Godzilla has always seemed to have some trouble when Hollywood takes the reins. 1998’s misguided spectacle is the pinnacle of this. Gareth Edwards and his team opted to take a step back. They did not, of course, go with the “Man in Rubber Suit” approach…but their digital Godzilla is far more in line with the traditional Godzilla.
Starting in 1999, there is a mysterious and horrifying event at a nuclear power plant in Janjira, Japan. American employee Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife (Juliette Binoche) in the event, while his relationship with his son Ford becomes estranged as the years pass and Cranston’s obsession with the accident grows. In 2014, Ford is in the military and returning home to his wife and son. He gets a call that his father (still in Japan) has been arrested. The location of the event is off limits to the public, due to claims of radiation. Joe convinces Ford to explore Janjira one more time…and they discover a a secret research facility and some large monster referred to as a Muto that appears to be in hibernation. Of course, it wakes up and starts seeking it’s other half.
This results in the awakening of something else that comes in to fight these giants. You know…Godzilla. Godzilla is setup in this film as the hero, with no questions by the end of how people see him.
Edwards takes a very slow reveal approach. This serves the film well, making it very satisfying when the audience gets to see Godzilla in full monster lizard glory. At the same time, the film’s primary focus is on Ford and nurse (and wife) Elle. And honestly? They are tremendously boring characters. So, when the film does not have Cranston or Ken Watanabe or Godzilla on screen, things get dull fast.
The opening credits are really nicely done, giving the audience old news reels indicating the existence of monsters…we get brief hints of Godzilla (mostly his back-plates) and evidence the military attempted to kill him.
Overall, the story is pretty simple, giant monsters appear and fight and cause destruction. It is a fairly strong attempt to capture the feel of older Godzilla films, and in some ways does it smashingly well. It is the centering of Ford and Elle that lacks any emotional punch that is needed in a film like this. What makes it a bit more disappointing is Cranston and Binoche do have chemistry that makes them compelling…and they pull it off in about ten minutes of screen time.