After losing some of his luster with the 1998 remake, and watching other films like Cloverfield attempt to steal his throne, Godzilla is finally making his comeback. Eager to reclaim the title of ”King of the Monsters”, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is larger and leaner than his predecessor. Like a boxer stepping into the ring after a long absence, there is an exciting sense of anticipation in the air. A battle for the ages is looming and even scientists like Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) have no other choice but to proclaim “let them fight”.
Edwards’ knows that it is the “fight” that we have all come for, but it is the least of his concerns. Truth be told, it is the build-up that is the most exciting aspect of this modern version of the Godzilla lore. Similar to his 2010 indie Monsters, the bulk of the film focuses more on the human side of things. In fact, it can be argued that the film is more about parental sacrifice than it is a tale about a giant lizard. Although teasing us with hints of the monster, the bulk of the first hour centers around the plight of the Brody clan.
American nuclear scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his soldier son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) inadvertently find themselves uncovering a massive conspiracy that threatens to destroy the world. Of course, as is usually the case, no one is willing to listen to them until it is too late. Even Ford is skeptical of his dad’s “crackpot” theories at first. He tells his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) that his father has not been the same since a devastating incident occurred at the Japanese nuclear plant that Joe and Ford’s mother, Sandra (Juliette Binoche), worked at 15 years earlier. Though the government claims that a reactor leak is to blame, Joe is convinced there is more to the story.
Despite the best efforts of scientists (Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) and military officials (David Strathairn) to contain the truth, their secret gets out when an insect parasites called Muto (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) begins wreaking havoc on Las Vegas, Hawaii and San Francisco.
The focus on the human element, including the numerous nods to parents risking it all for their children, is rather refreshing in a season mostly known for its mindless spectacle. However, it is Edwards’ admiration of the classic Godzilla films that is most surprising. He views Godzilla with childlike wonderment. It is no coincidence that the film features numerous shots of children stunned by the enormous creature terrorizing their homes. Unlike Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version, Edwards’ Godzilla is a monster to both fear and admire. Like most misunderstood heroes, he fights for the safety of those who seek to eradicate him.
Godzilla has always been a cautionary symbol for the dangers of man’s reliance on nuclear energy. This film both pays homage to this tradition while linking it to more recent disasters such as the 2011 Japanese earthquake. The MUTO feed on anything nuclear (e.g. missiles, submarines, etc.) with the ferocity of professional speed eaters at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Whether the environmental message resonates with this generation still remains to be seen. After all, most will no doubt be going to see giant creatures beating each other senseless. Regardless, Godzilla is a film that will satisfy both those seeking substance and those who only want spectacle. Though it would have been nice had Edwards given his talented cast a little more heavy lifting to do, Godzilla is a worthy addition to the reptile’s lengthy canon. It is one of the few blockbusters that manages to provide a mixture of both human emotion and entertaining spectacle.