***CONTAINS A SPOILER***
Before even going in to see Godzilla, I have heard plenty of complaints that the movie's titular kaiju is not in it enough. Even a few professional critics like Alonso Duralde of The Wrap have complained, Alfonso in particular saying: "if Americans are going to build big-budget movies around him, they could at least give this legend more screen time." Honestly, I can see where the critics are coming from, but I still enjoyed it.
The movie starts off very strong, with a tense scene involving the character Joe Brody (played by Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston) losing his wife in a kaiju-inflicted nuclear meltdown. This very effectively sets up his character and Cranston gives a superb performance.
15 years later, Joe's son Ford (played by Aaron Taylor Johnson of Kick-Ass and the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron) works for the military and has settled down with a family to forget the fateful day his mother died. His past soon comes back to haunt him when he gets involved in his father's obsession for avenging his wife. Unfortunately, Johnson's performance isn't nearly up to par with Cranston's. In fact, it seemed downright wooden at times. This is especially a problem when...
Joe dies in the first 20 minutes, leaving the audience with a less interesting main character to root for. On the bright side, there isn't an overload of dialogue with his character, and Johnson's performance at least isn't cringe-worthy (like Shia LaBeouf in Transformers 3). Plus, the pleasant performances of Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, and Ken Wantanabe make Johnson's performance less of a problem than it could have been.
However, in spite of this flaw, I still enjoyed watching Godzilla. I'm sure a lot of people will go in expecting a giddy showcase of special effects like Pacific Rim and Transformers. However, I could tell that director Gareth Edwards wanted to take a different approach. By showing bits and pieces of Godzilla and how destructive he can be, the filmmakers implement the Jaws strategy of building suspense to lead to an amazing final showdown (which I won't spoil, but I will say it's worth the wait for Godzilla).
To be fair, the teasing can be a bit frustrating at times, especially when the film cuts to another plot point just when a battle between Godzilla and the enemy monsters (a male and female species called MUDO). On the other hand, I can see why this decision was made. Considering that there is only one type of monster in the film, seeing Godzilla fight the same monster over and over again would seem stale and repetitive, especially since the off screen battles result in a stalemate.
In spite of these flaws, I can honestly say I still walked out of Godzilla in a good mood. Perhaps the main reason I enjoyed it was the pure scope and thrill of the directing, editing and sound editing/mixing.
Every time a monster destroys a building or structure, you can practically hear every wall crumble and every wire snap. I really got a sense of immersion with all of the destruction going on, and found myself cringing and laughing like in a good disaster movie.
Speaking of which, almost every scene of destruction is shown from the point of view of the onlookers. Whether its from the inside of a skyscraper, the front of a boat, or from a bridge, the decision to show the monsters from the humans' perspective was absolutely genius. It truly put the audience in the film's atmosphere and made the already brilliantly executed CGI effects even more effective.
Something else that should be pointed out is that even when Godzilla isn't on screen, the movie almost always throws an interesting situation to keep you on the edge of your seat. I actually found most of the scenes to be well-made enough to compensate for the weak lead performance. One scene in particular involves Ford and another soldier hiding on a railway bridge from the female MUDO. Watching the monster creep under the bridge while the two tried to stay hidden kept the entire audience on their toes in anticipation.
Those expecting another Pacific Rim may be disappointed with the grittier and more suspenseful tone that Godzilla takes on. However, if you like creature features and disaster movies, you should definitely give this movie a shot.
Final Grade: A-