REVIEWS

Review: Edwards' 'Godzilla' is the Modern Monster Movie Done Right

by
May 11, 2014

Godzilla

Step aside Cloverfield and other Kaiju, the King of Monsters is back. And he's bigger and better than ever. Four years ago, I caught a little indie sci-fi film called Monsters that blew me away. No one knew it at the time, but the director of that film, Gareth Edwards, would soon be hired by Legendary Pictures to reboot and re-imagine the legendary giant radioactive lizard known as Gojira. He was the perfect choice. Edwards has re-imagined the King of Monsters perfectly for 2014, bringing us a modern monster movie done right, better than all other recent monster movies, from Cloverfield to Super 8 to Pacific Rim. This is the real deal.

This new version of Godzilla is a bit different than any/every version in the past, and that's for good reason. Gareth Edwards' approach to the idea of giant monsters wreaking havoc is focused more on the human characters and their lives, where they end up, and how they're affected by this attack. The story hones in on the Brody family, lead by father and son Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who both have direct encounters with the giant lizard and his new foes. It's also an intelligent decision to throw out any origin story and go for the "he's here to defend us" angle, which opens up the discussion much more into the idea of whether or not we still try to destroy him or if he even has any care/concern for human life.

How this Godzilla stands out from the crowd is not only in its size and scale, but its structure as a movie. It's not all about revealing the monster and giving us back-to-back endlessly lavish VFX action scenes, it's about following the characters, the humans on this planet. Mainly Ford, and what he goes through, and how he experiences this latest Godzilla attack, and how he feels, and his concerns - not so much the monster, but his family. Thus as an audience we don't actually need to see every last fight in complete detail. Instead, they make a few brilliant choices in how and where they show the action and how it plays directly into the story (and bigger picture) at hand - from the TV news footage to the perspective during the entire airport scene.

The more I think back to it, the more I really begin to love the movie. I enjoyed the experience at hand my first time, but it's crafted to be an experience built around reveals - each step down the path gives us more of the characters, more of the backstory, more of the history, and yet more of the monster(s). But unlike some movies, where revisiting these reveals isn't as exciting and doesn't provide any more insight, Godzilla holds up and still draws us in. That is, I believe, because Edwards has also crafted a movie about real people, with real emotions, and the entire framework for the movie is tied into those emotions. They are as much a part of this movie as the King of Monsters is himself. Harnessing the power of the emotions is where this excels.

Godzilla Review

It has been said that the most talented directors are capable of casting perfectly for even the smallest roles. This is important, and shows how capable of a storyteller they are, because every little piece of the puzzle is vital in order to finish a masterpiece. And in Godzilla, it's casting choices like Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston that make all the difference. Some of the characters (Watanabe's Dr. Serizawa and Hawkins' Vivienne) are underutilized but I couldn't help but feel like they were being setup in this movie in order to play a bigger role down the line (in future movies) but that's all speculation at this point. On the other hand, Cranston is extraordinary (as expected) and is very much a driving force behind most of the movie. Taylor-Johnson is fine, but can't compare to Cranston.

Godzilla, in all its modern splendor, also puts all of the recent monster movies like Super 8, Pacific Rim and even Cloverfield to shame. It's odd because they were all built in the model of the original Godzilla movies, hoping to surpass them, yet here we are again and the King is showing them how it's done. Maybe it's the attention to detail, maybe it's the care and concern put into the story and the characters, maybe it's the fan-service so perfectly worked in, maybe it's just Gareth and his history with the franchise; whatever it is, this brand new modern monster movie they've created is downright awesome. It's badass when it needs to be, emotional when it should be, and consistently smart and one step ahead of the audience in the right way.

While we now live in the era of visual effects galore and computer generated imagery, it still takes a talented filmmaker to bring realistic human emotions to computer created characters. Luckily, they found the right filmmaker for the job, and Gareth Edwards has succeeded (if not exceeded expectations) in breathing new life into the King of Monsters, and showing the world how to make an engaging, terrifying, heartbreaking, enriching, exciting, exhilarating movie about a giant radioactive lizard. It does have a few slow moments, a few flaws, but they are minor imperfections. Gareth Edwards' Godzilla is masterful human storytelling blended perfectly with exhilarating cinematic action on a global scale. Godzilla is back. For good this time.

Alex's Rating: 9 out of 10
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  • xShineyxDiverx
    I'm uber excited for the king to come back, but it ain't no robots vs monsters so don't just toss aside Pacific Rim. I think I'm gonna see Godzilla before I see TASM2. Huh.
    • Marcus
      I watched an free advanced screening this past weekend and I enjoyed it. it does start slow but there is a good balance.. For those who want 90 minutes to an hour of non stop monster action will be disappointed but the acting from the human characters does keep you interested. Its a good story that has depth and meaning behind everything, instead of just monsters going at it. I hope this helps.
      • Marcus
        my bad I meant to say 90 minutes to 2 hours lol
      • Scopedog
        You're right--it spends the time developing the characters and teasing the monsters, but when the hammer comes down...oh my. A great film, really enjoyed it. (Plus I loved that caption on the screen at the end...hopefully you know what I mean!)
        • Marcus
          Actually I didn't catch it. What was it?
          • Scopedog
            The TV screen that has the news report showing Godzilla walking off to the ocean--the scroll at the bottom states "King of the Monsters saves the city?" Maybe that was a shout-out to the '56 "Americanized" version with Raymond Burr, or maybe I'm reading too much into it...either way, I did put a smile on my face.
    • Byron Harris
      I agree with you xShineyxDiverx,Godzilla is going to get a lot of press this weekend,and I'm sure a great time will be had by all, at the movie theaters,but don't count out PACIFIC RIM,this movie will be a sci-fi cult classic for decades to come,IMO,just like BLADE RUNNER,did from the 80s.Blade Runner was considered a box office disappointment when it was released decades ago,but now it is considered a sci-fi masterpiece. Pacific Rim may not be a masterpiece,but the fan base for this movie will grow over time as it is shown on more home viewing formats,like blu-ray,cable and on demand.
      • Scopedog
        I wouldn't worry Byron--like you said, the passage of time really determines the worth of a film. A lot of people are seeing PR now on cable and really liking it. It'll be around--and let's face it, it was the most "fun" movie of last summer, and very re-watchable.
  • Xerxexx
    Loved Cloverfield and adored Super 8...If Godzilla surpasses both those films then I am content to fawn over Edwards film. I caught Monsters near the end when the squid like alien passed over the main characters and was amazed at how massive it looked...I believe in Gareth Edwards.
    • T. Hakeem
      I think we're some of the few people who love Super 8! For me those comparisons clinched it.
      • Xerxexx
        Super 8 belongs to with Goonies, ET, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in my personel opinion.
        • T. Hakeem
          Indeed!
        • Tester
          Super8 attempted to be such movies but didn't quite make it in my opinion
          • Xerxexx
            I understand.
    • son_et_lumiere
      i too believe in Gareth Edwards, Cred X! i know many have issues with them, but i love Cloverfield and Super 8 because of what there are, not what they aren't. Cloverfield was a first person account and no more, so no exposition of the monster's background, etc, and scarier for it. Super 8 was an overt Amblin homage, hence it's look and feel. for the same reason, i adored Monsters because it was a great drama set in a sci-fi environment, rather than a sci-fi monster film - the title was an obvious metaphor, but possibly too much of a misnomer for the wider audience. if Edwards can inject Godzilla with the same amount of care he took with Monsters, both film fans and monster freaks should be happy. fingers crossed!
      • Xerxexx
        How ya been!?
        • son_et_lumiere
          'just kicking with some G's on the West Si-ide.' tbh, spending far too much time working and not enough in the flicks. booking advance IMAX tickets for this is the kind of thing getting me through the day at the moment! (others out now or later on my must-see tonic list: Calvary, Blue Ruin, The Double, Enemy, Frank, Locke.) i trust all is well in the house of Xerxexx? peace.
          • Xerxexx
            Gotta make time for the movies bro! All goes well on my front. Been watching movies left and right. Watched an old Nic Cage movie "It Could Happen to You" the other night. Decent Cage flick. Gonna finally watch Valhalla...shame on me for waiting this long.
          • son_et_lumiere
            damn straight, have to make more time for cinema, the great escape. enjoy Valhalla! peace, out.
    • Scopedog
      Oh, you'll really love how Godzilla appears in this film...but then again, I saw it from the second row in the theater. In 3D no less...:)
      • http://moviefy.net/ Yahzee
        ... 3D? really? wow! stupid theaters here only have 3D showings that add NOTHING to the experience :(
        • Scopedog
          The theater I saw the film had both 2D and 3D showings. If it's any indication, most of them were sold out.
      • Xerxexx
        I'm giddy!
  • Tey
    Wow Cloverfield was pretty awesome! If what you say is all true then we will have a classic in our hands!
    • Lagoya
      Really? I thought Cloverfield was awful. The monster looked awkward and we didn't learn anything about where it came from or why it attacked, combined with the overdone handy cam footage. Really excited for Godzilla though, I used to watch the old Japanese films as a kid!
      • dawko
        The monster looked creepy, terrifying, and it was a found-footage kind of a movie so you had to expect less background about the monster...which I didn't mind at all! Sometimes, you don't need all the answers.
      • Brian Sleider
        Agreed, over hyped waste of a movie ticket.
      • Wafffles
        Overdone handy cam footage, yep. Awkward looking monster, sure. It's origin, though, or lack thereof was one of the more brilliant decisions in the movie. As a "found-footage" movie, the conceit is that we are watching someone film the panic and chaos of an apocalyptic event in real time, unedited. A monster attack by a squid from space capable of ending the world would indeed probably see mankind defeated before anyone even figured out what was going on. "Dead before they knew what hit 'em" is so much more realistic (IMO) than "before we all died, at least we figured out that the monster is an X from the planet Y killing us because of Z."
  • DAVIDPD
    So glad to hear this AB! I am seeing it on Thursday after work.
  • Chris Groves
    Can't wait. I have my IMAX ticket for Thursday night.
  • http://www.JustinGiddings.com Justin Giddings
    This film is going to be amazing. You hit the nail on the head, too - a good monster movie is about the PEOPLE, not the VFX. And geez, what a cast...
    • son_et_lumiere
      100% agreed. the audience has to *care* about the characters on screen, and what happens to them, otherwise it's just huge amounts of VFX with no foundation. i know it's well-loved on these boards, but i couldn't care less for anyone in Pacific Rim save for Rinko Kikuchi's character, the backstories were very two dimensional, or it could have been the acting. with this cast, you'd expect a bit more depth.
  • Jon Odishaw
    This is my most anticipated film of the year. We're four days away and I am moist.
  • mooreworthy
    IMAX IMAX IMAX IMAX IMAX!
  • Jorrell Mcdaniel
    Alex I`ve followed your reviews for some time now and this review got me so excited, I did a fist pump after seeing your rating.
  • http://www.roamandthink.com/ Quanah
    Thanks for the review Alex. I'm really excited for this, and even more-so now.
  • Brian Sleider
    "it's about following the characters, the humans on this planet" While I cannot comment too much, as I have not seen the movie. But this line to me is a negative, I do not want human stories I want monster on monster action. I hope it is balanced in a way that does not have me sighing whenever there is a non monster scene.
    • Tyrell Antonio
      I'm sure it will be great but this "human" review got me worried
      • Brian Sleider
        Yeh, I posted awhile back that I was scared that the human drama would over shadow the monster action. This review tells me there is a fair amount of human drama, I just hope it is in a way that keeps me engaged. For me I want 90-100 minutes of monsters wreaking havoc if the only people in it were running or being eaten I would be quite happy with that. I know others want more and thats cool. I just hope, like I said, that the drama doesnt make me bored.
        • Xerxexx
          As much as I enjoy Godzilla we need a human element...without it its just a camera following Godzilla around...not really a lot you can do before it gets stale...sure it would be epic...but all we get is Godzilla walking, fighting, and eating. With human element (Bryan Cranston!) combined with the Godzilla element we get a awesom well rounded movie...
          • Brian Sleider
            The fact that the human element includes Cranston alleviates a lot of worry. But it is still there. ATM I regret reading this review though. It has given me a negative preconceived notion of the movie, and no one wants to go into a movie like that. Again, hard to get too worked up over one review, but I should not have read this one. No worries, few more days and I will know.
          • oct8pus
            You should watch the movie "Monsters" by the same director. It's about people living in a world that is being invaded by giant monsters (sound familiar?) but the most important thing is that it is about people, not monsters. What you want, it seems, is essentially, monster porn - no plot, no emotions, just nonstop monster-on-monster action. There would be no movie. I suggest trying some godzilla video games.
          • Brian Sleider
            Yeh I thought Monsters was OK, too much people, not enough monster though. Always hoped for a sequel that gave use more of them. And yep monster porn would be an accurate description of what I want out of a movie like this. I do not dislike human stories, I just dont want them to be to heavy in my monster flicks. Apes is my most anticipated movie of the year, its all about human drama, even if some of it is told through the lens of apes. SO I am not opposed to it is movies as a rule.
    • Jon Odishaw
      Everyone wants monster on monster action but you can't have two hours of it so you need there to be a movie in there somewhere. That's what I didn't like about pacific rim. The robot on monster was fantastic but everything else was Underwhelming.
      • Brian Sleider
        I mean you say that, but I disagree. The problem with Pac rim, to me, was that there was an "everything" else. I know lots of people who want NOTHING more out of a movie like this than monsters and destruction.
        • http://moviefy.net/ Yahzee
          ... well that's not me. I want a story and characters to go along with the mayhem, otherwise I don't care, it's like watching a videogame. Wait, scratch that, there's a lot of videogames that have great stories and characters
    • OfficialJab
      I don't know if you saw the movie since your comment, but no it is not in a balanced way.
      • Brian Sleider
        No it was not, a very large disappointment for me.
  • ErrorSapiens
    Fantastic review. I`m all into monster movies anyway, but you REALLY made me want to see it. 2 things though(1 joke and one serious point) 1. Poor Brody bloodline.. havent they seen enough giant monsters.. 2. Why do you de-evaluete Super8 (which is PURE homage), Cloverfield and Pacific Rim in comparison? I suffer the suspection that GODZILLA annno 2014 is still a splendid movie without putting it on top of other monster movies. Based on the fact that you clame they are all are based on Godzilla (Super 8 i find doubtful) one can say that the original king of monsters is King Kong.. or maybe something else Ray Harryhausen animated in the early days. :)
    • Scopedog
      Hell, I LOVE all those films--CLOVERFIELD, SUPER 8, and PACIFIC RIM--and I loved this film. I'm putting them all on my DVD shelf.
  • Nathan Williams
    The original 1954 Godzilla movies is still one of my top favorite movies of all time and I have been very much excited for this new one. I grew up watching Godzilla movies as a kid and have been attached to the giant lizard ever since. There really hasn't been a movie that has captured the true essence of Godzilla other than maybe the original but this new version looks to be what I have wanted out of a Godzilla movie for years. Often times when I tell people I'm a G fan they often chuckle and don't take me seriously. I'm tired of it! It's time people see what Godzilla really is and if the trailers and this review are any indicators then now might finally be the time! Thanks for the review Alex now I'm even more pumped! I am curious though how is the Score by Alexandre Desplat? The original Godzilla Score by Akira Ifukube is one of my top favorite movie soundtracks so I'm very curious how Alexandre's approach to the green lizard is!
    • http://moviefy.net/ Yahzee
      ... Akira who? Desplat knocks it out of the park. It's not as fun and multilayered as David Arnold's, but it's a relentlessly exciting musical experience
  • Quynh Truong
    Cannot wait to see this. YES
  • ziggy
    and of course Billington is gonna nut all over this
    • Xerxexx
      Bad thing?
      • Zade_92
        nope!
    • http://www.firstshowing.net/ Alex Billington
      But of course! I could've also hated it, but I didn't. It's an awesome movie. So of course I'm going to "nut" all over a great movie.
      • rolyjimenez
        nut away alex
      • son_et_lumiere
        thanks for the "nut" review, Alex. your enthusiasm is obvious but you did also gave a reasoned opinion. i also appreciated the lack of spoilers - i've avoided all but the first 2 trailers and even managed not to look at your top image! got my IMAX tickets - bring on Gojira! ps - did you know 'Gojira' is a combination of the Japanese words for 'gorilla' and 'whale'? probably, but only just found out myself.
  • arthurcucumber
    way way to scarry for me! perfer more giggles too my movies. never understood monster movies.
  • JBrotsis
    I have yet to see Godzilla however know I'm really going to like it. And that was a great review...really gets me pumped for the weekend after reading other critics' reviews. I'm only commenting to say...that though I agree this Godzilla may surpass all the other recent monster movies like Pacific Rim and Cloverfield...I don't know if I'd compare it with Super 8. That film was fantastic and wasn't necessary on the same scale or even a similar storyline to Godzilla but more ET/Close Encounters of the Third Kind/Goonies in a way. IMO, it's like saying Alien is better than Predator just because they both have an "extraterrestrial" in the movie. So I don't think I'd compare to two, whereas Godzilla is more of being a massive beast that destroys cities and fights other giant beasts and Super 8 is a small alien trying to rebuild his ship to go home.
  • LightningB
    Jeremy Kirk would have given this 4 out of 10. It's nice to see actual positive reviews once in a while.
  • Guest
    reviews so far have been mixed, at least none of them say it was terrible
    • Marco Alessio Di Giovanni
      Are you sure? On IMDB it has 9.1/10, and it has 88% on RT. I hardly would call that "mixed"
    • MegaSolipsist
      I know quite a few people who thought it was terrible.
  • Joseph Kool
    I wish Hollywood would get away from the stupid played out super hero movies. That's why I want this movie to succeed. A giant lizard is more plausible than super powered humans and the things they do in their stupid movies. What we have now are remakes of remakes with these super hero movies and they all suck. I can't make it half way through the avengers it's so stupid.
    • 7992
      then watch something else the, if you think modern superhero films suck why would you a watch a superhero film? I think modern horror sucks and its all remakes so why would I watch one? I wouldn't because that's completely illogical. you cant watch a film of a genre that you hate and then complain that it conforms to the genre. that's like saying I don't like cold food then ordering and sending back an ice cream desert as its too cold, its your issue not the products
    • Byron Harris
      Joseph Kool,may I ask,what is it like on the planet,you are from? I'm just saying.
    • http://moviefy.net/ Yahzee
      ... just avoid what you don't like and don't pay any attention to it. That's what I do with most animated films for example, and I learned what to expect with Marvel movies and now I'm a happy person
  • Byron Harris
    I'm sorry Mr.Billington,but I strongly disagree with you that this Godzilla is the best monster movie in recent history,Pacific Rim wins that title hands down,not only did it nail the dai-kaiju genre,but it was that best live-action anime inspired movie made,on this side of the Pacific ocean. It had the scale,action,music and most of all,the fun,that makes this,the all round total package,(not just partial elements)of what makes a perfect American homage to Japanese science fiction and anime.I'm NOT saying that Godzilla 2014,is not,going to be a good movie,because I'm sure it will be,besides any new "G" movie has to be a 100x better than Godzilla 1998.
    • Scopedog
      You can like both. I loved PACIFIC RIM, and I loved GODZILLA. And you're right about PR--it was a well-done homage to the kaiju/anime films and tv shows of del Toro's youth. This Godzilla film is much closer to the original 1954 film and the "sensawunda" films of Speilberg. In other words, both films have giant monsters. The approach is different, but both are satisfying in their own ways.
  • lars
    After watching the 1998 and 2014 Godzilla simultaneously in a span of 5 hours,I must admit that I'm looking back at the 1998 version more fondly than I expected. Yeah sure, the 1998 version is a horrible representation of Godzilla and has some annoying characters and dated cg, but if u can remove the name Godzilla and look at it as a movie about giant monsters attacking a city,its actually really entertaining,plus the action scenes are really good and it has a memorable score. This newer version has a better overall plot,better cgi and characters but in terms of execution, it wasn't that memorable,plus it did some grievous things that piss the shit out of me.( Good job movie,u just WASTED the most interesting character in the movie at the half hour mark, I won't say who,but he's the 1 characters I know a lot of people were looking forward to.) Also, I honestly wasn't 'WHOA' by any of the fight scenes,as a matter of fact, I felt like I was being trolled through most of it, but I was 'WHOA' at the third act by the unholy mother of anticlimaxes I've seen in a recent movie. Here's how I'll describe the action: Godzilla vs Muto fight 1= Fool me once,shame on you Godzilla vs Muto fight 2= Fool me twice,shame on me Godzilla vs Mutos fight 3=Fool me 3 times, FUCK U MOVIE Overall, I give Godzilla 2014 a 7/10.
    • MegaSolipsist
      I think that each individual piece of the 2014 Godzilla was better than the individual pieces of the 1998 Godzilla, but it utterly failed to put them together. Somehow, 2014 was a better film, but it was still bad, and because it lied about being good film and took itself way too seriously it ended up worse. I could enjoy 1998 as a bad movie, but the new one bored me to tears.
  • JP
    **SPOILERS** Saw it last night, it was one I was REALLY looking forward to,and I'm afraid it disappointed on so many levels. Dare I say it, it was boring, and no, I wasn't looking for an all out monster v monster CGI free for all. I enjoyed the first 20 minute storyline,slowly building up the story,and the slow reveals of Godzilla. But even when the action kicked in it was flat. It wasn't helped by characters that I didn't care about. Watanabe spends the whole film with a look of shock on his face, doing very little else, Hawkins,Olsen, Straithairn are all nothing characters,adding little to the storyline. Taylor Johnson's character could have been played by anyone. Cranston was the best by a mile and we know what happens him early on. And because the movie takes itself so seriously even the comic moments aren't intentionally funny, just daft. And the end they make Godzilla out to be some kind of hero after thousands of lives have been lost, and a city flattened,.They all start cheering and clapping when Godzilla heads back to the ocean,as they await the next time he decides to destroy a city...pleasseeeee. 3/10
    • Xerxexx
      Dude...Zilla is a hero.
  • Alexis Goitia
    Godzilla is the same old campy monster repainted with a Cloverfield-like approach.
  • UnhingedReviews
    Nice review, we feel the same way about Edwards choice to show the story beneath the creature feature. If the film had been all about Godzilla beating up some cosmic abomination it would have been ..just another Godzilla film. We never got into the old ones as much as this because the others lacked "real meat". One finds it hard to bond with a rubber giant shooting lasers from it's mouth, but people, we love those..lol You're also right about showing the battles when it added value to the overall experience because anything less would have just been for the diehards and left those wanting to get into the big guy shaking their heads. Cheers
  • Wolviewolverine
    I liked the movie a lot. It was what I expected. Save just a tiny bit too much humans shown (at least at the end.. I really did not care that much about the dudes family), it was very well balanced. Also I always have loved the approach of Godzilla and monsters being just these forces of nature. It was well shows that humans are but small entities on this planet and even our most capable weapons cannot not harm this natural order. They awaken, they balance out the power and then they settle. Good movie. Would watch Godzilla scenes again. 8/10
  • MegaSolipsist
    This movie was terrible, and it took itself far too seriously. I could enjoy the 1998 Godzilla as a bad movie, but this one was too good to enjoy as a bad movie, too bad to enjoy as a good movie, and far too boring to ever re-watch. Somehow, even though it's better than the 1998 movie it still ended up being worse.

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