We borrowed the most recent Godzilla movie from a friend; the only way I could get through it was taking nonstop notes, which I edited into this lengthy review. The DVD case presents Godzilla as “a Gareth Edwards film,” the first of many production mistakes. Godzilla is a movie, not a film. No one ever says, “I just saw the new Godzilla film—riveting.” On to the review of this two hour train wreck of a movie—sorry, film.
The opening sequence is a montage of prehistoric animal prints, Bikini island maps, clips from other Godzillas, and stock footage of scientists and military brass. It’s an homage to earlier Godzillas, and director Gareth Edwards should have ended the movie right there, while he still had some street cred. Gojira, the actual Japanese name for the monster, was too hard for Americans to pronounce, they mangled it into Godzilla. Studio Toho, maker of all the old Gojira! movies, put their name on this mess too; I’m curious whether the screenplay was rewritten for Japanese audiences (and whether it was written at all, or just computer generated via monster plot algorithm).
This movie is set in ten or twenty locations, starting with the Philippines. A mining disaster unearths a pocket of radiation and sets off repeated small earthquakes. Enter a Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe, the only Japanese character who lives through the movie) and a plucky British scientist (Sally Hawkins), to investigate the abnormal seismic activity. Really all they’re investigating is a giant blue screen; 95% of this movie, including this whole scene, is computer generated images.
Then it’s on to Janjira, Japan, where Mr. Brady (Bryan Cranston, best known as Hal of Breaking Bad) and his family are stressed out; there are unexplained tremors here too. Mr. Brady, an engineer, gives the order to shut down the local nuclear power plant. He somehow seals his wife (Juliet Binoche) inside the exploding reactor core; possibly the language barrier is to blame—although he’s chief engineer of a Japanese nuclear power plant, Mr. Brady doesn’t speak Japanese. Cue the booming explosions, town evacuation, young son left motherless, et cetera. Although Juliet Binoche had five minutes of screen time, the movie touts her name on its cover in a desperate grab at credibility.
Shamelessly playing up fears of Fukushima without offering any meaningful commentary on nuclear power, the action plows ahead fifteen years to modern day San Francisco (although the meltdown scene had seemed like the present—the first of many sloppy edits that left me needlessly confused).
The grownup kid is now a badass American soldier, played by a British actor, Aaron Taylor Johnson. Lt. Brady has just returned home to his wife and son in San Francisco after blowing up some hostiles or other. But poor Lt. Brady is summoned to Tokyo before he gets to second base with his wife; his dad’s at it again. Mr. Brady has been poking around “the Quarantine Zone” of Janjira and Brady Jr. must bail him out of jail. The tense exchange between reunited father and son is like a soggy emotional meatloaf. Also the actors look nothing alike, making their supposed relationship even harder to accept. These kind of drawn out scenes made me miss the early Gojiras, where they didn’t waste time on crappy dialogue, it was just men in monster suits crashing through 1/20th scale Tokyo.
Back to the plot (which is taxing my ability to write concisely): the dad thinks whatever strange seismic activity happened fifteen years ago is happening again, so father and son return to their abandoned CGI city. In their old house, mold and vegetation have destroyed everything except exactly what they’re looking for, floppy disks; these are preserved in mint condition right next to a rotted out computer. They leave the house and immediately get arrested. Lt. Brady is a military special forces guy but gets busted by the one patrol car that goes by all day (noticing any incongruities here?) as earthquakes rumble all around.
They’re taken to the old nuclear power plant, where they meet the Japanese and British scientists from the first scene, who offer paltry explanations of what the hell is going on. Phrases like “electromagnetic pulse” and “backup generator” are tossed about, then it’s revealed that a giant monster is trapped at the power plant. Just when this scene got so boring my ears started to atrophy, the monster escaped (and I instantly rooted for him). This new monster god looks like a robotic praying mantis. He’s of a prehistoric theme, with glowing red eyes and big goofy wings. The plant explodes as he makes his exit, most of the Japanese extras are killed off, and father and son escape their blown-up holding cells.
Suddenly the US army arrives and choppers the Bradys off to a base, I guess (it’s left totally ambiguous). Mr. Brady—mortally wounded in the previous melee—dies in the helicopter; his son, unfortunately, lives on. A note on this actor: he has a total of three facial expressions—stoic, pissed off, and who let one (okay, “suspicious”). In the next scene, forty-five minutes into the movie, the British scientist finally provides some kind of back story, explaining the discovery of the monster (which the military brass call “MUTO: Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object”), then tactfully bows out of the movie. Also, a Russian submarine is missing. Don’t even ask me where this scene takes place–a naval ship? A base? It’s in a dark room with a bunch of low budget jarheads, that’s all I know.
Now the MUTO has flown to Oahu: but…why? The army tracks him there and finds the missing Russian sub in a Hawaiian jungle, hanging from a palm tree (which can easily support the weight of a submarine). It’s revealed that Gojira is also on the move (and they do call him Gojira, once—he’s never actually referred to as Godzilla). Gojira causes a tsunami as he makes land in Hawaii to chase the MUTO, who’s busy destroying an elevated train. Lt. Brady is riding this doomed train, trying to get to the airport and home to his family in San Francisco. The MUTO tears the train in half but its sound system and lights keep working; as bodies careen out of the gutted train car, the loudspeaker says “Please stay clear of the closing doors.” Plot holes you could pilot a Russian sub through.
Moving right along, we learn the MUTO is actually calling another MUTO, lost in the deserts of Nevada. And so the CGI shifts to Las Vegas, where the second MUTO rises from a pile of nuclear waste and skips off to meet its mate. Apparently the monsters have the ability to warp time; the male one gets from Hawaii to the mainland in five minutes. The CGI work is the only reason to watch this movie. Godzilla is dark and fierce, as are the robotic praying mantis monsters, and the dozens of explosions are convincing (in stark contrast to, say, the plot).
Back in the situation room, the military is devising an ingenious plan against the MUTOs: nuclear holocaust. Blowhard army guy #1 offers this suggestion: “Kill them with the sheer force of the blast!” (and that’s one of the better lines). This is the kind of movie where suspense only happens when computer animation silences the inane dialogue. I could have written a better script with a crayon and a roll of toilet paper.
Next, the wise Japanese scientist warns everyone that Gojira is the answer, he’s here to help, but the army brass shuts him up quick (US-Sino commentary? Possibly). They load a nuclear warhead on a train bound for San Francisco (the monsters are converging there; I’ll assume they want to see the statue of St. Francis), and, unbelievably, there’s still another hour to go in this chum bucket of a movie. The military’s plan, if you can call it that, is to bomb San Francisco back to the stone age…frankly, I didn’t care if one character survived.
Then comes the requisite landmark destruction scene; a school bus is stranded on the Golden Gate bridge, right in the path of Gojira (who only wants to get underneath it and on to downtown San Francisco, but the dumb army guys keep shooting at him). Lt. Brady’s son is on this bus, his frightened wife (Elizabeth Olson) is hiding in a BART station. Instead of letting the kids run off the bus and bridge to safety, the military keeps them trapped directly in Gojira’s way. Military incompetence is a possible theme in Godzilla, but the swiss cheese plot keeps this idea safely undeveloped. From here on out, the movie is mostly just people running around mid-spas attack.
After a few more scenes that any respectable film editor would leave on the cutting room floor, it’s time for the smashtastic final showdown. (Around here is where I finished my 22 oz. dark beer, making the last twenty minutes that much longer). Close-up of an army guy’s eyeball juice as a ladies’ choir sings ooooooouuuuuuu. Gojira fights the male monster and the army stupidly sets off the warhead, as MUTO #2, now pregnant, lays her eggs in Chinatown. Extras stare at the wrong part of the sound stage with their mouths agape; I assume Gareth Edwards told them, “Imagine you’re looking at a giant praying mantis pooping out glowing red eggs.” Oh yes, and Lt. Brady is the only man who can stop the bomb from detonating, obviously.
Gojira takes a beating from the two MUTOS as the live warhead is kicked out of San Francisco like a rotten potato (how I wish I had a rotten potato, to hurl at Gareth Edwards). Gojira defeats MUTO #1 with his powerfully bad radiation breath, then retreats into a cloud of smoke. Lt. Brady torches the MUTO eggs; MUTO #2 sees this but cannot bite his head off, she must fight Gojira. Again Gojira does what no human technology can, killing this monster too. Lt. Brady can’t stop the bomb, so instead he jogs out into the San Francisco Bay where a boat is waiting to be highjacked; he carries the bomb out to sea with 002 seconds to go, then passes out as the the army airlifts him off, to the tender sound of ooooooouuuuuuuu. The warhead explodes, destroying all life in the Pacific ocean but saving humanity, I guess.
Gojira, our radioactive saviour, lies collapsed by the triangle building in San Francisco. Lt. Brady and his wife and son are reunited, to which I said, “That’s so not his kid.” Gojira rises, gives a trademark roar, and returns to the sea. As this movie ended, I felt a profound sense of loss; two hours and four minutes of my life were gone forever. I rate this movie half a star, for the tremendous CGI work that went into it and out of loyalty to Godzillas past. What buried pile of radioactive waste will Hollywood dredge up next?