Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Godzilla Brings Monsters To Life

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Bryan Cranston in a great monster mashup.

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Warner Bros.

There are some familiar themes floating around in the epic wreckage of Godzilla–fathers and sons, maternal devotion, puny humans and their technological insufficiency in the face of undreamt-of natural horrors. All that stuff.

Mainly, though, there are monsters. And they're pretty great.

Gareth Edwards, an English digital-effects specialist, was handed the task of rebooting the 60-year-old Godzilla franchise on the basis of his one previous feature, the micro-budget indie Monsters. He was clearly the man for the job. His updated take on the radioactive behemoth rolled out by the Toho film factory in 1954 is admirably faithful to the atom-age original, from its skyscraper-swatting tail to its earth-shaking roar and iconic blasts of fire-breath. Edwards' Godzilla is taller and bulkier (and maybe angrier) than the Toho prototype. We don't see much of him until the second half of the movie, but when he finally does rumble into view we realize that, compared to the rival leviathans against which he's pitted here, he's actually one of the good guys. Well, apart from his careless disregard for buildings and whatnot.

The story begins in the Philippines in 1999 (the year after the last Godzilla, directed by Roland Emmerich–a dreadful picture to which this one makes no reference). Here we meet two scientists, Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Graham (Sally Hawkins), who discover something very big and scary amid the subterranean rubble of a collapsed mine. Meanwhile, at a nuclear plant outside of Tokyo, two other scientists, Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) are worrying about recurrent earth tremors. Higher-ups are dismissing these as simple earthquake aftershocks, but Joe is convinced they're something much worse. He's proven right when whatever it is that's struggling to emerge from underground destroys the whole facility, kills Sandra and leaves Joe a single father to his son, Ford (CJ Adams).

Fifteen years later–now, in other words–Ford (played from this point by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, of the Kick-Ass movies) has grown up to be a Navy ordnance specialist, living in San Francisco with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their own little boy. Ford is called to rejoin his father, who's still living in Tokyo, where the tremors have started up again. Although the site of the old nuclear plant has been under government quarantine ever since its destruction, Joe is convinced this is just a coverup – and once again, he's right. "You have no idea what's coming," he says, with what might in other circumstances be written off as crackpot conviction.

The movie wastes no time in bringing on its two most terrifying creatures, the MUTOs–Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms. These are enormous insectoid reptiles whose razory, goo-dripping teeth strongly recall the titular monstrosity of the Alien movies. The MUTOs have been hatched from "parasitic spores" (whatever) and they feed on radioactive nuclear material – any kind will do. Now they're seeking to mate and reproduce and build a nest somewhere (San Francisco sounds nice). There's a tremendous action scene in Honolulu, with one MUTO rising up out of the sea near an aircraft carrier and triggering a tidal wave that crashes through the city. Then there's a snack break at Nevada's Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, followed by a visit to Las Vegas, where the phrase "high roller" acquires new meaning.

By this point, the U.S. Navy has taken charge of the monster situation, and the head officer, Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn), has decided the solution is to just nuke 'em. We know that's the worst possible approach, but when have military men in monster movies ever gotten this sort of thing right?

It's a serviceable story, keeping the action grounded in human feeling. And the actors are fine, even if their characters lack much depth (they say things like "It's not the end of the world" and "Where's Godzilla?"). Director Edwards, however, is all about the action, and he has a real gift for it. The movie offers a thrilling procession of set-piece scenes–chaotic subway attacks, thunderous jungle confrontations–and some spectacular imagery (especially the shots of MUTOs chewing up trains and biting into bridges). And when Godzilla wades into the fray to take on the rampaging MUTOs, a new standard is set for movie monster battles.

What makes the picture so much fun is that, while a lot of what we're seeing is obviously digitally confected, it never feels like standard CGI–we don't get that stale sensation of watching gobs of money being pelted at the screen. Edwards' monsters have weight and dimension–they're convincing in a rare way. And he spares us the usual blockbuster bloat – the movie clocks in at a brisk two hours, and then takes its leave. Edwards will almost certainly be called upon to direct a sequel to this film, and he's been reported to have an eye on remaking the 1968 Toho classic Destroy All Monsters. This would give him an opportunity to reconstitute such vintage creatures as Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah–which is to say, what an excellent idea.

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  1. gong to see this tonight. Pretty stoked actually

  2. MST3K ruined 1990s TV-airings of Destroy All Monsters.

  3. What do you think Kurt – see it in the theater or wait for the dvd/cable release?

    1. I think this the kind of spectacle you have to see on the big screen.

  4. I like the homage to Andromeda Strain where nuking the microbes would have contaminated the entire earth.

    1. What was really great about that was the nuclear detonation was the “fail safe” set up in advance to prevent contamination and it had to be deactivated. Oh the hubris!

  5. Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn), has decided the solution is to just nuke ’em.

    Seven posts already, and nobody has made the obvious Aliens joke. You guys are slipping!

    1. I’d prefer to make reference to the best character in that movie and just proclaim, “Game Over, man! GAME OVER!”

      1. Incorrect.

        “They mostly come at night… Mostly.”

  6. Saw it last night.

    As fun as so much of it was, the backstory/lovestory was so cliched and hard to sit through, it almost wasn’t worth it.

    Watching homie interact with his wife made me wish they’d remade Johnny Sokko instead.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmddZsOBcPQ

    1. Johnny Socko got back together for a reunion concert last October. Wish I made the trip.
      http://youtu.be/DjUsguBX4Qw

  7. Oh, also, somebody should critique the PSAs before the previews start.

    There was a PSA before the movie last night that had a collection of movie stars–plus Joe Biden and Barack Obama! It was this one:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLIHSfqTlQw

    It takes a bold and original stance against…rape.

    I’m as much against rape as the next guy, but I kinda resent the hell out of being told not to rape people before my Godzilla movies.

    It’s not just the Orwellian vibe of it either. A chick wanted me to go with her to see it, and now I got the government talking to her about how anybody can be raped anywhere, at any time, apparently, by anybody!

    And here I was trying to make the case that we should go to a party this weekend! I swear to God, I’ve never raped anybody, never wanted to rape anybody, never thought about rapin’ anybody…

    I have a friend at the beach. He’s having a housewarming party. There’s gonna be a barbeque. I thought it would be fun! Now I’m a suspect? What feminist presumed my guilt and decided to pay for that?

    Oh, those ads are paid for by whitehouse.gov? For a second there, I was worried that was my money they were spending!

    1. So basically Joe and Barack cock-blocked you? Damn that sucks.

      1. unless of course all the stupid rape crying subtly reminds her of sex in general and ends up eventually getting her horny

        that’s all this rape culture and feminism B.S. is, it’s the new sex psychosis, the catholicim of the 90’s. “Feminists” are either chicks who got dumped by a guy, or who could never get a guy, but can’t admit to themselves they’re horny and lovelorn

        1. *the catholicism of the 2000’s

    2. I wonder if his next psa is going to advocate concealed carry?

    3. We get those PSAs here in Tokyo before the movie. “Noh means Noh”.

      1. No means yes. Yes means anal.

    4. Why won’t you he-demons just stop raping women? Didn’t anyone ever teach you that rape is wrong?

    5. “I’m as much against rape as the next guy, but I kinda resent the hell out of being told not to rape people before my Godzilla movies.”

      I usually wait until the movie’s done myself.

  8. Thank god(zilla)

    The world really needed this to wash away the shit that is Pacific Rim.

  9. -two hours isn’t short

    -fuck you, Loder, the ’90s Godzilla was good in it’s own right, for what it was, a feel-good, not-so-serious adventure movie

    1. Are you talking about the one where King Kong battled Godzilla to save his pregnant girlfriend, who had a baby Kong?

      They could have made it better, though! If they’d had Ultraman fighting Johnnie Sakko’s Flying Robot and Alien vs. Predator–interrupting a battle between Dracula and Frankenstein. …when suddenly the Wolfman makes an entrance and starts jacking up everybody’s shit!

      And there should be pirates and ninjas and light sabres.

      1. Yeah! If Captain Jack Sparrow’s crew had light sabers, then all those tedious sword battles with the unbeatable undead pirates might have had some sort of meaning and a less predictable outcome. Holy shit, those got old fast.

      2. what? no. Wasn’t Loder talking about the Matthew Broderick one?

    2. I’m just surprised that Loder spared the usual crap about how a pop culture monster movie just doesn’t stack up against the eurotrash arthouse legend 28 timer stirre p? en v?g.

    3. “the ’90s Godzilla was good in it’s own right, for what it was, a feel-good, not-so-serious adventure movie”

      It really, really wasn’t. I saw that movie on an overnight bus ride to Sydney. It made the overnight bus ride to Sydney worse.

  10. I was wondering if Gojira himself were going to comment on this. One would suspect it, given the self-interest. Then again, Loder probably reviewed Noah and some of the other religious movies and I don’t think I made one peep. Sometimes a guy just needs to get away from office talk.

  11. Good lord…how many times are they going to keep recycling the same tired old films.

    How many times has Godzilla been remade? 3?
    How many times has Spider-Man been rebooted? 3?
    Same thing with Superman? 3?

    Our culture is so bereft of any originality…we may as well surrender to Saudi Arabia and get it over with.

    1. Or just go see The Immigrant. For every Godzilla that gets released, there are 2-3 movies made by people working hard to make an interesting film.

      Or just rent Mud, or George Washington, or Walkabout. Or any of the thousand great movies nobody has seen.

      If you don’t want to live in Saudi Arabia, don’t live like a Saudi Arabian.

  12. Casting the stars of Kick Ass and Breaking Bad is pretty much like flashing a gang tattoo to Libertarians. I will probably actually see this monster movie in theaters.

  13. Meh, I didn’t like it

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