Directed by Gareth Edwards
“I actually did the math on ‘Jaws,’ and it’s an hour before you see the actual shark. I want to hark back to that kind of filmmaking.” That was Gareth Edwards, director of 2014’s “Godzilla,” in an interview in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Like Spielberg in ‘75, Edwards took his dear time before finally feeding audiences’ cravings by showing his monster creation. The difference? Spielberg held off on revealing Jaws because he was disappointed with the way it looked. Edwards’s Godzilla is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, if a movie comes out this year with more impressive visual effects, I’ll be genuinely shocked. So why did the indie director waste our time with such uninteresting plot?
Sometimes it’s the crazy one who turns out to be the smartest guy in the room. That’s Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a man obsessed with figuring out what caused the tremors in Japan that killed his wife 15 years ago. When he finally figures it out, he’s just a few hours too late. That figures. Nuclear testing has created giant creatures that threaten to destroy the world – they smash buildings and stomp on people as they search for nuclear energy to stay alive. That’s when Godzilla rises from the depths of the ocean for the first time since the 1940s and begins to fight these creatures. Why? Nobody cares…especially not the screenwriters. Anyway, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a military guy who’s tasked with helping destroy the monsters while Ford’s wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), in another city, tries to protect their young son. Time is running out. Can these mega-monsters be stopped?
“Godzilla” does a commendable job of honoring its forefathers, namely 1954’s original Japanese film, with a fuller-bodied Godzilla that isn’t as purely evil as we saw in 1998’s “Godzilla.” Unfortunately, Edwards, along with screenwriters Max Borenstein (his first major feature film) and Dave Callaham (“Doom” and the “Expendables” trilogy, if that tells you anything), leave the flattering imitation at that. In this case, it’s the negative aspects of that woebegone era of filmmaking that get the most attention. The grab bag of overacting (the scientists and Olsen, who only opens her mouth in the film’s final thirty minutes if she’s screaming loudly) and underacting (the masses, who react to the monsters with relative nonchalance) make for a unconvincing monster movie. So does the presence of multiple monsters being pitted against each other. In the ‘50s, more monsters equaled more excitement. Here, it just means more reason to ignore the real action and focus cameras on a bland, forgettable Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who is much better in his campy roles in “Kick Ass” and “Anna Karenina” and much stiffer and lifeless here). “Godzilla” also has the obligatory Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe, usually brilliant) saying all of his lines with such dramatic timing and cheesiness that it seems like a big joke. Sorry to say, but Cranston is the same way. For these over-actors, nothing can be said in the volume and tone of a normal human being. They have the constant melodrama of a ’90s thriller with Julia Roberts.
But still, the driving force behind my disappointment was Edwards’s refusal to give audiences what they came to see. I didn’t show up to see 2 hours of Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I can’t imagine why anybody would. I came to see a monster flatten cities. When “Godzilla” showed me that, I was blown away by how realistic, exciting, and thoroughly enjoyable it was. A monster movie has never looked (or sounded) as good as when Godzilla and the other creatures enter into an all-out monster mash. But Edwards keeps Godzilla’s screen-time to a minimum. And the screenwriters try to make us care about their recycled plotlines. But we don’t want to care, we just want to watch. And they don’t let us.