I was into plenty of nerdy crap growing up, but I never got into the Godzilla movies at any point in my childhood, despite having them constantly showing up on Saturday afternoon TV and always staring me in the face at the video store. I don’t think I ever actually sat through any of the old Toho Godzilla films, not even the original, at any point. In fact, as ashamed as I am to admit this, the first Godzilla movie I ever watched was the 1998 abomination starring Matthew Broderick. So my introduction to the King of the Monsters was, uh…misguided.
Nonetheless, I had been enthusiastically looking forward to Gareth Edwards’s reboot of the big fella ever since the first trailer hit last year. Despite not ever getting into the franchise as a kid, I was excited for this one for the simple fact that it promised to satisfy my recurring need to see giant monsters beating the hell out of each other for two hours on a big screen. On that level, it most definitely succeeded.
Godzilla brings the big, bad King of the Monsters back to his roots, and plays less like a reboot of the franchise and more like a loving tribute to the many Toho films that featured the characters throughout the decades. The standard elements are all here: the monster-fueled mayhem, the massive destruction of entire cities, the fleeing hordes of people, and the scientists and military personnel who throw in everything but the kitchen sink in a totally unsuccessful attempt to kill the big guy. It’s a Godzilla movie at heart, and a vast improvement over the 1998 Roland Emmerich version that was basically a crappy Jurassic Park sequel (thankfully, the real Godzilla kicked the crap out of that lame guy a few years ago).
While Godzilla contains the requisite amount of monster mayhem, it’s also refreshingly grounded, or at least as grounded as a movie about a giant, fire-breathing lizard can possibly be. As opposed to the general mindfuckery of many of the Toho movies, this film presents a fairly realistic setting in Tokyo and San Francisco, and drops monsters into it, with its human characters acting pretty much as you’d expect them to. There are no magic pixies or trips to Monster Island. Godzilla doesn’t fly to the moon to save the Earth from aliens. The film lives up to the standards of the monster flick without wandering into the completely ridiculous or cliched, and that’s why it works well.
Director Edwards also channels his inner Spielberg by holding of on showing Godzilla in full until the second half of the film. Some fans were put off by this, but I thought it helped build up our expectations for when he finally arrived and started tearing shit up. In movies like this, you can’t really reveal too much too early, or else the film can become monotonous and lack suspense. By not playing his cards too early, Edwards keeps his audience in anticipation until the inevitable final confrontation between Godzilla and the film’s other gigantic monsters, and boy is it a doozy.
Godzilla is a solid three star film, a giant monster movie at heart, but made with enough skill and faithfulness to the original material to let it rise above something more than throwaway summer movie junk. After so many decades, it’s nice to see the big guy finally get an American-produced film worthy of his name. And Cranston. There will always be Cranston.