The good news is that Godzilla is not anywhere near the disappointing dreck that we beared witness to in 1998 when Hollywood tried, and largely failed, to bring this iconic figure from Japanese cinema back to life.
The bad news, or at least modestly bad news, is that director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) didn't quite create the balance needed to make Godzilla the popcorn flick of the summer that it's actually crying out to be. This is not to say that Edwards in any way failed with Godzilla, because he didn't. While the film doesn't quite live up to its potential, it's still a fine popcorn flick for those willing to lower their expectations just a notch or two and for whom going to a monster flick where the monster actually doesn't even appear until about the halfway point is enough.
If you know Godzilla history, then you know that there's always been a lot more to Godzilla than simply this big ole' lizard who creates havoc everywhere they go and who destroys an awful lot of stuff. Godzilla, in a sense, has always been a sort of dark knight of creatures because his presence is actually meant to be that of a global protector. In this film, that's very much the angle we're given as Godzilla is presented as a prehistoric predator who resurfaces to restore balance. Balance needs to be restored following the appearance of an insect-type of creature that lays waste to a Japanese nuclear plant then heads across the pond hoping to reunite with a prospective mate.
In case you're wondering, we don't want that to happen. Fortunately, neither does Godzilla.
As one might expect, Godzilla sort of become both hero and villain given his (I didn't actually check gender. Sorry) size (Apparently, size does matter) and the fact that pretty much everything he does destroys something or someone. There's a definite cinematic historic value in having the initial target be nuclear in that Godzilla's history in Japanese cinema is as a metaphor for nuclear weapons. Of course, it's likely that you will draw other comparisons in the film that will work as well.
Then again, there's also a chance that you'll be so caught up in the action, especially after the midway point, that you won't give one iota.
Before Godzilla actually shows up, there's actually a human and occasionally compelling story involving Bryan Cranston as a fairly dismissed nuclear engineer with longstanding theories about these types of enormous creatures. While their presence has long been "officially" denied, it doesn't take much guessing to realize who is going to be right here.
After all, Cranston does get top billing in the film. Ya' know?
Aaron Johnson, who still hasn't managed to actually act outside of the Kick-Ass films, is here as Cranston's son with a primary function of trying to reach his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) who has, I'm guessing, actually gone into hiding not because of Godzilla but because she's realized she's married to Aaron Johnson.
Sorry, I couldn't contain myself.
Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe play scientists trying to get through to the military numbnuts (I never know whether or not to put a hyphen between numb and nuts), and Watanabe, in particular, is rock solid here.
Godzilla isn't a masterpiece, but it's for the most part a visually appealing film that works on the level of being a good ole' popcorn flick that entertains and occasionally even elicits emotions. While some will fault the delay in presenting the creature, it is clearly an intentional artistic choice by Edwards and it works well enough in creating a backstory that's compelling enough that you're only wish may be that somehow he'd managed to weave the two together more completely. In some ways, Godzilla feels like two films that never quite gel together in the way that they're supposed to gel. Yet, when it comes down to it the individual pieces work well enough and the final product is strong enough that I'm fairly sure most moviegoers won't mind a heck of a lot.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic