Here’s the short version:
The new Godzilla movie is my favorite disaster movie.
It is not close to being my favorite Godzilla movie.
For a Godzilla movie, this outing is surprisingly human-centric. The real focus is a family drama and about our main characters trying to survive and dealing with the horrors around them as giant monsters threaten the world. For most of the movie the kaiju, particularly Godzilla, are teased more than shown and a lot of the major destruction happens off screen. The sense is that they’re holding back, saving it all for the final battle.
Though if you’re afraid you won’t see enough destruction, don’t worry. There is plenty to go around. This movie is all about the massive destruction.
I was surprised how engaging the story is, especially with Godzilla taking a back seat to the human drama. The main characters are well acted and I found myself emotionally wrapped up in their struggles. Even my children, who were there to see monsters bashing each other, bonded with these characters. They did so to such a degree that at one point my son felt the need to tell me that he wasn’t crying because of the emotional family moment, but because Godzilla was okay.
Awww. Of course you were bud. And I didn’t feel you gripping my hand when it looked like someone in the family was going to die.
I might get a little spoilery ahead. Be warned.
As mentioned above, the family drama is engaging. These characters are believable and likable. None of the jerks-who-find-their-heart characters here, which was refreshing. You want these people to make it. You feel bad when some don’t.
It’s a good, solid plot. Kaiju flicks aren’t known for being tight on story, but this one pulls it off nicely. It holds together more than many classic Godzilla films.
Visually striking. There are some gorgeous shots that capture your imagination. Why is the US fleet sailing that close to Godzilla as they cross the Pacific? Who cares! It’s a beautiful image.
A great redesign for Godzilla that stays true to the classic. You look at this guy and there is no question, it’s Godzilla. He looks like Godzilla, he acts like Godzilla, his CGI model intentionally moves like a guy in a suit. All the classic elements are here, including one I was starting to worry they wouldn’t use.
This Godzilla is still a force of nature. He’s the “good guy” monster, in that given the option he won’t squish humans, but he won’t lose any sleep if we get underfoot. We’re not on his menu but that doesn’t mean he’s on our side. However he is not as angry as the more recent Godzilla movies from Toho.
The military, from top to bottom, were neither stupid nor jerks. Sure, they make mistakes, but they are believable mistakes based on their limited knowledge and genuine concern to protect people.
The other monsters are creepy as heck. Excellent additions to the kaiju family.
If you like massive amounts of destruction, you will be pleased.
When we finally do get to see the giant monster showdowns, they’re great.
Too much teasing with Godzilla. Too many offscreen fights. I get that they wanted to build expectations for the final battles, but that was the wrong move. The people in the theaters are there to see Godzilla and you can still focus on the human struggle while showing him off. The original Godzilla movie knew this.
The “hell yeah” scenes. There are several moments that were designed to get the audience to pump their fists with excitement, but they felt forced. They rely on a connection between the audience and Godzilla, sometimes between Godzilla and the human characters, but because they went to such pains to hold Godzilla in reserve these scenes lacked weight. The connection wasn’t there and the moment wasn’t earned.
The origin. In this storyline, the atmospheric nuclear blasts were part of a covert action to destroy Godzilla. He wasn’t created by “the folly of men” and our nuclear ambitions, he has been on Earth since the dawn of the world. That’s a big shift in Godzilla’s mythology.
Ken Watanabe. It pains me to say this, but somehow one of the finest actors in the world, of whom I am a big fan, is the weakest link. At first I was going to say that this was another case of his criminal underuse in a Hollywood film, but I realized he had plenty of screen time. His scenes were just unmemorable. Ken Watanabe’s character could have been removed from the film and it would have made very little difference, which is something I never thought I’d say.
Godzilla is a good movie. Just be aware what you’re going to see and you’ll have a good time. If all you want is to see giant monsters bash each other for a couple hours, re-watch Godzilla: Final Wars. If you want an engaging human drama with giant monsters and massive destruction, then this is the film for you.