Mania Review: Godzilla -

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kan Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche and David Strathairn
  • Written by: Max Borenstein
  • Directed by: Gareth Edwards
  • Studio: Warner Bros
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 123 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Godzilla

"Up from the depths, 30 stories high..."

By Rob Vaux     May 15, 2014

© Warner Bros/Robert Trate

 You probably won't see a more satisfying 40 minutes this summer than the climax to the new version of Godzilla. It's everything fans of the city-stomping creature  could hope for, bolstered by grade-A effects and the marvelously monstrous sensibilities of director Gareth Edwards. And let's face it: its most direct competition is still the awful 1998 Roland Emmerich film, which can't help make this one look like Michel-fucking-angelo in comparison. Make no mistake: this is Godzilla as we know and love him, along with a couple of jumbo-sized punching bags to throw down against him as God intended. They chow down on Honolulu and Las Vegas for appetizers, then hit San Francisco for the main course. If you can't get pumped when Big G rises out of the Bay and emits his famous roar, then you are a sad soul indeed.

In light of that, it's a bit frustrating that we have to wait so long to get there. Godzilla revels in the slow burn, complete with a gaggle of only fitfully interesting humans to hold the screen until the main attraction shows up. Edwards does his best to punch up the first act, and Bryan Cranston works wonders as a nuclear engineer who catches on to the looming Monster Mash a few decades before everyone else, but they're largely marching uphill.

The script helps a bit more, mostly by providing a few new wrinkles in the beasties' origins. They're older, bigger and following naturalistic instincts like mating and hunting for food. That strengthens the notion that they still belong to our ecosystem in some twisted way, as well as painting the traditional "is Godzilla friend or foe" question in a fascinating new light.

The film also benefits from Edwards' you-are-there sensibilities, putting us in the shoes of the hapless humans underneath these behemoths, and the way the sheer size on display can both exhilarate and terrify us. "Awe" -- in the Old Testament sense of the word -- becomes the watchword, and Edwards shows a knack for more subtle implications (such as the giant path torn out of jungle trees) that often feel as incredible as the straight-up money shots. He crafts individual sequences with imagination and flair, turning seemingly ordinary conversations into something much more interesting as a result. He made the earlier film Monsters for less than $1 million, and even though Warners basically fire-hosed money at him for this one, his discipline remains unchanged. Nothing goes to waste in Godzilla; every single sequence shows a strong hand on the tiller. This guy is definitely going places, and watching him work with material he so clearly relishes becomes a joy in and of itself.

Sadly, "well-directed" doesn't always mean "well-constructed," and while the end of Godzilla makes for brilliant spectacle, it runs into a lot of roadblocks on the way.  The technique keeps it all from growing too boring, aided by Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins who dutifully discharge their "we've never seen anything like this before!" duties the way one expects. But all the focus on the human beings is largely unjustified. They're bland and pleasant, but pretty much stock, and it's clear that the filmmakers know who the real start of the show is. The slow progression certainly makes us crave the pay-off all the more, but one wonders why it takes so long  to get there or wanders so far a-field in the interim. You put up with the first half to get to the last half, when the sprawling mess of endangered family members and government cover-ups finally snaps into focus.

That, coupled with the ambiguous approach towards Godzilla himself and an ecological message that never overplays its hand, makes the stately pace much more forgivable. Long-time Zillaphiles should be more than pleased, provided they have the wherewithal to stick with an almost deliberately messy structure. Just be ready to wait a little longer for the good stuff you need, and trust in the fact that these guys will finally deliver on what earlier versions could only vaguely promise. Like its monstrous hero, it moves pretty slow, but when it finally gets where it's going… look out.


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BushHog 5/15/2014 7:28:36 PM

Worst movie I've ever seen.  Without giving spoilers of what happens in the movie I'll just say humans 2hours, Godzilla 3 minutes.  The Matthew Brodrick "Godzilla" was far more entertaining. I just want to scream it was so bad.  What a crime!

IRONMANIAC 5/15/2014 8:02:56 PM

Given the obvious superlative nature of BushHog's comment, I'm going with Rob on this one and can't wait to see it. Sounds like a fair review to me. I can wait for the good stuff. Especially if it's in the third act and it delivers. Worst move ever? I doubt it BushHog. But I'll be the first one on here to eat crow if I agree with you.

extzero 5/15/2014 8:03:06 PM

 If that's the worst movie you've seen, I don't think you've seen very many movies. It does take a while to finally see what every fan loves, but it was totally worth the wait

shac2846 5/15/2014 8:57:17 PM

 I just got back from seeing an early IMAX screening. I thought it was fantastic. The house was full and the crowd I saw it with cheered and applauded in multiple parts. Tells me the flick works. They built up the human characters while at the same time setting up a new Godzilla mythology that they will hopefully explore in future films. I have only read a few posts and a couple of reviews like BushHog's of people saying it was too slow. I think they were expecting Michael Bay's version of Godzilla. Thankfully WB went in a different direction. Thought Gareth Edwards did an excellent job. I had a few minor complaints but they didn't ruin the movie for me. I said this in another board but I agree with Vaux that Edwards really shows his skill as a director and really shows up some seasoned filmmakers with this movie. I think he is going to have a big career in this business. Hopefully Edwards gets to make a sequel, can't wait!

Muenster 5/16/2014 12:41:40 AM

Aside from a few slow and cheesey moments with the humans. Godzilla stayed on target and the pace of the film ticked along well despite the humans. The scenes of the MUTO's gobbling down nuclear warheads is almost worth the price of admission. AND Mr. G's Atomic breath shots are awe inspiring, even though his last (extremely brutal!) blast kinda wears him out- don't worry... There's a great ending!

Fantastic Film. I'd have given it an A, if the film had actually been a little shorter. (gasp!). A little more editing (not deleting) of the cheesy human moments might have really tightened the film up a bit.

B plus film for sure.

Godzilla 2014 did not disappoint. Great to finally have Godzilla back on the big screen where he belongs and Gareth Edwards gave Godzilla the respect a King deserves.

Corpsegrinder 5/16/2014 2:11:07 AM

Going to have to agree with Bushhog here. Grew up on Godzilla and loved a lot of the old Godzilla movies but to see Yawnzilla 2014 ooops I mean Godzilla 2014 was a disapointment. I mean yea you seen Godzilla for maybe 5 minutes but you see Godzilla's fins more than you do him most of the time. As for the acting it wasn't bad but damn less worthless humans more Godzilla. Overall I give this movie and I am being generous here C

DarkXid 5/16/2014 5:42:46 AM

 It ain't a Godzila film without cheesy human parts.  

goirish83 5/16/2014 5:48:22 AM

I am going to see this tomorrow morning.  I grew up watching Godzilla movies on an almost weekly basis in the early 70's (where have you gone Saturday afternoon monster movie matinees ??).  For anyone to say that the 1998 Godzilla movie could possibly be better than this movie, regardless of Godzilla's screen time, loses any credibility with me as a Kaiju fan, because that movie was HORRIBLE.  "Son of Godzilla" from the early 1970's is regarded as one of the worst of the entire Godzilla series, and I still rate that WAY higher than the 1998 trainwreck that basically pissed all over the Godzilla I grew up loving.

This is just my own opinion of course, to each his own.

karas1 5/16/2014 7:07:28 AM

I kind of enjoyed the '98 Godzilla.  I like Matthew Broderick and the idea of the French CIA in NYC was hilarious.  It worked for me as a comedy with monsters rather than a monster flick but hey, whatever works.

Looking forward to seeing the new movie and will try to catch it sometime this weekend.

shac2846 5/16/2014 7:15:14 AM

 Have you guys seen the original 54 Godzilla. It was also considered a slow burn and it didn't have any extra monsters this movie had way more action. Even the sequels it usually took a while for Godzilla to throwdown with the other monsters. Like I said I think some people were expecting the Michael Bay version of this. Just monsters destroying a city with very little pacing or plot. Just wait Transformers will be out soon and even though it doesn't have monsters you will probably get your eye candy destruction fix. Although I honestly can't see how this movie didn't get it done.

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