A couple of notes. I only half-watched the various child-friendly Godzilla films as a child, and only properly watched the original 1954 movie recently. I also have not watched Edwards’ previous film, Monsters, so had no idea of his style but, buoyed by the reviews that referred to the film having a human interest, and yet still wary that some have said there’s “not enough monster” and that it tends towards the boring, I watched this version with guarded optimism. But, to that second group, I say PIGSWILL!. There is exactly the right amount of monster. Just like Jaws (referenced by the surname of the father and son monster hunters, Brody) or Alien, Edwards lets us get to know the human protagonists properly, while regularly giving us enough signs of the monsters to build up a sense of menace.
Then, when the monsters are finally revealed, we have both a sense of peril for our human characters and a sense of scale of the monsters, which is kept up by constantly showing the monsters’ fighting from the perspective of bystanders, usually named characters. Without this perspective, we’d just have a big-budget recreation of the Beastie Boys’ video for Intergalactic.
The film does take a while to establish the threat, starting with Brody Snr (Bryan Cranston) present but unable to prevent a nuclear disaster in Japan in which his wife dies, and scientists (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) investigating a mysterious cave in the Philippines, where uranium miners have just experienced a cave-in and discovered some strange remains. This latter scene has all the menace that the discovery of alien remains in Alien had, and that Prometheus should have had, but didn’t. The action then switches to fifteen years later, with Brody Jnr returning to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) from bomb-disposal military service in the middle-east, only to find that his father has been arrested for trespass in Japan, trying to investigate the mysterious circumstances of that previous disaster. Gradually, we see the conspiracy of silence unravel as monsters from the deep awaken and all of humanity is threatened with extinction.
From the opening credits onwards, there is a great attention to detail and obvious love of the Godzilla film inheritance that gives it a really warm feeling, even as cities are crushed and people flee in terror. The film is by no means flawless, some tremendous actors not really having a great deal to do (though doing it well!) and the plot over-dependent on coincidence and characters’ lucky guessing, but I still enjoyed it tremendously. Not only does this wipe the floor with the 1998 effort, but it reboots the franchise, reestablishing the idea of Godzilla as humanity’s, somewhat heavy handed, friend.