In Summer 2014, the world’s most revered monster is reborn as Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures unleash the epic action adventure “Godzilla.” From visionary new director Gareth Edwards (“Monsters”) comes a powerful story of human courage and reconciliation in the face of titanic forces of nature, when the awe-inspiring Godzilla rises to restore balance as humanity stands defenseless. (Warner Bros.)
1998 was the last time we saw the king of monsters, Godzilla on the big screen. Directed by Roland Emmerich, who is known for his mind-numbing disaster entertainment that offers fantastic images with cheesy stories and often horrendous dialog and acting (The Day After Tomorrow is exhibit A; 2012 is exhibit B), threw out the Godzilla source material to offer something new. Instead, the film rehashed some of Jurassic Park‘s best moments and just became inevitable fodder for treatment from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys (who, incidentally, are planning on bringing that film to the big screen later this year so they can riff on it). It’s no surprise that it took 16 years for Godzilla to make it back to the silver screen, and it’s also no surprise that an entirely different approach was taken this time around.
Last year’s Guillermo del Toro-helmed Pacific Rim paid homage to the Godzilla films of old, featuring large “Kaiju” monsters fighting huge, man-made robots. It was silly, good, entertaining fun, far more expertly executed than Emmerich’s 1998 bomb. It was campy at times, but with solid direction, excellent effects, and the intent of being a monster movie for monster movie’s sake, Pacific Rim was a delight in its own right. So where does a new Godzilla movie fit in a year later? Director Gareth Edwards (2010’s Monsters) takes the serious approach all the way around, assembling a skilled dramatic cast and approaching the film from a disaster movie standpoint — not in the Emmerich kind of way, but in a more potentially realistic fashion. But where Pacific Rim gave you a hearty and satisfying fill of Kaiju fighting and monster destruction, Edwards took a minimalistic approach to Godzilla here. He teases the audience throughout most of the movie, cutting away when Godzilla goes toe-to-toe with a monster dubbed MUTO and only lets the audience see the most fighting between the monsters near the end of the movie. For a movie titled Godzilla, it’s almost hardly about the titular beast.
The creature that gets the more screen time is the new monster, MUTO. It feeds on radiation and lived dormant until it awoke to find new food sources. The film presents Godzilla himself as a force of nature to restore and keep balance, so when something like a huge, flying, insect-like monster starts ravaging the globe, Godzilla dons the proverbial hero cape to keep his place on the throne (so to speak). This Godzilla outing bases the story in reality as much as possible, nodding here and there to old monster movies and the less-is-more approach, while using modern effects technology to bring about immense destruction of whole cities and create impressive looking, fearsome monsters. These aren’t the kinds of creatures that hunt and eat people, but they’re not afraid to squash them or swat them away to get to what they want. Godzilla really plays out like an old school, classic monster movie made with today’s means.
The most screen time of anyone is given to the human cast first and foremost (while you could argue that it was pretty split in Pacific Rim). The film follows the Brody family, who first live in Japan in 1999 when a nuclear plant was compromised and tragedy ensued. The film then jumps 15 years to the present day when the family’s young boy, Ford, is now an adult, married with a child of his own, and in the Navy as a bomb tech. He visits Japan to help his father, reluctantly, and that’s when MUTO shows its ugly face for the first time. The mysteries begin to be revealed as monsters are unleashed on the world and Ford struggles to make his way back to his wife and little boy. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (most famous for his role in the Kick-*ss films), plays Ford as a pretty down-to-earth guy who just wants to keep his family safe. While you won’t hear him cracking jokes or offering any comic release (actually, there probably isn’t any comic relief at all in the film, unless you find some of the dialog or performances unintentionally funny), Aaron is a pretty decent leading man here, and you can’t help but root for him to get back to his family. Ken Watanabe, who’s a wonderful actor and is most notable for his performances in Inception and The Last Samurai, is great here, although it is arguably the lightest role we’ll probably ever see him in. Watanabe just carries this air of validity about him that can make the simplest dialog seem important (who else could say “Let them fight” about two fictitious skyscraper-sized monsters and it give you chills instead of a chuckle?). Elizabeth Olsen (yup, sister to the Full House Olsen twins) is decent as Ford’s wife, although she’s not given a whole lot to do, while Breaking Bad (and Seinfeld) actor Bryan Cranston plays a very emotional role as an obsessive scientist and he over acts a bit too much. However, his overdoing it doesn’t last too long and doesn’t exactly ruin the film, but you’d expect someone like Cranston to know how to curb the crazy for a role like this.
The content is surprisingly mild for a movie like this. There are several uses of blasphemy, but it’s almost all in one scene and is infrequent. There are about 5 uses of the “S” word and a few other minor cuss words, while there’s no real sexual content or even graphic violence. Sure we have buildings being demolished, people falling to their deaths (we don’t see the impact), and huge beasts fighting, but there’s hardly any blood in the movie and nothing is especially graphic or even jarring. Some scenes are intense though, and the destruction is considerable, so it definitely earns its PG-13 rating for that. I also liked a little moment where, before a bunch of parajumpers leap from a transport jet, one of them is shown praying a prayer over them aloud. It’s the only spiritual content of the film at all, but it was still a nice little inclusion, especially in the midst of chaos.
Godzilla is a solid action drama that just happens to be about huge, battling monsters. The only downside is if you’re hoping to get a lot of Godzilla in the film, fighting and causing mass destruction, you’re likely to leave the theater feeling a bit cheated. Still, the film offers some great moments for the Kaiju king that will have fans cheering in their seats, but if you’ve seen Pacific Rim and long for lots of monster versus monster destruction, you just might be disappointed. Godzilla is a pretty good return of the monster to the cinema, and hopefully it’s just the beginning of more movies featuring the famed, high-rise-smashing beast.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 5/16/14)
4K UHD / Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Godzilla in 4K UHD – In anticipation for the new Godzilla v Kong film, Warner Bros. releases Godzilla for the first time on 4K UHD disc. The film has been given a new audio mix for Dolby Atmos and a vibrant, crisp 4K UHD with HDR presentation. The movie has definitely never looked so good! The original presentation of the movie was often criticized for being a bit dark visually, but this transfer – while still dark at times for sure – is a little brighter with more crisp and colorful visuals. The glowing MUTO features pop, and the details in the production are more vivid than ever. You can even see the individual scales on Godzilla’s skin in some scenes. The only downside is that some of the destruction effects – like buildings crumbling – look a little more digital than before, but it’s minor and mostly still subtle. The effects in this 2014 movie are still pretty impressive. Overall, after seeing it in normal HD and 3D (as reviewed previously), this 4K UHD presentation is by far my favorite.
Now, for the movie itself. I’ve seen Godzilla a few times since its 2014 release and my feelings waver a bit depending on my mood. For the most part, it’s a surprisingly gritty telling of a Godzilla movie. If anything, it’s often more a disaster movie with monsters in it than a kaiju fisticuffs movie. Until I rewatched it in 4K, I’d forgotten all about the tsunami scene, where Godzilla’s presence on the shore in Hawaii causes a fatal flood to come crashing in on a very populated city. The movie also focuses on dead bodies on the ground and in body bags, and it just is a lot more serious in tone than one might expect. The 2019 sequel, King of Monsters, is definitely lighter in tone, despite there still being heaps of destruction, but director Gareth Edwards really aims to ground this 2014 movie in a more tangible reality. It feels more like Godzilla invading our real world, while King of Monsters feels so much more heightened and sci-fi. Aside from the more serious tone, Godzilla is sadly still a rare sight in his own titular movie. The MOTU’s get more screentime, and the overall story follows the stoic performance from Aaron Taylor-Johnson more than the main monster himself. King of Monsters, while much cheesier in story and performances, even works a little humor into the story to lighten the mood. Taylor-Johnson is borderline charmless as the movie has no real lightness to it. As a story, this is probably one of the strongest for a Godzilla movie, but it does lack two very important things to make a Godzilla movie a Godzilla movie: monster action and fun. Overall, Godzilla (2014) is a good disaster drama, but still kind of a disappointing Godzilla movie.
For special features, there’s nothing new added on to this release. The 4K combo pack offers a Blu-Ray disc with all of the previous 2014 special features, as well as a digital copy in 4K. (For a review of the 2014 special features, scroll down to that section below.)
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/20/21)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Godzilla released a couple weeks earlier than its physical release to all digital outlets. As far as physical copies, however, you can grab the film in a 3D Blu-Ray/2D Blu-Ray/DVD 3-disc combo pack, a Blu-Ray/DVD 2-disc combo pack and on a 2-disc DVD with an extra disc for the special features.
This was my second viewing of the movie and this time around, it was a little more annoying how little Godzilla is actually in a movie named after him. I get what Edwards was trying to do here, but I still wished there was more of him in it. He even seems to play second fiddle to the other monster in the movie, the M.U.T.O. Some videos have popped up online that have spliced “all” of the footage from this movie that Godzilla appears in and, apparently, it only amounts to about 11 minutes of footage out of a 2-hour movie. I still enjoyed this film as a “reboot” of sorts of the franchise, but here’s hoping they’ll actually give fans more of the beast in the already-announced sequel that’s slated to release in a few years.
Godzilla 3D – I’ve seen a few films on 3D Blu-Ray now and most of them don’t really need to be in 3D. However, I found myself fairly impressed with Gareth Edwards’ treatment of Godzilla in 3D. There weren’t really any silly gratuitous uses — like something unnecessarily flying at the screen — but the perspective shots Gareth used really popped in 3D. I definitely enjoyed its use here.
Operation: Lucky Dragon (2:44): This short video, the first of a series of three fake classified videos, feels like a retro video (think of the Dharma Initiative training videos from LOST) — complete with deteriorating audio quality — that talks about the nuclear tests of the 50s being an attempt to stop Godzilla’s first appearance.
MONARCH: The M.U.T.O. File (4:29): This one is presented as a video of facts about the M.U.T.O. — “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism” — and the data MONARCH had collected about them. They reveal here that the bones found underground at the beginning of Godzilla are the Godzilla that was destroyed by the nuke in the 50’s (Yeah, I feel dense, but I totally hadn’t made that connection. I got the impression that they’d only attempted to kill him in the 50s and the one in this movie, fighting the M.U.T.O., was the same Godzilla).
The Godzilla Revelation (7:25) is a longer video about the conspiracy of Godzilla’s existence and the cover-up of it by MONARCH. This one’s a little too long, but it’s a nice little fictional focus on Godzilla’s placement in the world of the film.
The Legendary Godzilla
Godzilla: Force of Nature (19:18): This is the most extensive behind-the-scene featurette. They talk about the history of the Godzilla character, the vision for the new movie, and Edwards’ goal to shoot every camera angle from a realistic, human perspective (whether it’s out an office building window or a ground-level view). We see some great on-set footage of scenes being prepped and shot, some of the physical sets, layers rendered of some shots made digitally, etc. We also hear from the main cast and crew about the production. If you enjoyed the movie, this is the meat and potatoes featurette.
A Whole New Level of Destruction (8:24) takes a look at location scouting for the movie and finding real places to shoot that matched the film’s concept art. The main focus, however, is on the sets created to represent the paths of destruction left in the wake of Godzilla and the M.U.T.O.s. A lot of the sets were physical reproductions of destruction with the background being computer generated, and we see some examples of that. Edwards even talks about having asked if they could smash a brand new van to make it look like it was damaged in the destruction and being surprised at being given the “okay” to destroy it (and they show it).
Into The Void: The H.A.L.O. Jump (5:00): This focuses on the H.A.L.O. jump sequence and we learn how they managed the shot from mixing practical and CG effects. They also talk about how it was one of the main concepts they considered when planning the movie from the beginning. Edwards also said he was greatly inspired by the music from 2001 for the moments when they’re free-falling from the plane.
Ancient Enemy: The M.U.T.O.s (6:49) is all about the M.U.T.O’s, their design and how they wanted to make something that seemed like it could have been created in nature. They also discuss the ultimate battle between Godzilla and the M.U.T.O.s… and how Edwards wanted to save the major battle for the end of the movie. (1 “S” word)
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/12/14)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: We see Ford and his wife Elle kissing passionately on the couch and caressing each other, while clothed, after he’s returned home from being in the service. A phone call interrupts it from going any further though. We briefly see them passionately kissing again before parting ways.
Vulgarity/Language: About 5 “S” words, 5 “J-sus,” 5 “h*ll,” 1 “d*mmit,” 4 “G-d,” 6 “Oh my G-d”
Alcohol/Drugs: We see some drinks on a tray in a casino.
Blood/Gore: A man lying on a gurney has some blood on the side of his face; A man has a bloody nose and some blood on his mouth; We see a few non-gory dead bodies in body bags on the ground; We see some mud-covered dead soldiers on the ground; SPOILER: Godzilla breathes flame down the throat of a MUTO until it burns away its neck. Godzilla then holds the MUTO’s severed head in his hand before dropping it into the water (Not really gross though)
Violence: A power plant has a meltdown, causing a cloud of radiation to rush through its hallways as workers run away from it. It then consumes some people who get trapped behind sealed doors and they presumably die; We see the power plant collapsing into a hole in the ground; Two men are arrested for trespassing; S cocoon collapses and a MUTO releases, starting to pull down wires and cables around it. Its legs crush some people nearby and we see a character on a walkway fall into a pit. More destruction ensues before the scene ends; We see some dead bodies lying on the ground and a mortally wounded man on a stretcher; An injured man on a stretcher dies; We see some archive footage of atomic explosions trying to stop Godzilla; We see some city destruction in Nevada from the MUTO; An EMP from the MUTO knocks out power, causing jets to crash. We also see an elevated train lose power and then a MUTO attacks it, causing people to fall out and die. Ford hangs on and catches a little boy before he could fall; a MUTO attacks a bunch of soldiers who investigate a ship that had been dropped on shore; we see news footage of Godzilla fighting a MUTO; Ford and another soldier slowly cross a bridge in smog when a MUTO passes underneath and then attacks them. The soldier falls to his death and then we see a flaming train whizz by; The next morning we see several dead soldiers laying on land next to a lake with Ford lying covered in mud. He awakens, injured and joins the surviving troops; We see Godzilla fighting and being attacked by two MUTOs; Soldiers shoot at a MUTO and it lunges at them on a bridge, killing them; para jumpers leap out of a plane to the ground. We hear that at least one didn’t make it; They find the MUTO nest and Ford floods it with gasoline and sets it on fire; Godzilla fights the MUTOs and kills one by hitting it with his tail onto sharp wreckage; Godzilla breathes blue flames down a MUTOs throat until it severs its head. He then drops the severed head into the ocean; We see an atomic bomb on a boat explode; and other sci-fi/monster violence.