After the 1998 disaster that was Godzilla, the giant lizard has returned in a spectacular new film worthy of the iconic movie monster. Directed with insane assuredness by Gareth Edwards (and this is only his second feature and first big-budget flick), the action is so precise and powerful, it’s truly a sight to see.
The film even handles its exposition-heavy first act well, and that’s because of two reasons: Bryan Cranston and a crazy good score from Alexandre Desplat. In his first on-screen acting gig since Breaking Bad, Cranston gets to play a mastermind of a different kind playing Joe Brody, a scientist who is suspicious of a reported nuclear meltdown that kills his wife (Juliette Binoche…who kills an Oscar winner in the first 15 minutes of a movie?!?). Flashforward 15 years and Joe is estranged from his military son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and still determined to discover the coverup. Cranston gets several big emotional scenes and lengthy speeches, which he delivers with enormous power. With no Godzilla in sight yet, it really comes down to Cranston keeping your attention and he does.
He’s assisted by Desplat’s aggressive score that plays like a character in the film. The urgency and explosive nature of the score heightens the tension when there’s no monster to be seen yet. It’s the best musical score since Cloud Atlas and certainly one of the best ever in a summer blockbuster.
Once Godzilla and the other monsters show up, Edwards really focuses his camera on certain moments. This isn’t a Michael Bay action flick where you’re assaulted with explosions, incoherent fast editing, confusing close-ups, and excessive sound effects. Every shot is controlled. Edwards knows exactly what he wants to show you and you clearly see it. He slows his camera down so much that he almost creates little vignettes in the midst of massive action sequences or he pulls his camera back for a extreme wide shot to let you see jets crashing into the water or airplanes being tossed on the tarmac at the airport. Sometimes he doesn’t even show you the monster on his path of destruction. Sometimes you just see the aftermath. He keeps surprising you how he presents the story and it’ll put a smile on your face. Spielberg would be proud. This is a director who knows exactly what he’s doing.
He’s got a lot of great actors to fill out the human drama of things, like Ken Watanabe (whose delivery of first saying the name “Godzilla” is pretty awesome), Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, and David Strathairn. In the lead, Taylor-Johnson doesn’t really register. This could have been a breakthrough role for a young actor, but Taylor-Johnson doesn’t seize the opportunity. He’s serviceable in the role but unmemorable. The story also loses focus of Olsen’s character. Playing a doctor in the middle of the chaos, she only pops up every once and a while for no real purpose. You just think, “oh right, her. Where has she been?”.
The film does stumble on the goal line. The resolution is abrupt, and then the final moments are corny and eye-roll inducing, but its a minor flaw. This film is so well-constructed, you can forgive the little things because when Godzilla is good, its roar is deafening.