Editor’s Note: I had a chance to see an early screening of Godzilla, which officially opens in theaters tomorrow, May 16, across the United States. If you’re excited to see it yourself, I promise I won’t give up too much information or reveal any spoilers. I also think you’ll like what you’re about to see. Let’s dive into why now.
For more than 50 years, everyone’s favorite over-sized lizard has been knocking over buildings and butting heads with prehistoric monsters. Godzilla got his start as a metaphor for the nuclear bombs that devastated Japan at the end of World War II, before eventually becoming a cultural icon around the world.
Like any franchise this one has had its low points, but after catching an early screening of this latest installment at Dolby’s New York theater I can confidently say that Godzilla is back in what may just be his best movie yet.
“I couldn’t help but let out a passionate whoop!”
Godzilla’s tail is a thing of beauty, swinging silently through the air or jutting out from under the water like a small rocky island. For most of the film it’s used to tease the monstrous protagonist or simply give a sense of his massive scale against a backdrop of puny humans and their puny cities. So at the story’s climax when that tail is finally used to deliver a bone crushing blow to one of Godzilla’s enemies I couldn’t help but let out a passionate whoop! into the dark theater.
Godzilla is really just buildup to this epic final showdown, where all the story’s moving parts converge in a decimated San Francisco, a city on the verge of total destruction, but that doesn’t mean the rest of Godzilla isn’t fantastic as well. The entire thing is well acted, beautifully filmed, and offers plenty of sharp dialogue while also perfectly delivering the campy lines we’ve come to expect from any good Godzilla flick after decades of monster movies.
The only real complaint I can think of is that Bryan Cranston doesn’t get enough screen time. Trailers for the film really play up the 20 minutes or so he’s actually in the movie, though in that time he establishes himself as an actor with plenty of range who won’t be pigeon-holed by his success on Breaking Bad. The rest of the film is filled out by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (better known as that guy from Kick Ass), who does a good job as leading man even if his character is too whitewashed to show any real depth or growth, and Elizabeth Olson as his distressed wife. Meanwhile, Ken Watanabe plays the role of brooding scientist tasked with delivering some of the more ridiculous lines, though he rises to the occasion with ease. The real stars of the show, however, are the monsters.
“This movie isn’t lacking in monsters…”
Besides Godzilla himself, there are two more beasts to contend with. I won’t reveal any more about them, since the trailers actually do a pretty good job of keeping that part a mystery. Just trust me when I say that this movie isn’t lacking in monsters; there’s plenty of crumbling buildings, exploding helicopters and good old fashioned carnage. Godzilla really shines when these baddies face off against one another, and while the film teases that confrontation a few times earlier on, we don’t get to see a full-fledged kaiju battle until near the end of the story. Don’t worry though, the payoff is definitely worth the wait, and this two-hour film flew by with barely a pause in the action.
There’s also a moral lesson buried somewhere in Godzilla. Something about man’s hubris and the danger of nuclear weapons. This part makes a lot more sense when explained by director Gareth Edwards, but it doesn’t do very much for the actual movie. It’s a lot of fun to watch a 300-foot monster chow down on a can of nuclear waste ripped directly from a Russian submarine, but that scene and several like it probably won’t have you reconsidering the state of nuclear proliferation in the world today. Or maybe that’s just me.
The point of Godzilla, in the end, is to watch over-sized monsters duke it out—preferably in a major city with plenty of collateral damage. Edward’s take on the genre is definitely a bit grittier and darker than what we’ve seen in the past, but at its heart this is still classic monster mayhem.
We wouldn’t have it any other way.