“The world ends. Godzilla begins.” It’s not accurate and it’s not very good, but the tagline sets the weighty tone for what is sure to be a box office behemoth, Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” reboot.
Known for his 2010 sci-fi thriller, “Monsters,” Edwards takes another crack at the humans-versus-monsters tale, this time in a trans-Pacific 3D spectacular. In “Godzilla,” he crafts a beautiful tale of destruction that is surprisingly more human-focused than one would expect.
Based on a story by Dave Callaham, Max Borenstein’s screenplay begins in the Philippines in 1999, with two scientists (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) examining the skeleton of a giant, mysterious creature. Attached to the remnants are two pods, one of which has ruptured, releasing a deadly dinosaur to dig an ominous trail to the sea.
Meanwhile in Japan, nuclear physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Juliette Binoche) head to work at the Janijara nuclear power plant. Unexplainable seismic activity causes a deadly disaster, leaving the Brody’s young son, Ford, motherless and setting Joe on an obsessive course to discover what really caused the reactors to implode.
Fifteen years after the accident, Ford (a beautiful but boring Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has joined the U.S. Navy and is living in San Francisco with his young son and wife, Elle (Elizabeth Brody). Ford specializes in disarming bombs, a skill that sure comes in handy when he joins the fight to save the world from the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTOs) that have lain dormant for centuries, feeding off radioactivity at the earth’s core.
From the start, “Godzilla” seems poised for “Jurassic Park” or “Indiana Jones” levels of adventure, but all the time spent developing the human plotlines takes much of the fun out of the film. Ford’s story is not particularly interesting and the explanation for the emergence of the MUTOs is insufficient. Furthermore, it takes nearly an hour for the titular beast to get any screen time.
When Godzilla does finally emerge from the ocean—his scales illuminated by the red smoke of the U.S. Army’s emergency flares—the effect is nothing short of astonishing. The 350-foot tall King of the Monsters is much bigger than he was when he first smashed up Tokyo in Ishiro Honda’s iconic “Gojira” (1954), but his symbolic representation of the threat of human-caused nuclear destruction — born in the aftermath of the American attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II — will still resonate with modern viewers.
“Godzilla will always represent that fear that there is something beyond our control,” Borenstein told New York’s Daily News. “That no matter how much preparation or how much technology we might pour on a problem, we could be washed out or stomped out instantly and capriciously just like ants.”
Unfortunately, such heavier tones are not fully flushed out, making the lack of any type of levity all the more noticeable. Godzilla keeps the stomping to a minimum in this reboot, a disappointment for fans of over-the-top, CGI destruction. What screentime is given to Godzilla as he battles the MUTOs in the streets of San Francisco is magnificent. Set against the backdrop of the foggy night sky and billowing clouds of 3D dust, the final scenes of the film step out of the realm of the cinematic and become an immersive viewing experience worthy of Honda’s legacy. Edwards’ Godzilla is beautiful in his primordial power, and the shot of the monster seen from Ford’s point of view as he free falls out of an airplane is one of the most breathtaking in the film.
The world may not have ended, but the story of Godzilla has certainly begun again. With a few adjustments, the King of the Monsters may just rule the silver screen once more.