One thing that’s often missing in the mayhem of huge Summer blockbusters is the old-school sense of awe these films should inspire.
We’re used to seeing flying superheroes, giant robots, attacking aliens and explosive battles galore. There’s certainly loads of spectacle and impressive CGI special effects, but rarely do they seem to connect to the emotional “sense of wonder” that Steven Spielberg captured in his big films of the 1970s and 80s.
Thankfully, “Godzilla” is full of awe, amazement, and enjoyable characters which compliment the spectacular effects and city-destroying action. The film’s director, Gareth Edwards, seems to be channeling Spielberg in quite possibly “the-most-Spielberg-movie-not-directed-by-Spielberg” ever.
In this re-boot of the classic monster story, Brian Cranston plays Joe Brody, a safety engineer at nuclear plant in Japan. His life is turned upside-down when his wife (Juliette Binoche) is killed during a destructive meltdown.
Fifteen years later, Joe convinces his son, Ford, to return with him to the scene of the disaster and retrieve important research from his long-evacuated home. Joe believes the plant’s destruction was not an accident.
Cranston presents his character’s grief and anger with convincing emotion. He’s such an enjoyable personality and actor, you can’t help but sympathize with his frustration, his loss, and potential descent into madness. This is dire stuff.
As Ford, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is soft-spoken and stoic, and you can genuinely feel the pain of his character’s family situation. He’s also the heroic muscle driving the last half of the movie.
Following the father-son reunion, “Godzilla” really gets moving. If you’ve seen any of the trailers or TV commercials, you get the hint that there’s a little something more to this movie than a mindless monster wreaking havoc on coastal cities. This is serious. This beast has a purpose.
It’s best not to say too much.
As Godzilla finally arrives on-screen, he makes an incredible entrance in Hawaii. The complete madness and chaos of the scene is terrifying movie magic. Before you can even process what’s going on, the giant lizard stomps to a halt and lets out his signature roar. It’s beyond perfect. Here’s that “awe.”
Along for the ride is scientist Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), serving as a scientific military advisor and almost a spiritual guide through the other character’s experiences. He’s constantly troubled by the monstrous events unfolding. Watanabe seems so tortured throughout the movie, when it’s all over, you’ll feel he really needs a hug.
Elle Brody (Elizabeth Olsen), Ford’s wife, gives the audience the perspective of what’s it’s like to be smack-dab in the middle of a giant monster attack on San Francisco. She’s the “general public,” one of the little people that usually gets smushed under a giant, clawed foot. Her performance is charming and relatable. You root for her safety. She probably needs a hug, too.
The plot of “Godzilla” is constructed in a wonderful, old-school way. It’s a satisfying build-up. It’s kind of opposite of what most audience would expect from a big Summer blockbuster. There’s plenty of action, destruction, and epic monster pandemonium. There’s also unraveling layers of mystery and a reveal of discoveries that lead to a spectacular ending. “Spectacular” is probably not a strong enough word to describe what you’re going to see. You’re going to be awed.
Five stars, 10-out-of-10, thumbs up.
(Watch for multiple Spielberg shout-outs including references to “Close Encounters,” “Jurassic Park,” “War of the Worlds,” “Jaws,” and (maybe) “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” There’s even a few Easter eggs that will please the true hardcore Godzilla fans. And, see this on the biggest IMAX screen you can find!)