If you’ve seen Jaws, you’ve learned the golden rule was never show the shark until the audience is absolutely at the edge of their seat. It’s something Steven Spielberg did not only to save cash, because the animatronic shark was faulty and also expensive, but it creates a painfully exhilarating level of anticipation for the audience. Anticipation is a key element that drives the viewer when it comes to thriller and horror films alike. But does it work for an summer action flick?
The latest Godzilla film utilizes a lot of anticipation to drive the story, even though it’s an action film in an era of non stop spectacle, which is probably why so many critics are saying director Gareth Edwards is the new Spielberg. The thing is, as a series that most viewers would compare to properties like Transformers—a bloated action film that is filled with endless explosions and payoffs—does the anticipation factor work in Godzilla or is it misguided and ineffective?
Godzilla, (May 2014)
Godzilla knows he’s shot best from the left side.
The film opens with a scientist registering some odd seismic activity, played by Bryan Cranston, who’s a distant father to his son but a loving husband to his wife. Frankly, Cranston saves the first act of this film as he’s dynamic and introduces the story nicely. The threat of giant monsters is real and we get a firsthand look at the devastation it can have on a family. After the first disaster clears up, the film cuts to 15 years later and we’re reintroduced to his son who’s now a father himself. There are plenty of visuals and story elements that tie these two men together as if the film is saying the son will now have to go through the same hell and hardships. Unfortunately his son, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, doesn’t is a tight-lipped soldier and unemotional parent. You can tell he cares, but he doesn’t have much time to show it. Instead, the film jettisons off into action land as he joins up with his father and determines whether he’s crazy or onto something.
I will give this movie props for not making Cranston’s character the cliched scientific nut. Sure, he covers his walls in newspapers, which shows his obsession with the first attack, but he’s imbued with enough humanity and caring to still be tethered to reality. This is a very important aspect because Godzilla doesn’t make it into the film, besides some tracks in the ground, until very late. In fact, the first monster we actually see is an insect, so the human aspect is by far the most important element that’ll keep you interested in the film.
You will not care about him at all. Live or die, we only care about Godzilla!
Because Godzilla is used sparingly, especially in the first hour, you’re faced with a lot of anticipation and teasing moments. You get to see the monsters here and there, or for quick cutting shots, which is fine, but the problem with this is how long and often we must wait for these shots. The threat of the monster(s) is grand and epic, but the ratio of anticipatory moments to payoff leans too far in the former category. This works well, for a time, but eventually you’ll grow tired of having to see the human characters run, dodge, and escape the threat of these giant beasts. This works very well in showing the scope of these giants because we’re down on the ground with the human protagonists so much, but there’s just too much of it to keep anyone’s interest for long enough.
The human protagonists (because Godzilla is the real protagonist of this film however absent he is) become boring and run of the mill by story’s end. In fact, Elisabeth Olsen, who plays the mother to Taylor-Johnson’s son, is so underused and pointless she’s really just there as a female element. “We need a woman in this movie to sell tickets to females,” a producer assuredly said back when the script was being written. Cranston is such a strong element in the opening of this film you’d think rewrites would have been in order, but unfortunately American audiences demand younger leads so it is what it is.
Why am I in this movie?
Godzilla himself is quite a sight to see, and there’s a good amount of shots of him smashing, fighting and walking around. There’s one point where he pulls off some real fighting moves ala the classic movies and you, and the audience I was with, will surely cheer and love every minute of it. In fact, you might love these minutes even more considering you have to wait so long for them.
The Story: 8.0
The strongest storyline is Godzilla proving to humanity he is our hero and it works. The rest is a chase scene.
Characters and Their Development: 5.0
None really, aside from Godzilla proving he’s the man. The human protagonists are just trying to keep their heads above water.
Gripes and Guffaws:
An underused and pointless Olsen, the climax taking place in San Francisco instead of Japan (go America!) and an American military who thinks bombing everything with nukes is the only answer.