This film is everything Pacific Rim wanted to be, and failed. Well, except for the robots. There aren’t any giant robots. But, unlike the 1998 Godzilla, which (apart from getting almost everything wrong), was simply a disaster movie, in this film you do get some major monster-on-monster action (teased very lightly in the marketing, thank goodness) as Godzilla throws down with a couple of Cloverfieldish monsters that are upsetting “the balance”. Apparently, Godzilla is all about balance. But there are actors, too, and you do get some regular old humans who are either trying to (a) understand the monsters (Ken Watanabe), or (b) warn others about the monsters (Bryan Cranston), or (c) help destroy the monsters (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), or even (d) simply survive the monsters (Elizabeth Olsen).
Kind of remarkably, Godzilla is almost a cameo in his own movie. But that works here. You could have had tons of carnage from beginning to end, then the audience would just start checking their watches long before the third act. Some of the cutaways are even intentionally funny. For example, just as a battle between Godzilla and one of the Mutos kicks into high gear, a safety shelter door shuts. You get plenty of wonderful imagery of these three creatures causing havoc spread around the first two thirds of the film, but the big fight is saved for the end, and it does not disappoint. The crowd was cheering and applauding at Godzilla’s badassery.
Do any of the actors shine? No, not really. None are given more than a couple of emotional beats to work with. David Strathairn is the by-the-numbers general. Sally Hawkins is the steadfast assistant. Juliette Binoche is the stoic first-act sacrifice. That said, no one turns in a bad performance either. They serve the story and their characters well. By the end of the film, you really do care if the young soldier is going to return to his wife and son. And in a Godzilla film, that’s all you really need, isn’t it?
What’s kind of fascinating to me is how many story beats follow the 1998 film. I won’t get into what they are, because, spoilers. But it is interesting to see how a mildly similar story can be told without winking at the audience, and still be loads of mindless fun.
So, David Strathairn was in Godzilla with Ken Watanabe. Ken Watanabe was in…