Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the (Very) Big Deal?
Godzilla is a sci-fi horror monster movie released in 2014 and is an American reboot of the legendary Japanese film series by Toho Studios. Officially, the film is the 30th film in the Godzilla series but only the second produced fully by an American studio after the poorly received 1998 version. It was also the first entry in the MonsterVerse, a single cinematic continuity that brought together Godzilla and King Kong for a series of monster films that continues with 2021's Godzilla vs. Kong. The film depicts a solider caught in the crossfire between an ancient natural predator and two previously unknown creatures that threaten life on Earth. Directed by Gareth Edwards in only his second feature outing, the film stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn. The film received a warm reception from critics while audiences loved the film, helping it to global box office totals of $529 million. The film's success also prompted renewed interest in the character as Toho began producing a new series of films while this film was followed by Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 2019.
What's It About?
In 1999, two scientists from the shadowy Monarch organisation visit a collapsed uranium mine in the Philippines where they make an astonishing discovery. Instead the vast skeleton of an enormous beast, they find two giant spores - one of which has hatched and left a trail of destruction as it made its way to the sea. Meanwhile, the Janjira nuclear power facility in Japan is experiencing a series of seismic episodes that threaten the stability of the plant. Supervisor Joe Brady desperately tries to shut the plant down before disaster strikes but is unable to save his wife Sandra and a team of engineers before the plant is destroyed.
Fifteen years later, Joe's son Ford is living with his wife Elle and their son Sam in San Francisco. Recently returning from a tour of duty with the US Navy, Ford is forced back to Japan when Joe is arrested sneaking into the Janjira quarantine zone. Convinced that the company are hiding the truth behind the disaster, Joe is determined to locate his old data that proved the tremors were not some mere accident or natural phenomena. But the truth takes everyone by surprise, especially when things at Janjira get out of hand and nature begins to take its ultimate revenge...
Lieutenant Ford Brody
Dr Ishirō Serizawa
Dr Vivienne Graham
Admiral William Stenz
Release Date (UK)
15th May, 2014
Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
What's to Like?
I've never really been into my monster movies, probably due to the negative reaction to the previous Godzilla. It was brave of someone like Edwards to attempt a style of film that western cinema isn't known for. The giant monster movie - known as Kaiju in Japan - is synonymous with Asian cinema and indeed, Godzilla himself is intrinsically linked to both Japan and the atomic bomb blasts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Putting this to the back of my mind for now, this is an admirable attempt at reviving the character for modern movie fans and sure enough, the film presents us with a truly staggering creature that looks more than capable of wiping humanity out. But like the famous shark in Jaws, the film is careful not to give us too much of a good thing and uses shadow, smoke and fog to hide its star for the most part.
The human cast are certainly varied and perhaps not what you'd expect to find in a film like this. Cranston and Binoche give the film gravitas while Olsen and Taylor-Johnson get stuck into wide-eyed stares of disbelief and action scenes. But they can't hold a candle to the enormous monsters tearing everything up - both Godzilla and the newly-created MUTOs look terrifying in scale and brutal in their primordial nature. The second half of the film, which is pretty much given over to the big boys, is a symphony of destruction with buildings reduced to rubble, communities washed away by tsunamis and people trapped in their cars on bridges just waiting to be ripped up. It might not be very original but the carnage is well made and evocative of real-life tragedies we've all seen on the news.
- The decision by Edwards to rarely show Godzilla in full was inspired by Steven Spielberg's Jaws and thus, the family at the centre of the film was named Brody in tribute to this.
- Following the backlash to his appearance in the 1998 Godzilla, the creature was redesigned for this film. The overall design was inspired by bears and Komodo dragons while the face was influenced by eagles, bears and dogs. According to Edwards, the eagle had "a lot of nobility" which made Godzilla feel "majestic and noble".
- The film contains many references to some of Godzilla's previous cinematic opponents. The word 'Mothra' is seen scrawled on the side of young Ford's terrarium while a golden dragon head that resembles King Ghidorah (first appearing in 1964's Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster) can be seen as Ford is in the spore nest.
- A year after playing a married couple in this film, Olsen and Taylor-Johnson would play siblings Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age Of Ultron.
What's Not to Like?
For anyone looking for a modern interpretation of the Godzilla legend, this will probably be as good as you can expect. But I can't help but feel that this Godzilla misses part of the point. The original's creation was deeply linked to the atomic bomb blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and was surmised to be nature pushing back against the wrath of man as a direct result of such things. But here, the US is not only involved in the managing of such gargantuan beasts but seemingly innocent of any involvement behind the monster. It didn't sit right with me and this is one of many storytelling decisions that felt off. Why did the film have to be set in the US at all - we've seen Las Vegas destroyed in dozens of films like 2012 and Mars Attacks! so we don't need to see it again. I also didn't understand why the Americans were shooting at Godzilla one moment and then proclaiming it to be their saviour the next after San Francisco is reduced to smouldering rubble.
The film has an overly apocalyptic tone which might be right for the material but doesn't make for great entertainment, in my experience. I also felt that the film wasted the talents of several cast members especially Olsen and the wonderful Binoche (I'm a big fan) whose brief time on screen left me feeling a little bit cheated. And while I understand the desire to keep the big fella under wraps to build tension for his eventual unveiling, the film utilises a lot of smoke and darkness and other visual trickery in such a way as to suggest some money-saving on the effects. And despite all the hard work, I never really bought into the concept - it just seemed too fantastical to believe. I never got the sense that the actors were staring at this gigantic monster before running away or that the best idea anyone in the military had for dealing with it was hit it with nuclear weapons, which felt as out-dated as the kaiju genre itself. I wanted to believe but just couldn't. Maybe seeing it on a cinema screen is a different prospect entirely but for my viewing (I watched the film on a tablet, which is far from ideal in any case), it didn't entirely work.
Should I Watch It?
If you are hoping for a giant monster movie that sees well-known landmarks getting destroyed by such then Godzilla will go a long way towards scratching that curious itch of yours. But once again, the movie glosses over the nature of the beast itself and turns him into cinema's biggest action hero instead of using the story to make political points, however uncomfortable they may be for Americans to acknowledge. This is very loud and explosive stuff but with underwritten characters and a disappointing narrative, there isn't that much more to recommend here.
Great For: popcorn-munching multiplex audiences, fans of Godzilla, cheap jump scares, rewriting history
Not So Great For: fans of Japanese kaiju films, anyone watching it on a phone or tablet, anyone living in San Francisco, fans of Juliette Binoche
What Else Should I Watch?
I feel that part of the reason for this film's success was that everyone is just glad to wipe away the memory of the 1998 version. Critics savaged Godzilla for its uninteresting characters, weak casting and lack of heart and even the director Roland Emmerich later regretted the film, blaming the studio's rushed production schedule and the lack of a test screening. He also admitted that he was not a fan of the Japanese originals and his heart was never truly in the project. The response from Toho, the Japanese studio behind Godzilla, was even more scathing as they bemoaned the look of the monster in the film, even retroactively dismissing the creature as 'Zilla' instead of 'Godzilla'. Actors from the original films even walked out of a screening in disgust.
Sadly, it appears as though the big fella's reputation in Hollywood is not as solid as it is in his native Japan. The sequel to this film Godzilla: King Of The Monsters was not as well received as its predecessor and only three actors from the first film - Hawkins, Watanabe and Strathairn - would reprise their roles. As for the fourth film in the MonsterVerse, the pandemic-affected Godzilla vs. Kong appears to have got the series back on track. It has so far proved hugely popular with audiences and even critics have broadly welcomed the film although common criticism remains regarding scripts and human characters. Frankly, it's difficult to see where this franchise goes from here. After all, audiences will eventually tire of seeing a big lizard beat up another equally big monster over and over again. Maybe they should stick to Avengers: Endgame?
© 2021 Benjamin Cox
Iqra from East County on April 16, 2021:
Godzilla is one of my favorites movies. You have provided great information about this movie. Thanks, Benjamin Cox
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on April 16, 2021:
I love this film!