Godzilla

Godzilla Movie ReviewWarner Bros. Pictures
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem, and creature violence.
Running time: 123 minutes.
Three stars out of four.

When the bombastic “Pompeii” came out a few months ago, I asked: “Is it wrong to root for the volcano?” Now, having seen “Godzilla,” I have to ask: “Is it wrong to root for the kaiju?” But I mean this as the greatest possible recommendation for the movie.

The Godzilla of this “Godzilla” is a classically fearsome monster with his hulking size and piercing roar, but he’s also an irresistible bad-ass who becomes an unlikely hero of sorts. My good friend and “What the Flick?!” co-host Matt Atchity and I found ourselves actively clapping and cheering for the creature when we saw the movie at a packed press screening. We wanted him to do his thing, and do it as ferociously as possible.

And he does — but it takes a while for him to show up and do it. Director Gareth Edwards dares to go for the slow burn — dares to wait until about the halfway mark to reveal the monster in all his majesty. It’s a risky approach, reminiscent of the one Steven Spielberg took in “Jaws,” which allows for not just tension but context. The people matter in Max Borenstein’s screenplay (although whether the esteemed actors playing them, including Juliette Binoche and David Strathairn, all register is another matter). But you get the sense that their experience and their terror are as essential as the massive set pieces that usually mark this kind of summer blockbuster.

And man, are they doozies. Unlike so many effects-laden extravaganzas in which the battles are just noisy, indiscernible blurs of slamming and destruction (we’re looking at you, “Transformers”), you can actually tell who is doing what to whom here. The results are visceral, thrilling, frightening. There’s texture and perspective, a sense of both intimacy and enormity. And the impeccable sound design does wonders to heighten the feeling of dread. “Godzilla” is full of ominous creaks and clicks, moans and groans. Waiting for these creatures to arrive is as delicious as witnessing the full brunt of their power.

Yes, creatures plural, ones with ancient roots and a legacy to consider. This is not a spoiler, folks.

“Godzilla” begins in 1999 with a pair of startling events: the discovery of a massive crater full of radioactive, fossilized remnants in the Philippines and a meltdown at a Japanese nuclear power plant, where seismic activity appears to be the culprit. Surely, this cannot be a coincidence — and sure enough, skeptical scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), who had worked at the plant, drives himself to obsession in search of the truth.

Cut to 15 years later. Joe’s grown son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is a Navy lieutenant looking forward to returning home to his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and their young son, Sam (Carson Bolde), in San Francisco. Olsen, an actress with great presence and a daring streak to her choices, doesn’t get to do much here beyond play the supportive nurse and worried mom — but with those beautiful, wide eyes, she has the perfect face to play a horror movie damsel in distress.

But soon after Ford arrives, he’s called to Japan to bail his father out of jail for trespassing — and gets sucked into the old man’s conspiracy theories all over again. Turns out, Joe was right. And Ford happens to be in Japan at the perfect moment to find out just how right Joe was.

Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins bring just he right amount of gravitas to their roles as the scientists who’ve been investigating these elusive monsters, and the electromagnetic pulses their activities create, for decades. Strathairn, as the admiral coordinating the military element of the fight, functions as a singularly stoic and stern presence. And then there’s Taylor-Johnson, who’s pretty but bland and a weak link at the film’s emotional center.

But as an action hero, the young man who has played both a lanky John Lennon in “Nowhere Boy” and a vigilante crimefighter in the “Kick-Ass” movies has bulked up and is ready for the challenge, and Taylor-Johnson does figure prominently in some of the more visually arresting sequences Edwards has to offer. (Seamus McGarvey, whose work ranges from “Atonement” to “The Avengers” to “Anna Karenina,” is the cinematographer.) One takes place on a dark and quiet train trestle in the middle of the night. The other finds Ford and a group of soldiers leaping from a plane into the smoky, hellish blackness that used to be downtown San Francisco, the sight of the film’s climactic clashes. Red flares trail from their feet as they descend into the unknown. The image is eerily beautiful.

If you take a step back, though, and consider the location, all the havoc and destruction is also slightly amusing. This is what you get, San Francisco, with all your douchey, flashy, dot-com money: You get stomped on by Godzilla. Now that he’s served his purpose and restored balance, he can slink back off into the Pacific Ocean for a leisurely afternoon swim.

37 Comments on “Godzilla

    •  by  chris

      People are always jealous of San Francisco, just think about. Best place to live in the U.S

      •  by  kermit

        Yeah, with an overwhelming surplus of tech hipsters, mass gentrification, and skyrocketing property values, San Francisco certainly is a lovely haven for the rich to squander their techie spoils. I love cities that are more than willing to obliterate the middle working class population by, literally, kicking them the hell out. San Francisco is pretty great.

    •  by  Christopher Kimson

      Nah. Thats pretty debatable. Sure the views great, but I think New York City would give San Francisco a run for its money.

  1.  by  Ted

    Great review. You take pop culture seriously, and because of that we get more insight on what it means — and why it’s fun. A blockbuster that dares to go for the slow burn? Imagine.

  2.  by  MovieJay (@MovieJay)

    I appreciate that it took after the “Jaws” model, but finally I felt like the movie thought it was teasing me when in fact I was just sitting there waiting for it to get cookin’.

    I think that’s because I had had enough of watching characters essentially watching the movie on tv in the movie. That and the human story I felt was so by-the-numbers. And gosh was it serious. All that expository dialogue was so generic it couldn’t even be mistaken as camp.

    Excellent CGI, and I’m glad you had a good time at it. Seems most people did. But watching actors I like having to act like cardboard cutouts was frustrating. And why was Cranston’s character perceived as nuts if what they needed all along was his help in the first place? That drove me up the wall.

    I’d like to see it get campy again the next time out and start having more fun.

  3.  by  Greg

    Yah, why so bitter against SanFran when she is from LA that’s the most pretentious place on the planet?

    •  by  Ironbob

      She’s bitter because all those douchy dot-commers actually bring value to people whereas all LA brings is douchy movies reviewed by douchy chicks that no one knows or cares about. Go figure.

      •  by  Sir douche-a-lot?

        #1 Using douche more than twice in a post is “douchey”
        #2 A man who describes a woman as “douchey” is without a doubt, douchey
        #3 Ironbob is a douchey nickname. It must mean that you’re hard and that your name is bob?
        #4 Anyone who wastes their time coming up with three reasons for why you’re douchey is probably douchey. Thus, I’m probably douchey as well. I just don’t think the author was in any way douchey.

  4.  by  Christy Lemire

    It was a joke, people. But thanks very much for reading all the way down to the bottom!

    •  by  Joe

      Didn’t you get the memo Christy. People from the Bay Area don’t have a sense of humor.

      •  by  MikeinLA

        I’ve lived in LA for forty years, and based upon much experience, I conclude that San Francisco is indeed a douchey, arrogant, pretentious place with a dreary climate, high prices, prickly and defensive residents, and a really annoying baseball team.

        If you slag on San Francisco, somebody will probably offer to punch your nose. If you slag on LA, somebody will probably just suggest you go home and complain about that.

        I haven’t seen Godzilla, by the way. My grandsons liked it, which is not a comforting endorsement.

        As we say in LA: Have a nice day.

        •  by  Fred

          Nobody in SF will punch you in the nose or even offer. Oakland on the other hand…

        •  by  Anne

          Some people don’t actually like horrendous traffic, f***ed up air quality and a baseball team that buys its talent.

      •  by  dorks

        Considering that there are morons actually throwing a shitfit over that sort of thing, yeah, sorry but no one can tell anymore.

      •  by  reg

        Please don’t lump the rest of the bay area with SF. Our great weather in the east bay doesn’t require a North Face fleece.

    •  by  Jake S.

      Frankly I am quite surprised by her review, glad she liked it but usually Christy hates movies.

  5.  by  Christy Lemire

    Exactly. I hate movies, which is why I’ve made a career out of writing about them for the past 15-plus years.

    •  by  Jake S.

      I know…4 out of 10 movies you reviewed, you liked. That’s why Statesman’s Journal finally went a different direction. Short lived though.

  6.  by  Bobby

    Hey there, first time commenter….I agree with this review wholeheartedly!! I felt like the build-up to our first look at the big guy was exciting and I actually clapped like a little kid when I first saw him. It made me feel the same way that the original ones did so many years ago!! And the San Fran comment was a joke, peeps…stop being so uptight 🙂

  7.  by  Christy Lemire

    Hi, Bobby — thanks very much for sharing your thoughts, and welcome!

  8.  by  Slof Anster

    I was so pleased that we didn’t get Monster vs Monster for an hour worth of the movie. The slow burn was the correct approach, and when we finally see Godzilla enter the scene, it is AWESOME. The first time we got to see him fully I nearly wet myself with glee. The way Godzilla dispatches of the last MUTO was epic.

    I don’t think it was a great movie, but it certainly was a good one that I just may go see again. It’s a movie that works better in a theater I believe.

    7.5/10 rating.

  9.  by  Michael Tamaka

    Godzilla 2014

    Christy, your Pompeii comment is epic! One of the best lines I’ve heard from a reviewer in recent memory. Kudos to you!
    The new Godzilla tries to put back some of the gravitas of the original 1954 film that started all of this. Not the US version with Raymond Burr, nor the numerous comical incarnations of the character over the years, but the uncut Japanese version with sub-titles. See the Criterion version of this iconic film. It is beautifully restored from very damaged original elements!
    I think the weakness of this new, visually stunning version, aside from the scenes with Brody and his wife, is the emphasis on the military which tends to make emotional content less than three dimensional (pun included).
    There is more of a focus on the human cost in the original film which has a depth that American fantasy films rarely equal. At one point in Tokyo’s destruction, a mother and child amid the rubble, facing imminent death from Godzilla says to her child, “Soon you will be with your father…” One doesn’t expect such a touching scene in a monster movie! This is what makes the original powerful – not the good-for-the-time special effects, which pale in comparison to this new, visually awesome version, but the human story. After all the Japanese know about real nuclear devastation and Americans haven’t endured two atomic bombs dropped upon their cities. For Godzilla embodies both the unstoppable force of Nature and the unnatural power of the atomic bomb.
    This is what makes the Godzilla 2014

    Christy, your Pompeii comment is epic! One of the best lines I’ve heard from a reviewer in recent memory. Kudos to you!
    The new Godzilla tries to put back some of the gravitas of the original 1954 film that started all of this. Not the US version with Raymond Burr, nor the numerous comical incarnations of the character over the years, but the uncut Japanese version with sub-titles. See the Criterion version of this iconic film. It is beautifully restored from very damaged original elements!
    I think the weakness of this new, visually stunning version, aside from the scenes with Brody and his wife, is the emphasis on the military which tends to make emotional content less than three dimensional (pun included).
    There is more of a focus on the human cost in the original film which has a depth that American fantasy films rarely equal. At one point in Tokyo’s destruction, a mother and child amid the rubble, facing imminent death from Godzilla says to her child, “Soon you will be with your father…” One doesn’t expect such a touching scene in a monster movie! This is what makes the original powerful – not the good-for-the-time special effects, which pale in comparison to this new, visually awesome version, but the human story. After all the Japanese know about real nuclear devastation and Americans haven’t endured two atomic bombs dropped upon their cities. For Godzilla embodies both the unstoppable force of Nature and the unnatural power of the atomic bomb.
    This is what makes the original Godzilla still worth a look today.
    P. S. Don’t you just love the way the new Godzilla inhales, puffing up his chest before letting loose with his iconic atomic breath!

      •  by  Michael Tanaka

        You bet, Jake! The new Godzilla’s so big, he needs double space!
        You bet, Jake! The new Godzilla’s so big, he needs double space!
        (Sorry, but I just had to do this…!)

  10.  by  Justin Barfield

    Hey Christie, you might not remember me but I left a comment on your review of Prisoners a while back. Anyway, I agree with a lot of what you have to say here. Godzilla (the kaiju) is fantastic! He truly is the King of the Monsters here! At three hundred fifty feet of scales, muscles, and atomic breath, he is a most impressive beast. The MUTOs are great, too, though not as impressive. Good cinematography, too, but the acting seemed hit and miss to me. I agree Taylor wasn’t the most interesting lead either (doesn’t help that Cranston played his father). Watanabe was…strange to me. Had some good lines, but kept walking around like a slack-jawed shell-shocked veteran. Maybe it was the writing, but something about him didn’t work out for me this go-round. The slow-burn worked in making Godzilla intimidating, but also seemed to big down the pacing a little. I thought the film was 20 minutes too long. Overall, good movie but not a masterpiece.

    I’m actually in the process of writing my own review of Godzilla on my blog. When I’m done, would you be willing to take a look at it and give me some feedback? I can always use some constructive criticism!

  11.  by  harry

    This was the greatest motion picture of all time and always will be.

  12.  by  Ian

    This is a hit I guarantee a sequel

  13.  by  Solomon

    THIS MOVIE WAS HORRIBLE!!!! Did anyone actually watch it? The actors sucked, the plot sucked, and that you actually compared any part of this to jaws is a travesty!

    •  by  James

      I did see it and it was awesome especially the ending.

    •  by  Ripple

      Finally, someone said it! I was beginning to think that everyone has lost their minds. I will never understand people going to see an action movie and don’t want to see action. You can’t call a movie Godzilla and the cut the scene every time he shows up and is about to do his thing. That’s who Godzilla is. He’s the unlikely hero. He comes in, kicks butt, and he leaves. I couldn’t even finish the movie bc it sucked so bad. I heard there was a fight scene at the end but even that sucked. And what’s with the monsters moving in slow motion? Just bc something is big doesn’t mean it has to be slow. Ridiculously boring movie.

  14.  by  KJ

    Damn, I was going to take a pass on this movie, but now I’m going to give it a go and avoid the long opening night lines for X-men.
    A two movie weekend is a great thing!

  15.  by  Jeannie

    Great review Christie! I too thought of Jaws when I realized that the director was using Godzilla in small, but powerful doses. There were indeed great visuals (the parachuting scene was among my favorite, and the visual of only Godzilla’s scales breaking the surface of the ocean). The acting of Bryan Cranston (very well known for his amazing acting chops on TV), Juliette Binoche and and David Strathairn were much appreciated and brought some cred to the film. Overall, I enjoyed the film for what it was … a great popcorn movie. And what monster movie can be delivered without cheesy suspension of disbelief?

    I live in San Francisco and chuckled at your humorous jab … half winced too because I wish second wave of a tech boom didn’t have such a negative affect on those of us who have lived here for a long time and invested in the sense of community here — it’s led to the displacement of long time residents because of higher rents. The techies represent only a portion of the City, not all of it. The City and the Greater Bay Area has much to offer. The people I know here are kind, creative, and welcoming … so come on up!

  16.  by  Chris R.

    Christy, I agree one hundred percent that the sequence of them jumping off the plane into the smoky unknown with those trailing red flares set to the eerie monolith music from 2001 (Liszt?) was a stand-out. That was my favorite scene of the film hands down, and oddly enough, the same scene was used for the first trailer.

  17.  by  Caddy

    If ya’ll don’t all behave I’m going send Mr. Godzilla after you. (I’ve got his cell number.)

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  19.  by  Jakester

    I look forward to a sequel with Godzilla taking on Mothra. I hope those “Mothra Twins” are in it too!