The 2014 second attempt to get an American Godzilla right was, well, much, much better. Handing the work off to director Gareth Edwards was a smart thing to do. As he also demonstrated with Rogue One, Edwards has an eye for showcasing large things in a manner that gives them power and beauty at the same time. This may be the closest we ever come to an arthouse Godzilla. And that’s a good thing, because this really isn’t an arthouse Godzilla either.
In many ways, Edwards produced a movie that was as much a tribute or homage to classic Godzilla movies as he did create a viable monster movie for the American audience. This was a Godzilla that, once again, could ignore any sort of attack, was attracted to radiation, and had the trademark roar and radioactive fire breath. He battles other giant monsters, there are crowds fleeing his advance, and wrecks all kinds of havoc on the human cities he visits. And, when he’s finished saving the day, he simply gets up and lumbers back into the ocean until whenever he decides to come back. If there’s a difference, it’s that Godzilla, undisputed good guy here, gets applause from the people of San Fransisco when he leaves for taking care of business the way he always does.
But as with most classic Godzilla films, Godzilla is barely in the movie. We see more of his antagonists, a mating pair of monsters called the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects, though one has wings). And, as always, we spend a lot of time with some largely forgettable human characters, most notably Army Bomb Disposal Expert Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who actually does prove instrumental in helping Godzilla while not quite getting killed. He’s trying to get back to his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen, making Avengers: Age of Ultron a little weird if you want it to be) and son after going to see his presumably crazy dad Joe (Bryan Cranston, also barely in the movie). There’s also a Japanese scientist played by Ken Watanabe, and briefly we see Joe’s wife Sandra as played by French actress Juliette Binoche, who between this and Ghost in the Shell, seems to be the go-to French actress for American remakes of Japanese sci-fi movies.
But the real star, after Godzilla, is Edwards. How do you make a 300 foot or so tall monster mysterious? Show him from the perspective of the relatively tiny humans around him. Show him coming out of the fog, or looming in the darkness, and showing only parts of him because that’s all that fits into the human perspective. That works. Much like some of the shots of Rogue One‘s Death Star, Godzilla comes across as downright cinematically beautiful at times. Despite minimal screen time for a movie that bears his name, he still felt like a terrifyingly real presence throughout the movie, and that’s no mean feat.
I really enjoyed this one. Nine out of ten smaller animals running from giant monsters.