It may be hard to believe, yet that doesn't make it any less true; Godzilla came out five years ago and we're just now finally about to get a sequel to director Gareth Edwards' divisive 2014 blockbuster. That sequel is Michael Dougherty's much-anticipated Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which seems to, in many ways, be trying to correct any perceived issues certain audience members had with the previous movie. However, I've never been one that had many issues with Edwards' take on the classic monster. Quite the opposite, in fact. So, I'm here to argue that Godzilla is worth a second look, for those who maybe felt underwhelmed by it initially.
Before digging in and getting on my soapbox, I must admit, it's difficult for me to exercise objectivity here. I've loved Godzilla my whole life and there are few movies I ever had this much anticipation built up for. I remember desperately searching every corner of the internet for the Godzilla teaser trailer that was shown at San Diego Comic-Con in 2012 to no avail. I could go on. Point being, everyone should know I'm heading into this with a serious bias.
Even from the very start, I had the sense this movie was going to be interesting. Honestly, credits are rarely worth watching, but this movie does a fine job with that bit right up top, introducing us to Monarch, the mysterious corporation that researches these creatures, as well as some of the creatures themselves. Most notably the titular Toho beast, who, as we see, the government was trying to nuke out of existence with all of those bomb tests in the Pacific years and years ago.
Even on a basic level, looking at relatively simple things in this movie, the redesigned version of Godzilla himself is extremely effective. And huge. Seriously, so huge. But also pretty great. I think that's something that perhaps gets lost in the conversation surrounding this movie. Let's not forget just how bad the redesign was for the 1998 American take on the franchise. For a Godzilla movie to work at all, Godzilla himself has to be cool.
The chief complaint seems to be that there is not enough monster action on display. Or that the action was being subverted using the human POV. However, when the monster action does kick in, the payoff is pretty huge. I personally liken this to the original Alien in the sense that the monsters are used sparsely, but to greater effect when they do actually show up. Sometimes, less is more. Granted, I understand that moments like the airport fight, which we just get to see on a TV for a brief moment, can be frustrating, as viewers might like to see that fight actually go down. I get that. But I personally enjoy the approach.
Time and time again blockbusters that value copious amounts of spectacle over story at all costs fail greatly. This movie is by no means skimpy on the spectacle, it just doesn't use its greatest weapon, really cool monsters, as a crutch. The initial Hawaii sequence leading up to that first Muto fight is particularly intense and unique. To me it's a perfect example of what works well here. When we finally get to the full reveal of Godzilla, with that sweet, sweet roar, it's a thrilling moment. Were it not for the build-up leading up to that moment, it wouldn't be nearly as effective.
Another point for me is that giant monsters should have an element of scariness to them. Sure, it should also be awesome, but a scenario such as this would be terrifying. Gareth Edwards does a very good job of making these things scary, especially in the third act. Godzilla attacking the Golden Gate Bridge, the jets plummeting from the sky. It's maybe not "s*** your pants" scary, yet it's scary nonetheless. We get an actual sense of human peril. That counts for something.
To that point, there is an actual focus on the human story, though it's not overstuffed in that respect. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson lead the way, with excellent supporting performances from Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston, amongst others. Sally Hawkins, tragically, doesn't get a lot to do. Through these characters and the larger story, we explore themes of tragedy, loss and grief. It helps anchor this monster goodness in human emotion. The reason movies like Avengers: Endgame, for example, work as well as they do is caring about the characters. Having a human element. Without that, it's just action for the sake of action which can be neat, but not nearly as meaningful or effective at the end of the day.
Focusing on the action sequences we do get, in my mind, they are pretty special. In particular, the halo jump sequence toward the end is hauntingly awesome. This is where the human POV technique perhaps has its greatest moment of payoff. We also get some amazing moments within the main fight itself, such as when Godzilla uses his atomic breath for the first time. I distinctly remember the surprise and cheers from the audience on opening night when that happened. Waiting to deliver that moment made it all the more rapturous.
The creatures themselves are an attempt at something new. The Motus are designed quite well and they feel right at home alongside our titular kaiju. Many movie lovers complain about Hollywood leaning on nostalgia and lacking originality. I'm as excited as anyone, if not more excited, to see Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah in King of the Monsters. But I have a tremendous amount of respect for Gareth Edwards creating cool, new beasts. And again, it was aiming to add something new to go along with something familiar.
Unquestionably, this movie's greatest sin, love it or hate it, is killing off Bryan Cranston so early on in the movie. We were robbed of the most compelling human character far too soon. I do understand the attempted human emotion contained within his death, but I still feel the same thing could have been accomplished without killing this movie's ace in the hole.
A few other notes before wrapping this up. The sound design in this movie, no matter how one feels about the end product, is a true highlight. The monster noises are really inventive and add a lot to it. I also feel Alexandre Desplat did a very fine job with the movie's score, which is epic, atmospheric and never overbearing. Let us also not forget that this movie gifted us with one of the most badass lines in recent memory with Ken Watanabe saying, in a demonstration of pitch-perfect delivery, "Let them fight." Not for nothing, but it also makes for an incredibly useful gif.
It's easy to say, "I want more monsters in my monster movie." But spectacle alone doesn't make something good, nor does it allow for something to possibly transcend. I'm not saying 2014's Godzilla necessarily does manage to transcend. It does, however, demonstrate an understanding that action on its own can ultimately feel hollow. We'll see how audiences respond to the other side of the coin as Warner Bros. unleashes Godzilla: King of the Monsters in theaters this weekend.