After the widely reviled and mocked 1998 Godzilla gave a classic franchise a bad name, this new reboot was highly anticipated to say the least and, with every trailer preceding it promising nothing but great things, this looked like a winner.
And, for a while, it kinda was.
The build up for this one certainly takes a page out of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, teasing us throughout and taking a human focus rather than a purely monstrous one. All the disaster monster movie clichés you want and expect are still present yet they are never played for cheap laughs like in Roland Emmerich's take. Instead, the tone remains serious, even dark, which makes it easier to get into. The whole thing really has a Spielbergian tone to it both visually and in terms of the character dynamics. It's a gorgeous-looking film with more than its share of beautifully put together images and the first full Godzilla reveal is a delight, even if the iconic monster does look a tad chunkier than we're used to seeing him. The classic Godzilla theme is sadly not present but high marks go to composer Alexandre Desplat for his exciting Danny Elfman-esque score which really sold the haunting nature of the monsters and the carnage on screen. This new direction for the Godzilla franchise should definitely please those for whom Pacific Rim was much too cartoonish.
Having said that, I'd re-watch Pacific Rim any day over this one.
Now, don't get me wrong, there are things about this Godzilla movie I like, a lot! The sight of Godzilla finally using his radioactive breath to annihilate another monster in a sadistically violent and satisfying turn of events alone is worth the ticket. Oh and the Mothra reference made me geek out, I'll admit. But what was a playful, clever tease in the trailer becomes a frustrating pain in the neck in the film itself as every single fight scene is promptly interrupted and we're shown more exposition, more convoluted plot and more character scenes instead. And when I say "character", I don't mean Bryan Cranston's character who hasn't got much more than an extended cameo to work with here. The little time he's around he cries and yells frantically in a way that feels a bit overdone, which is a shame. Most of the film, we're following the increasingly bland Aaron Taylor-Johnson as he finds himself in the middle of the jurassic conflict and helps out his army buddies trying to bring down those pesky monsters. As a sidekick to Cranston, he was fine but on his own he's just completely forgettable. Other cast members given not much to do at all include Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe. This is definitely the right direction for the franchise to take and I would welcome a sequel or two, but they've gotta leave those human characters in the background and give us some good old-fashioned monster fightin' action.
While far better than the 1998 effort and actually full of cool little moments, this new Godzilla still feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity as too much of the film is spent hiding Godzilla from us, instead forcing us to care about the most by-numbers family dynamic you'd expect in a Hollywood flick. Post-first reveal, the film should have delivered the goods non-stop, Pacific Rim-style, but alas it only packed itself with filler until the obligatory final battle.