The lack of drama in Godzilla (2014) – a review
“Godzilla” has been released, and along with it a slew of people both attacking it and defending it. The attackers feel the movie was very boring and didn’t have enough action, while the defenders feel the movie was creative in the way it built up the tension and suspense by not showing the monster. While I myself disliked this movie, my opinions fall in-between the two view points.
I think the guys defending “Godzilla” miss the point of why the movie was such a disappointment. I think what director Gareth Edwards did as far as giving us “foreplay” and amping up the monster was a bold and creative move. It was great that we didn’t get two hours of non-stop explosions, it helped build up the ultimate reveal of Godzilla (the shot of the reveal was probably the best moment in the film). The biggest problem, however, is that when you’re filling up that time with drama and not action, the drama needs to matter. The fact that Aaron-Taylor Johnson’s character of the young soldier was very bland and underwritten (as is most of the characters who weren’t played by Bryan Cranston) dragged every scene that didn’t feature Godzilla down into a cavern similar to the one Wantanabe discovered in the first act.
I was totally fine with the writer and director choosing to kill of Cranston early. It was a surprising move that reminded one of Drew Barrymore in the opening of “Scream” (thanks to Max Landis for that reference).
Most people have been comparing this movie to “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park”, well here’s the difference between this film and Spielberg’s films: memorable scenes. “Jaws” has many scenes everyone remembers that isn’t about the shark; Roy Schieder with his son at the table, Richard Dreyfus and Robert Shaw comparing scars. And in “Jurassic Park” you get all of the hilarious moments with Jeff Goldblum as Malcom or the hilariously odd wheezing laugh of the slimy Dennis Nedry while he talks to Dodson. Both films contain memorable characters and scenes that help bolster the action and aid the plot & its build ups. When you don’t have these characters or moments the audience gets bored and would rather the mindless action.
Are there any scenes that a really memorable in the film that don’t feature Godzilla or the mutos? I can’t remember a single one. Maybe Cranston’s monologue we were already treated to in the trailer.
“Godzilla” gives you absolutely no reason to root for these characters, and it’s a damn shame because there were many opportunities with the talented actors they got (including the criminally underused, recently nominated Sally Hawkins as the conveniently named Dr. Grant). If you’re going to reduce action and have build-up, throw in some scenes that aren’t just people standing around speaking exposition and looking afraid. Give us reasons to love the human characters as much as we love Godzilla.
At the end of the film Johnson’s solider (the conveniently named Brody) helps defeat the evil mutos. This is a moment that we should be cheering for; a son avenging his dead father, and a husband saving the lives of not just his wife and kid but possibly the entire nation and planet. But, “Godzilla” never gives us reason to care about Johnson, and because of that the climax falters.
Going slightly off-topic another part that is quite frustrating to the bigger “Godzilla” fans is the fact that at the end of the film Godzilla gets up, shrugs, and walks back to the ocean. That is not what the character of Godzilla is. He’s a creature we need to depend on to “set the balance” as Wantanabe so eloquently put. He will always lay us to rubble because he is a beast, but he will always save our asses from monsters far worse than him. The ending of “Godzilla 2000” got this right in spades; after Godzilla saves Tokyo he looks around and lays the city to waste, enter a monologue about how Tokyo will always need the King of Monsters, even though he will always be a danger to them.
In conclusion, “Godzilla” had so very well-done action and tension build-ups, but very little emotional weight; and when you are going to bring the character back to his dark roots, that emotional element needs to be there.