I’ll immediately concede that I am a huge fan of the classid Toho Godzilla pictures. Given that, and that I have a modicum of taste in movies (hey, I’m a critic after all), I regard the prior two American efforts at Godzilla movies to be utter abominations. There are few, if any, sane people on the planet who will say anything positive about Godzilla 1985 or the 1998 Matthew Broderick tripe. In other words, there was no reason to think that the newest installment in the franchise would be even decent, much less excellent.
And yet, it was.
The plot for Godzilla (2014, PG-13) doesn’t break too much new ground in the macro sense. Some folks unearth unstoppable monster forces that go on a rampage. Lots of military stuff is mobilized. Stuff gets blown up. There’s a battle. The end. Which is fine as long as you know what you are supposed to be getting.
What the new Godzilla does, though, is to very cleverly tweak the micro details in such a way as to polish the above simplistic story into a real gem. Suddenly, Godzilla isn’t just a random force of nature. He has a purpose in the order of things, and it works with the overall narrative and as a plausible complement to what we've seen from him in the past. I will refrain from offering more details at the moment.
That all this was accomplished with a director and writer that I’d never heard of was an equally present surprise. Gareth Edwards as director? Who is that? Max Borenstein with the screenplay? No idea who that is. They both did a spectacular job with action and pacing, though. And let me say this, Edwards must have a type A to the tenth power personality because somebody went over the CGI in this film with a fine-tooth comb. It was jaw-dropping. I was literally speechless at how seamless and real it all looked.
This isn't to say that there aren't problems. There definitely are. Bryan Cranston is almost just a cameo here, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson just doesn't have the acting chops to carry a whole show. Some of the military actions taken are real head-scratchers and smack of the kind of dumb moves you see in slasher films just so the killer (or giant monster in this case) has somebody to kill. Given that it’s a Godzilla movie, it’s excusable. Part of the whole theme is how humans can be such morons after all.
A few critics have slammed the movie for its alleged lack of Godzilla screen time. Such critics were so busy looking for the giant lizard that they missed a good movie. After all, how many Godzilla films actually have a lot of Godzilla in them? Not too many. Usually, he either does a couple of city stomps or just shows up at the end to deliver a smack-down to the other monster. Most of the movies consist of the Japanese populace trying to figure out how not to be annihilated.
Anyways, at this point, I've got to throw something out there that most people will probably regard as psychotic. I honestly wouldn’t mention it had it not been for the fact that I’ve had a couple of other people bringing it up independent of each other. The next paragraph has major spoilers, so skip it if you don’t want to read them. You have been warned.
Godzilla is a Christian allegory, with Godzilla playing the role of Aslan. I’m not kidding! First, you have an actual point of the movie where he is referred to as a god. Then you have the film’s portrayal of man trying to kill Godzilla at the dawn of the nuclear age and failing to do so, in the same manner that man tried to destroy God in society via science. There are multiple scenes where Godzilla is discussed as being around to basically remind man of his place of relative insignificance and how arrogant men are to ignore that there is something so much greater than themselves. Did I mention that Godzilla is proclaimed as mankind’s savior after sacrificing himself for humanity? Did I mention that, after said sacrifice and being mourned, that he rises again? It’s downright weird, but it works. A lot of this "Christian allegory" stuff has gotten out of hand as Christians try to find good morals in modern film, but there is at least a modicum of plausibility here.
If your kids can handle giant monster fights, you should be fine with bringing them to Godzilla. Lots of buildings are destroyed, but the human casualties are without blood for the most part and gore altogether. There is a very tragic moment at the beginning where a husband and son lose their wife/mother that kids might have trouble with. Otherwise, the sexual content is nil, and the profanity is minimal.
I used the word “clever” above. I’m sticking with it. Godzilla is a clever action/sci-fi film that serves as a great jumping off point for a new era in the franchise. While there are some minor flaws, they are easily overlooked. The production quality, especially with the CGI, is tremendous and worth the price of admission alone. That the plot and action are so well-done make it a must-see.