REVIEW: Godzilla (2014)

Reviewed by Mike Palovcsik

Just past the midway point of the new 'Godzilla' movie, my sister turned to me and said "this movie is the worst." I disagree with her, but in fairness, she hasn't actually seen Spike Lee's version of 'Oldboy'. This movie is at least close to the worst.

It's 1999, and Joe and Sandy Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) live with their son Ford in Japan where they both work at a nuclear power plant, which, to keep things timely, suffers an accident. Taking a page out of Hitchcock's playbook, the director uses this incident to kill off Binoche early in the movie, and now we're down one Academy Award winning actress for the duration. 

Fast-forward 15 years, and Ford is now an explosive device technician in the military, living in the Bay Area with his wife and son. His dad, still mourning the loss of his wife in the nuclear accident, remained in Japan, obsessively sniffing around for clues -- all 'Beautiful Mind' style -- as to the cause of the tragedy. Ford needs to fly to Japan to help bail his dad out of some trouble, and in the process, gets into more trouble with his dad, which, to keep the plot moving, allows them both into the inner shell of a secret scientific complex at the site of the now defunct nuclear plant.

Because this film has a few scenes set in Japan, it inevitably stars Ken Watanabe, here as scientist Dr. Ishiro Serizawa who is overseeing the gestation, in this complex, of a massive dormant creature. Aha! Something WAS amiss, just as Joe had suspected. And it doesn't take long for that creature to hatch, destroy a bunch of CGI stuff, and escape, killing Joe in the process. But no worries, Ford is still around. Despite having not seen his father in years, and having had all of 15 minutes to get up to speed on his crackpot conspiracy theories, he is now the perfect subject matter expert to assist Serizawa in tracking the monster and saving the world. Thankfully, he had packed his military uniform and can just hop on aircraft carrier and take care of business. So, if you're following the body count, this leaves Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as Ford, to carry the rest of the movie, and that is not a good thing.

Next stop: Paradise. En route to Hawaii, we learn that the escaped monster is a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (MUTO). This ancient beast feeds off of radioactive material, and has been hibernating in the earth for years, given that it has been hunted by a still-larger monster. Also, they think it is communicating with another life form due to some seismic readings that the scientific team and the late Joe Brody had observed. Once docked in the South Pacific, we find the MUTO snacking on a Russian nuclear submarine, and Watanabe is about to give the big reveal. Now, let me state for the record that I respect(ed) him tremendously as an actor and still remember his nuanced performance in 'Letters From Iwo Jima'. In this movie, I'll never be able to forget the embarrassing way at this point that he reveals to the room, and the audience, the name of the monster in an overly dramatic whisper. And at said point in the movie, we're JUST seeing the title monster's form for the first time, and we're well past the midpoint, and that's when I observed at least five people leave the theater, having yet to catch a glimpse of Godzilla.

Well, Godzilla IS hunting this MUTO, and a heck of a flight breaks out on the island. But for the record, in three visits I've made to Honolulu, I've never actually seen it look much better than it did in the post-battle carnage, anyway. Seriously. One night I walked form my hotel to a Banana Republic about a quarter mile away to buy a tie and was offered crystal meth at least four times. But I digress. By this point, the crack squad of scientific experts have theorized that the MUTO is probably communicating with another MUTO elsewhere. Meanwhile, this second MUTO has heard the mating call loud and clear from across the ocean, wakes up from her slumber at a nuclear waste disposal site in Nevada, and starts to unleash hell in Las Vegas. And isn't that exactly what that town needed, anyway? Cheers to director Gareth Edwards for leaving San Francisco somewhat intact and just destroying the throwaways.

As the MUTO heads to the City by the Bay for the big hook-up with the female MUTO that just "destroyed" Vegas, Godzilla is in hot pursuit (via water), with the aircraft carrier close at its side. The world's brightest military minds come up with a plan to destroy these monsters with nuclear weapons. Which is odd, since they all acknowledge that they've been trying to do this for years with no success, and in fact, is exactly what the monsters feed off of. Still, they don't stop continually shooting at the gigantic beasts with more conventional weapons like pistols. I couldn't help but laugh recalling the Bob Newhart bit about the security guard on watch at the Empire State Building the night King Kong shows up: "See, there are these planes and they are flying around him...and they are shooting at him and they only seem to be bothering him a little bit, so I figured I wasn't doing too much good with a broom." Sure enough, the MUTOs steal the nuclear weapon and create a nest out of it for their soon-to-arrive baby MUTOs (you see, this is exactly why you don't keep weapons around the house - you're much more likely to have it used against you). But Godzilla shows up to kill the MUTOs, and the Navy gets the nuclear bomb back and detonates it (to kill the nesting MUTOs) which somehow doesn't actually kill any people, despite it exploding about 50 yards offshore. Then Godzilla takes a nap and eventually swims away. And Ford is reunited with his family in a fashion that makes the ending to Spielberg's 'War of the Worlds' feel as tragic as 'Life is Beautiful'.

$3 off coupon for Red Robin...the best thing about seeing Godzilla

$3 off coupon for Red Robin...the best thing about seeing Godzilla

This is the world we live in, folks. This stuff is churned out of Hollywood solely to push $10 tubs of popcorn, nothing more. Relative newcomer Edwards takes the effects-driven formula and checks off every box in his direction here. And despite a talented cast, there is nothing that can be done to save the phoned-in feel of flimsy dialogue and a hit-you-over-the-head "original" score. Alexandre Desplat, who never hits a false note while scoring for the likes of Wes Anderson or Terrence Malick, lifts this one straight from the Hans Zimmer canon (think 'The Rock' only not as good).

What worked:

  • The opening title sequence was one of the best I've ever seen; So, yeah, the movie peaked at four minutes in
  • The filmmakers spared Elizabeth Olson (as Ford's wife) the embarrassment of having much screen time, thereby keeping her likeness generally distanced from this disaster

What didn't work:

  • Apparently, anybody associated with this movie during the making of it

Brass tacks:

As an untrained non-critic, and really just a movie-lover with an Internet connection, I DO go into movies with expectations. I fully expected this movie to be a "D", and then ultimately something in it would charm me or make me gasp and I'd be excited about the beginning of the summer blockbuster season and would give it a "C" for fun. Unfortunately, this one didn't live up to my meager expectations. I waited until posting this to read Danny's review, and it would seem we viewed it through a similar lens. Maybe it's just still too cold in Wisconsin for summer movie season to begin.

F (which was my grade, but also works as an exasperated sigh)

Special note: Danny and I will be using this movie and the 1998 Godzilla film by Roland Emmerich to discuss re-boots, re-makes, and sequels on an upcoming episode of The Spoiler Alert Podcast.  Feel free to leave any suggestions, comments, or questions in the comments section of this post.