As one of 2014’s most anticipated movies, it’s fair to say that Gareth Edwards’ reboot of Godzilla arrives with a myriad of expectations. Believe it or not, it meets them. As good old-fashioned retro blockbusters go, this amazing movie easily trumps the hackneyed hell’s-a-poppin’ approach of a Michael Bay or a McG. Instead, Edwards channels a standard bearing stalwart behind the lens, and for once, the comparison to a certain Spielberg is justified. By building up his spectacle, layer by layer, this action adventure epic neophyte has crafted a calling card for his future career prospects. Some in the short attention span demographic might disagree with his solid, slow-burn ideals, but the end result is truly spectacular.
Our story begins in the ’50s, where we learn the Cold War nuclear arms race (and resulting Pacific island bomb tests) were really a way of keeping a certain giant lizard at bay. Fast forward to 1995 and we see two parallel plotlines. One features Doctors Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) discovering more oversized creatures buried beneath the Earth’s surface. The other follows a nuclear engineer named Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandy (Juliette Binoche) as the unexpected victims of this Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism’s rage. Skip again to present day and the M.U.T.O. is now on the move, headed toward San Francisco. Dr. Serizawa believes that Godzilla can help destroy the beast. In the meantime, the Brodys’ son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) agrees to use his military training (he’s an EOD specialist) to help end these humongous horrors’ reign of terror, even as the creatures threaten his wife (Elizabeth Olson) and son.
There’s a lot going on in Edwards’ wondrous Godzilla. We have the whole rewriting of movie myth (the creature as contained by, not created from, the various A-bomb tests), the introduction of new monsters, the whole Brody family backstory and its present-day impact on the various characters, not to mention the top-notch action sequences. There’s depth here, as well as tradition, and the two come together to make this one of the best giant creature features ever. That Edwards can also direct the hell out of a big beast beatdown is just the icing on this particularly potent popcorn entertainment’s cake. Using each unique set-piece as a means of building tension and anticipation, we get brilliantly executed moments of what made us love this oversized Toho terror in the first place.
In fact, Edwards does a magnificent job of balancing the needs of the characters with the demands of a 2014 viewer. Sure, he could have unleashed the creatures sooner, but that would have taken away much of the movie’s awe and majesty. It would also have taken time away from our characters, each of whom deliver their motives with meaning and sincerity. This is especially true of Cranston and Watanabe. They are two sides of the same scientist, men who want to prove to everyone else that they are not crazy or creating conspiracies in their heads. Their ideas are “out there,” but if the powers that be had listened to them in the first place, we wouldn’t have skyscraper-sized dangers destroying the planet.
It all you want is eye candy and lots of it delivered with little concern for character or creativity, don’t worry. There’s another comic book flick or Transformers movie coming down the pipeline in the next few months. If you want to see spectacle done in a manner that made the blockbuster what it is today, Godzilla is the film for you. Not only does it meet its pre-hype expectations, it easily exceeds them.