academy Award-nominated actor Ken Watanabe headlines the movie as Ishiro Serizawa, a Japanese scientist who begins researching and studying monsters extensively after he comes across two nesting MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) underground in the Philippines in 1999. Serizawa is needed once again 15 years later when the nesting MUTOs hatch and search for one another in order to mate, devastating cities and feeding off nuclear reactors in the process.
Though his role as “The Scientist” seems important, Watanabe shows up only a few times in the film to make dramatic comments like, “The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around.” It’s as if his character exists only to stress the apocalyptic nature of the situation; Serizawa doesn’t even have a backstory, save for an old pocketwatch belonging to his father that stopped working after the bombing of Hiroshima –– but even that detail is more of a reference to the 1954 film than an effort to humanize the character.
Fresh from his five-year stint on “Breaking Bad,” Bryan Cranston fulfills his supporting role as nuclear plant supervisor Joe Brody, the misunderstood genius whose crazy conspiracies regarding echolocation come true (much to the shock of his son Ford, who is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Though his screentime is small, Cranston evokes empathy as a man who is desperate to prove that his wife’s death wasn’t an accident. Serizawa and his scientific organization, Monarch, enlist the help of Ford and pull him away from his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and child when the MUTOs go to work on the town.
If you’re looking for a movie with character development and a rich underlying message, “Godzilla” isn’t it. The real excitement lies in the scenes with heavy CGI animation –– scenes without any real people. Edwards knows how to build anticipation in an action movie, opting for a slow reveal –– while the MUTOs come in relatively early to hold the audience’s attention, the 350-foot tall, scale-lined star of the movie doesn’t make its grand appearance until at least a good 30 minutes in.
And the anticipation is worth it. The animators work hard –– and succeed –– in sculpting a giant, lifelike creature that will leave Godzilla fans (if not all movie-goers) in awe, and his deep, 5-10 second-long roar is not a sound you can easily forget. If you’re still not won over, the battle scenes between Godzilla and the MUTO couple will have you rooting for the reptilian, the anti-hero you never thought you’d want to see live.
What “Godzilla” lacks in character and plot dynamicism, it makes up for in action and thrilling fight scenes. Edwards proves that after dozens of remakes, Godzilla is still just as terrifying and iconic as ever.
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