I’m convinced that there’s somebody out there with the ability to deliver an entertaining, intelligent and awe-inspiring take on the King of Monsters. Unfortunately, Monsters helmer Gareth Edwards, seemingly a smart choice for such an undertaking, hasn’t managed to do that in this summer’s Godzilla. Not at all. Instead of succeeding as a jaw-dropping, crowd-pleasing spectacle, this blockbuster is almost shockingly bad.
Settling down to watch Godzilla, I was genuinely excited to see what Edwards, whose Monsters was a refreshingly intelligent take on the genre, had done with such a cinematic icon. After our own Matt Donato raved about the pic, awarding it four-and-a-half stars, my expectations were high. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe I was expecting too much from Godzilla. Or maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood. But somehow, I don’t think those explanations cut it.
After all, I haven’t encountered a screenplay this insultingly dumb in a long while, and when a movie called Godzilla keeps that King of Monsters himself off-screen for almost an hour, there’s something seriously wrong. Edwards’ intentions in using actors to ground the monster-on-monster melees may have been pure, but the failure of the script to humanize characters or make them appealing (let alone to deliver a single plot point without glaring continuity flaws and breaks in logic) leaves his movie high and dry.
What’s most surprising about Godzilla is that even the anticipated throwdowns between the title monster and two Cloverfield-esque MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, an acronym that makes no sense considering that one of them spends a lot of the movie flying around) are lacking. Yes, there are a few kick-ass moments in there (and, to be fair, there are a handful of really kick-ass scenes in Godzilla), but I was expecting so much more than smoke-choked, sometimes completely disorienting snippets of the creatures’ brawls. One key fight sequence is entirely absent, with only a seconds-long excerpt of it viewed on someone’s television set.
Such cop-outs are absolutely infuriating. Though budget must have been a concern for Edwards, surely he could have reigned in some of the crumbling buildings and cut some of the bigger actors (Bryan Cranston does almost nothing, and his part could have been filled by a far less zeitgeisty actor) in order to show us more of the actual monsters.
That’s not to say that Edwards’ direction completely fails the film. On the contrary, three scenes tower above the rest as examples of how to expertly build tension with what’s outside of the camera’s view as much as what’s within it. A nighttime attack on a train bridge is absolutely heart-stopping, while I couldn’t help but get chills during one part of the climactic battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs, when the King himself opens his mighty jaws to drown an opponent in blue flame. Best of all, though, is a scene in which protagonist Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, terrible here at everything other than breathing heavily) is deployed into a monster-battered city via HALO jump. That sequence finds Edwards and his team at their undisputed best – it’s a bona fide, heart-in-mouth masterpiece made all the more jaw-dropping by all the junk surrounding it.
Scenes like that make you wonder what Edwards could have done with an even halfway intelligent script and hope for a truly great Godzilla 2. Or at least something better than this first outing. As it stands, the new Godzilla was awful enough to kill any nostalgia I may have once possessed for the big ol’ beastie.
As much as I disliked the film, there’s no denying that Legendary put together a stellar video/audio package for Godzilla. The 1080p high-definition transfer is a prime example of a studio blockbuster Blu-Ray done absolutely right. The image is sharp in all the right places, with particular attention given to the most minute features of Godzilla, the MUTOs and the human characters. That a movie can operate on a scale as massive of this and still provide such immaculate detail is incredible. Though there’s a definite sense that Godzilla would be best viewed on a massive IMAX screen, this home video transfer is the best that audiences could have asked for.
The same goes for the monstrous 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which is truly magnificent and perhaps one of the strongest audio experiences on the Blu-Ray platform to date. Crisp dialogue delivery and natural background noise strengthen Godzilla‘s gritty visual realism, but the real jaw-droppers come during the battle sequences. The track ably manipulates hundreds of mighty sounds, from crunching pavement to screaming citizens to Godzilla’s terrifying roar, blending them together into an undeniably gorgeous and beguiling audio track.
The special features on the Godzilla Blu-Ray are modest but still intriguing and well put-together:
- MONARCH: Declassified
- Operation: Lucky Dragon (2:44)
- MONARCH: The M.U.T.O. File (4:29)
- The Godzilla Revelation (7:25)
- The Legendary Godzilla
- Godzilla: Force of Nature (19:18)
- A Whole New Level of Destruction (8:24)
- Into the Void: The H.A.L.O. Jump (5:00)
- Ancient Enemy: The M.U.T.O.s (6:49)
“MONARCH: Declassified” includes three nifty vignettes that add little to the film. “Operation: Lucky Dragon” is about MONARCH’s early days and how the group first encountered Godzilla, while “MONARCH: The M.U.T.O. File” is more modern and covers the MUTOs seen in Godzilla. Finally, “The Godzilla Revelation” is told from the perspective of a documentary filmmaker living during the cataclysmic events of the movie.
The real behind-the-scenes stuff is contained in “The Legendary Godzilla,” with “Force of Nature” being the most extensive and enjoyable piece. Cast and crew discuss everything from their thoughts on the King of Monsters to Edwards’ strengths behind the camera, with some delivering some surprising well-thought-out insights. “A Whole New Level of Destruction,” as its title would suggest, covers shooting locations and creating a lot of the massive, monster-sized mayhem seen in Godzilla. “Into the Void: The H.A.L.O. Jump” is my favorite featurette, simply because it sheds more light on the movie’s best scene, exploring every aspect of it. Finally, there’s “Ancient Enemy: The M.U.T.O.s,” which explains why the creatures (who were original creations for the movie) were chosen as Godzilla’s opponents and how they were designed.
I was dissatisfied with Godzilla as a whole. Visually and sonically overpowering though it may be, the story at the heart of this monster pic is one of the weakest in recent memory. If you can look past all of the egregious dialogue and nonsensical story, Godzilla might be a more pleasurable experience for you than it was for me. Still, is it so unreasonable to want a Godzilla movie that blends monster-on-monster madness with a genuinely interesting and intelligent plot? For all its sound and fury, this new Godzilla is perhaps even more empty than the accursed Matthew Broderick version.
Only stunning in its scale and visual spectacle, this new Godzilla is brutally undercut by a laughable script and a misguided focus on puny humans and not the King of Monsters himself.