Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Breaking Down The Monster: The Best & Worst Of 'Godzilla'

Features
by The Playlist Staff
May 19, 2014 3:03 PM
32 Comments
  • |
Godzilla

Godzilla Himself
We’re not going to argue here at all about “Godzilla.” His look is more classic than groundbreaking and that’s totally OK—there’s no point in fixing what isn’t broken. The visual effects are top notch, and Godzilla looks really gigantic and immense. Particularly cool are the “fin scale” shots when he’s swimming to shore. The visuals are really impressive and perhaps more importantly, feel realistic to the world of the movie around it. And give a shout out to the sound design, too, which helps make for an immersive “Godzilla” that goes far beyond his iconic roar.

Godzilla

The Action/The Fights
While some will argue there’s a paucity of fight sequences in the early stages of “Godzilla”—the first battle between the M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) and “Godzilla” appears off screen on television—it’s a smart and inventive tease of what’s to come. When Godzilla and the M.U.T.O.s finally throw down in the ultimate battle for global supremacy, it’s through thoughtful filmmaking that doesn't lean on volume or fast camera moves. Quite the opposite, in fact. The camera is largely still and from afar so you can absorb this unholy spectacle, which is a nice counter-intuitive choice. Particularly when compared to most blockbusters that don’t know when to sit still.

The Cast, Minus One Particular Guy
Even going back to “Superman: The Movie” where Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando co-starred, the idea was that including top-notch actors in your popcorn spectacle would elevate your (potentially silly) movie and lend it some gravitas. From Tim Burton's “Batman” through the Nolan years, that idea has been leveraged over and over again. And it’s smart thinking that “Godzilla” takes it to heart: fill your movie with excellent actors and not only will you not strain credibility, you’ll make for an involved world with emotional and dramatic stakes that leave you all the more hooked and engaged. The terrific cast of “Godzilla” certainly do that, especially Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe. Unfortunately, none of these characters have a lot to do or are wasted in the movie ultimately, but let’s at least give props to the casting choices and their performances (about as good as they can be given the circumstances of the plot).

Godzilla

“The Hidden” Godzilla
One of the chief complaints leveled toward Edwards’ movie is the “hidden” nature of “Godzilla.” The audience is nearly taken through two full acts of a movie with no monster in plain sight, until things really get moving in the final third. Well, less is more and Edwards knows that. While most studio thinking is that you want the movie to open with an action sequence and the King of the Monsters kicking super ass, this one leaves you wanting more, and endeavors to the put the audience in the shows of the masses looking up to see Godzilla on the horizon. “Godzilla” adopts the Spielberg-ian “Jaws” m.o.—tease your monster, show him in bits and pieces and then unveil him for the finale. And Edwards' orchestration of that is quite strong and runs counter to most blockbuster thinking. Of course, there’s a reason why it’s not as classic as “Jaws,” but we’ll get into that further down the piece.

Godzilla

The So-So

The Score
Alexandre Desplat is one of the world’s greatest composers, and landing him for “Godzilla” is just one of the many ways the Legendary Pictures' movie tries to hire top-notch talent across the board, be it a DP, the cast, and terrific below-the-line craftsmen. But Desplat’s score isn’t really that memorable, and even forgettable at times, especially when compared to his run of incredible scores. But worse, the movie seems to cross that fine line between melodrama and melodramatic as there are a few times, especially during crucial moments, where the music goes too big and overwrought. Don’t get it twisted, Desplat’s worst score is still better than most, but by his standards, it’s certainly not his best.

The Bad

The Writing
For the first thirty minutes or so, “Godzilla” creates a world you’re willing to invest in and care about. A tragic disaster hides a bigger conspiracy, tearing a father and son apart, with the drama spread across two continents. But after all that time and consideration spent creating an emotional backstory and achieving a deep investment in the characters, this is all mostly ditched for what becomes another ninety minutes or so of people staring at radars, staring with concern at the horizon and asking, repeatedly, where the monsters are (it’s basically the cinematic version of “Where’s Poochie?”). After Bryan Cranston’s death (which we’ll get to), the audience gets an exposition dump by Ken Watanabe on a military ship, and the film ostensibly switches gears to focus on Aaron Taylor-Johnson. But even that isn’t quite true. “Godzilla” essentially becomes a military action picture, with everyone always seemingly arriving just a couple minutes too late after the slow moving monsters have destroyed something. Granted, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance doesn’t help matters, but he (and the rest of the cast) can only do so much with what they're given. How much can you ask of Elizabeth Olsen if she spends most her performance on the phone or waiting for the phone to ring? How much can one expect of Ken Watanabe, whose sole job seems to be standing out of frame, only to walk in every twenty minutes or so with grave worry or concern? One wishes that writer Max Borenstein (and all the ghostwriters) had given the characters and story as much the texture as the monster’s skin.

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

32 Comments

  • PattonFiend | August 15, 2014 11:19 AMReply

    So glad I did not pay to see this. I would have been so pissed.

    Cranston had the only good part and they killed him less than 45 minutes into it.

    Terrible movie.

    This guy says it best, " MegaSolipsist | July 9, 2014 5:21 PMReply

    This movie was so boring, criminally wasting the only good actors it had and focusing on the bad ones (even Kick-Ass was bad in this), showing nothing of Godzilla to the point where I got irritated at the constant teasing and relegating the big guy to a cameo at the end. And when he did show up he looked terrible, a waddling, badly animated monster with terrible, cartoony facial expressions.
    At least the 1998 movie was fun in a campy kind of way. I could enjoy it 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."

  • MegaSolipsist | July 9, 2014 5:21 PMReply

    This movie was so boring, criminally wasting the only good actors it had and focusing on the bad ones (even Kick-Ass was bad in this), showing nothing of Godzilla to the point where I got irritated at the constant teasing and relegating the big guy to a cameo at the end. And when he did show up he looked terrible, a waddling, badly animated monster with terrible, cartoony facial expressions.
    At least the 1998 movie was fun in a campy kind of way. I could enjoy it 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.

  • Juan Czarmar | July 24, 2014 5:52 PM

    O MY GOD. Thank you LOLMEISTER

  • LOLMEISTER | July 21, 2014 11:27 PM

    Cartoony? Are you serious?

    All I hear from this is a little baby crying and whining.

  • Caister101 | May 29, 2014 1:12 PMReply

    Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche were both perfectly fine but everyone else was ineffectual and had land characterization, so there was little reason to care for anything after Malcom's dad died. And that was a THIRD of the way in! As soon as you realize it is going to be a monster-fighting-monsters movie instead of a monster movie it becomes silly. I was not a fan of Pacific Rim, but at least that film stayed silly and fun for its target audience and worked well for others. This film wants the action of Rim at the calibre of Nolan, which doesn't work and so you are left with a film that struggles to be any one thing, and so ultimately disappointing. The Emmerich film is at least a fun family suitable film.

  • jawsnnn | May 26, 2014 9:14 PMReply

    I don't know how any one can ever say that Elizabeth Olsen acted at all in this movie. In my opinion she was the blander one of the two leads, and considering Aaron Taylor Johnson was very plain, that's saying something.

  • wolverqueen | May 26, 2014 4:49 AMReply

    Shitzilla, this was a terrible movie. How on earth has it done so well? Pacific Rim was in a different realm to this. It was slow, boring, Godzilla looked like a bad plastic toy. Not nearly enough action... all the building up, Jaws style crap was irritating. Script awful and the score !! My god that was bad. Nothing good about it at all.
    Very Bad.

  • Elcid Asaei | May 22, 2014 7:11 PMReply

    Spot on! It's encouraging to read a review that isn't mincing its words, be they good or bad, or ugly. I saw the film in 3D and that was also one of my pet hates about it. The fact it wasn't shot in 3 dimensions made for a very unengaging experience where the monsters, when they finally appeared, never jumped out at me. The glare on the 3D glasses also annoyed me, but that wasn't the film's fault. I always say, if it wasn't filmed in 3D it wasn't meant for 3D so quick cashing in! :)

  • nyaus | May 22, 2014 10:24 AMReply

    the score is so bad. just blah. doesn't "help" the film in any way, doesn't push anything forward. just lays there. seems phoned in.

  • SHERA | May 22, 2014 8:59 AMReply

    I never understood WHY Godzilla and the MUTOs were fighting. They never addressed it, only indicating the MUTOs were some sort of parasite.

    If you haven't seen it, do not expect a strong script. The movie is really about special effects and that part was pretty cool. Keeping Godzilla partially hidden was much better than seeing the entire monster.

  • Jesus People are Dumb | July 21, 2014 11:35 PM

    If you really think they didn't say why Godzilla and the MUTOs were fighting, then you obviously weren't paying attention. Cry some more.

  • cory | May 22, 2014 2:37 AMReply

    Why is the ship captain running the whole military campaign, and why doesn't he stay on his ship? The nuclear bombing of Godzilla shown from the old 1950's footage is the Castle Bravo testing, a 15 megaton bomb. It is a bit disrespectful that this test was used considering there was innocent lives lost (accidental) from this test. Secondly, as a history nut, I laughed when David Strathairn, Super Navy Captain says that the decoy bomb that they plan to kill the MUTOs with is much larger than the previous bombs (i.e. the old Castle Bravo testing); even going as far as to faulty state that it was kilotons and not megatons. Secondly, that was the largest bomb the USA has ever detonated, and most presumably closest to the largest bomb we currently have, the only thing that could make those look like "firecrackers" would be the Tsar Bomba, a Russian bomb denoted with a 50 megaton yield. The film has the nuclear bombs as part of an old Titan rocket, but there wouldn't be a need to haul the whole rocket around on boat and train, all you need is the warhead (the tip, or the part that actually has the explosive). Where are all the Black-hawk helicopters? Surely we use those more than the UH-Huey in today's modern military.

  • El | May 21, 2014 3:46 AMReply

    Who's the "well-known young and popular auteur" who did an uncredited rewrite? Was it Neill Blomkamp?

  • benutty | May 20, 2014 3:39 PMReply

    I think it's problematic to fault the film for the "hidden Godzilla" aspect because it's evident that Edwards intends for us to not know much about Godzilla. Through his work with Monsters and now with Godzilla, it seems as though Edwards' POV is to create worlds where while humans are the focus and core of his stories they know very little about the world (by way of the monsters) that they inhabit and in a sense fall out of focus because of it. In Godzilla the monsters notably show very little interest in humans--they aren't trying to eat them, they aren't displaced by them, etc.--and have their own motivations. This contradicts most approaches to monster movies and challenges the typical notion that EVERYTHING in our world must be filtered through its relationship to humanity. If you're going to fault a director for a part of their film being unexplained then you have to acknowledge whether or not this was their intention.

  • Franka | May 20, 2014 4:00 PM

    If you read closely, no one really faults it at all. in fact, it's in the "good" section.

  • Alex L | May 20, 2014 2:12 PMReply

    I saw the movie twice this weekend, once with my kids. I think the second viewing made the human drama more clear. I do feel like Taylor-Johnson did not get enough lines to express himself. I think the movie was edited somewhat in a hurry - it was finished in March, after all, and it could have spent more time with the characters. But with the exposition angle, I think they felt they had held back from showing Godzilla enough. As for Cranston, I think he elevated a lot of his scenes, above the material. I don't think anyone else in the film could have said "take us back to the stone age" and it would have worked. That came through in the second showing, because you're going "what???"

    I do feel like the people in the tower had no business being there when the flying MUTO went by. Not evacuated? That was bizarre to me. The scene was awesome - leading to the face-off - except for that.

  • Alex L | May 20, 2014 2:13 PM

    I mean you're going "what?" in the first viewing.

  • Guillermo | May 20, 2014 11:40 AMReply

    Think of King Kong and how terrible of a movie it was. Mostly, I believe, because its premise does not transcend to our reality not matter how much you try to make a good script out off it. A giant gorilla climbing the empire state building and falling in love with a woman?? SMH....
    Anyone could have though the same of Godzilla. Two monsters, a giant moth fighting a giant dinosaur like creature?? Garrett Edward made the best out of such improbable commercial subject. For a movie that doesn't fit our reality in terms of the story, giant monsters fighting in big city (aka Pacific Rim), Mr. Edward made the impossible possible.

  • My God | July 21, 2014 11:37 PM

    You must be a lot of fun at parties.

  • Ugh | May 20, 2014 9:04 PM

    A movie doesn't have to feel REAL to be fun or entertaining. It just has to work in the world it's presenting. The Marvel movies sure don't feel real but they're a blast.

  • TYLER | May 20, 2014 11:14 AMReply

    I don't know why everyone refuses to actually look at Ford Brody's character and motivations. His stoicism is absolutely central to the themes of the movie. He's reacting to his father throughout the entire movie and dealing with his abandonment issues (the train scene with Brody trying to return the lost child to his parents is ANYTHING but random). His main driving force throughout the movie is that he doesn't want to be like his father; he wants to be there for his wife and son. Claiming that "Nothing Ford does has anything to do with the first act of the movie," is objectively untrue.

  • TYLER | May 23, 2014 10:31 AM

    Wasn't talking about Taylor-Johnson or his acting. Just the character/writing.

  • Andre | May 22, 2014 12:16 PM

    So quick to defend such a crappy character "Tyler" or should we say..."Taylor-Johnson." And for the record, stoicism is an absolutely stupid choice in this movie because it doesn't help us empathize with Brody as much as fear or desperation would. There are more interesting ways to develop a character arc than just looking blankly at a green screen, you're not Chris Pine bro.

    Godzilla's face in the last scene of the movie was more expressive than all of Aaron Taylor-Johnson's filmography. You're just making excuses for a guy who can't outact a CGI monster.

  • Ryker Johannson | May 19, 2014 11:31 PMReply

    I'm not sure you understood the movie - I mean, you get some of the themes, but Godzilla didn't kill Cranston's wife - MUTO did. Teaming up with Godzilla is the perfect progression, which is why Ford Brody does it in a total man on monster bro-down. Cranston would have been down without a lot of weird angst to get over.

  • Movie Bear | May 19, 2014 5:07 PMReply

    LOVED this movie. A+ for effort, B- for execution, resulting in in a solid B from me. I agreed with almost all of the points until your last one, regarding his 'atomic breath'... Out of place?!?Are you kidding? Sure it wasn't explicitly expalined or reasoned out in the movie. But who cares?! The hair on my arms raised up when this happened in the movie...Both times. People in the theater actually clapped and cheered! Cant remember the last time I experienced that at the cineplex. Weird that I had almost forgotten about this ability altogether until he used it. One subtle thing... it's clear that using this ability significantly drains Godzilla of his strength. Thus illustrating why it was conserved until those perfect moments.

  • BEF | May 19, 2014 5:23 PM

    Playlist, update to likes and I'll like this comment

  • borezilla | May 19, 2014 4:31 PMReply

    I thought that even Cranston wasn't very good in this. Like he was trying to oversell the bad script or something. People have so much good will towards him because of Breaking Bad that they'll think he's really good in something that he's not particularly good in.

  • BEF | May 19, 2014 4:21 PMReply

    I thought Taylor-Johnson was fine; I liked that Cranston's ending occurred off-screen. Everything felt a little off kilter and askew and to good effect -- it is, well a monster feeding on nuclear drainage, after all, being askew is kinda necessary .....

    What didn't work well for me were Wantanabe, Strathairn and Binoche ... Binoche because she had so little screen time it'd've been better to have a less known/worshipped actress ... Strathairn because he seemed above the material (I just imagine him on set looking at a screen, sighing and asking, "what's godzilla doing now) ... Wantanabe was just really bad -- mouth agape, struggling for every word ... Taylor-Johnson was fine. Outclassed by Olsen, yes, but he doesn't have to be a marvel.

    What else worked: the opening credits -- a great streamline through 'Zilla and Bikini history with redacted titles ... great!.... and the story of nature vs. warfare ... you can't bomb things back to the stone age when the nuclear age shows its face! The child watching the news footage ... reminds me of when I watched Godzilla as a kid and called it a dinosaur.

  • Franny | May 19, 2014 4:08 PMReply

    Good piece, totally agree.

  • alp | May 19, 2014 3:27 PMReply

    You are not the first person to realize "form" is, and (more importantly) *always will be* second to "content" in movies, particularly the tentpole business.

  • ALP | May 25, 2014 5:59 AM

    Ha! Pretty good comeback there, gabe. Now try this on for size, genius: I guarantee I already have your money.

    Figure that one out and get back to me. Operators are standing by!

  • Gabe toro | May 19, 2014 4:02 PM

    Wow. Then why don't you direct one?

Email Updates