Sixty years and thirty films into his legacy as Everybody’s Favorite Monster, Godzilla was at rest in a Marianas Trench of a slump. Roland Emmerich’s disastrous 1998 reboot effectively killed off American interest in the franchise, while Japan’s releases slowed to a stagnant trickle. His glory days lay in a stack of VHS tapes.
When Warner Brothers fired up the reboot engines, Guillermo Del Toro was favored to direct. Incidentally, he was busy working on the thematically-similar Pacific Rim. The studio surprisingly opted for newcomer director Gareth Edwards, who, despite a demonstrable gift for nuanced monster- making, had zero big-budget experience. Edwards called in the cavalry with a cast of revered thespians: Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, and David Strathairn.
Consider the bet well placed; the results are remarkable. Edwards’ Godzilla is among the most exhilarating disaster films of the decade, fusing large-scale panic, intimate, human drama, and lead-heavy stakes. Here’s why you should see it:
1. Delayed gratification = more gratification
Within minutes, it’s clear that Godzilla is gathering for a wallop of an impact, like the shoreline sucking out the tide before the tsunami. But it takes nearly an hour before the titular beast appears. That’s not just admissible—it’s the right thing to do. Classic thrillers like Jaws demonstrate how hard we flip out when we finally meet a fashionably-late threat. Plus, it’s no skin off our watch; Bryan Cranston brings his post-Breaking Bad A-game, single-handedly grounding the first act with a stirringly emotional performance.
2. The human perspective is scariest
Among the common missteps of disaster films is the use of omniscient perspectives. From a camera floating high above the city, crumbling skyscrapers and sprinting crowds are merely signifiers of a theoretical danger. It’s telling, not showing. From street level, however, the details make it real—glass shattering into wincing faces, the twang of snapping telephone wire, and a glimpse of massive, imminent death from behind a pair of fragile shoulders. Stopping thankfully short of the en vogue handheld jitter, Godzilla champions the perspective of its human characters to nearly GoPro levels.
3. Action for plot’s sake
As the classic franchise wore on, it frequently devolved into meaningless WWE-style monster brawls. Camp-hungry cult followers grew to love and demand the rubber-suit fights, but they set a low ceiling over potential storytelling—and subsequently larger, more serious audiences. Godzilla largely does away with the frivolities, instead weaving its conflicts into a nearly plausible arc about mankind’s recklessness and the checks and balances with which nature regulates us. And while Godzilla is far from a thinking man’s Transformers, it proves you don’t have to be stupid to feel stupefied. In Godzilla we trust.
Godzilla is playing now at Tinseltown Cinemark 14. See it in RealD if you can.