While Godzilla isn’t necessarily a good film, it’s not a bad film either. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s not even just one film. I’d say it’s two films, each serving a different purpose with a different result. The first film, the one with the character development and real story, is at the beginning. This is the part where Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody) is actually the star he is being touted as. This is a short film about a father and son dealing with a familial tragedy. It starts 15 years in the past when Brody is the chief at a nuclear power plant in Japan when something goes horribly, tragically wrong. Then, when we hit present day, it really blossoms into a smaller film, a story about redemption and forgiveness and what it means to be both a parent and a child, often in relation to the same person. This is NOT a monster film. This is a more intimate social drama.
It’s in the second film where the monsters come out to play. That second film starts at the point the bad guy insect creature is hatched and Bryan Cranston is (spoiler alert) killed. At this point, the film switches in to action movie mode with Brody’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnson) now a grown up military man with a family of his own taking center stage. This is also about the same time you first hear the name Gojira (Godzilla) uttered because now we’re actually about to start watching the monster movie we paid good bucks to see. And as a monster movie, it’s okay. There’s not a lot of character development (or really a whole lot of narrative sense) but the monsters are great!
I think the film really nails the original concept of Godzilla as the avenging good guy, the one who is there to help save us from the folly of our post atomic ways. And, amazingly, for a 300 foot tall CGI creature who rampages through cities… the animators still do an impressive job of making it look like a guy in a suit. Sure, it’s a fully articulated, undulating muscular suit, but a suit nonetheless. The battle scenes are fabulous and the enemy monster, a weird, radiation eating mantis like figure is exactly what the original Toho studios would have done had they technology to pull it off.
As a special shout out, the destruction of the Vegas Strip was rather fun to see. Doesn’t make a lot of sense that the creature would go that way to get to San Francisco (unless they were following the highway for some inexplicable reason) but who can pass up the opportunity to wreck havoc on Sin City? It’s been destroyed so often Los Angeles is getting jealous.
To be fair, the film has been getting its share of criticism for being slow and boring. I think if you approach it the way I’ve outlined here, as two different films, you’ll see it works much better and you won’t be nearly as bored. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with the next one. The door is open and the groundwork already laid so in two or so years, when Godzilla 2 comes out, I’d say they’re gonna hit the ground with both barrels blazing and then everyone will get the monster movie they deserve.