By the time this review is posted, there will be sites that have broken the target embargo date and spilled vital information about the film. Since I'd like people who intend to see the film to go in as clear minded as possible, this review will be as spoiler free as I can make it.
Godzilla begins in 1999 in the Philippines where an excavation is halted due to high amounts of radiation found in the mines. Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his colleague Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) from the organization Monarch arrive to investigate only to find the bones of a large creature. In Janjira, Japan, nuclear physicist and engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) along with his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) called in to investigate strange seismic readings at the nuclear plant. After dropping off their son Ford Brody (CJ Thomas) off at the school bus before leaving to the power plant. An accident occurs which destroys the plant and takes Sandra's life. 15 years later, Joe Brody, still obsessed with the cause of the accident is jailed in Japan for attempting to break back into Janjira which is now a quarantine zone. Back in San Francisco, Ford Brody (now played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson), his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam (Carson Bolde) are enjoying a quiet night at home when Ford gets a call from Japan to get his father out of custody and to bring him back to the US. Once in Japan, Joe convinces Ford to help him break into the quarantine zone and Ford reluctantly agrees. After Joe finds delicate files he and Ford are captured and are interrogated at a huge facility housing what looks like a giant glowing cocoon. Soon a winged creature later called a "MUTO" flies out of the facility and calls to another MUTO so that they may mate. Hearing their calls and deeming them a threat to the world, Godzilla sets out to destroy the MUTOS.
Gareth Edwards' Godzilla is a film Godzilla fans can be very proud of. The smart writing (kudos to writer Max Borenstein), some excellent performances (Ken Watanabe's Dr. Serizawa is a personal favorite), thrilling score, and monster spectacle all add up to one awesome experience. The film was designed to be somewhat of a "Godzilla recruitment film" in the sense that it would appeal to hardcore fans but be enjoyed by the non Godzilla fans as well. I can honestly say that this strategy in my experience has worked. While at the press junket in NYC, I spoke to various journalists who were either not fans of Godzilla at all (it fell into the cheesy/campy category for them) or ones who used to watch the films on tv as a kid and thought they were fun but left the memories behind. They did nothing but sing the praises of this film and they smiled and their eyes lit up when they spoke about it to me and to each other. At the world premiere in Hollywood, I sat next to a woman who had never seen a Godzilla film before. During the film she started getting into it and she cheered very loudly throughout (and got shushed quite a few times too) and yelled out things like "Get em Godzilla!!" during Godzilla's battle with both MUTOS. She was emotionally invested in the film the entire time. I'm not sure if she rushed out and bought all the Godzilla films afterward, but a fan of THIS particular film was made that night.
There will be some things in here that some fans might get frustrated with however. And yes it is true that Godzilla isn't in the film as much as the MUTOS are, his history is discussed quite a bit and the underlying presence is felt through the film. The fights are a little shorter when compared to other films and in the Hawaii sequence, the full fight doesn't happen at all. See below for a description of the scene.
Slight spoilers ahead:
Godzilla does use his beam a total of 3 times and it's a real crowd pleaser. At both screenings I was at, the crowd went insane when he used it and in one instance, it was used Mortal Kombat style which was a new move for Godzilla and will have everyone in the theater going crazy and cheering when it happens. It's a defining moment for the series and it will be THAT moment where you will be proud to be a Godzilla fan. The beam itself doesn't fill Godzilla's mouth as it has in the past. It's more centered and it's a warmer blue in color with little flame wisps coming off it here and there. When charging up, Godzilla's backplates illuminate from the tail and then move up to the head as he charges up his beam. Design wise, Godzilla is a little heftier in the mid section but he's no more "fat" than he's always been. Then there's the issue of the feet which has been a sticking point for some fans. I didn't like them at first but they have since grown on me and it's not anything that's distracting anymore. It works for the design overall.
If there's anything that seems a little uneven to me is that Godzilla (although inadvertently) kills WAY more people in the Honolulu sequence than the MUTO does. Hundreds are drowned and washed away from the water he brings in with him as he comes ashore yet at the end of the film, he's deemed a hero. The original Mothra (1961) comes to mind where she was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people yet at the end of the film, it was as if no one noticed. All in all, it's just a nitpick and is no way a detriment to the film.
The MUTOS prove to be worth adversaries against Godzilla and their special power is an EMP (electromagnetic pulse). The winged MUTO, (which is a male) can produce and EMP burst while the non winger and much larger MUTO (female) has an electromagnetic field surrounding her as she moves, disabling electronics/vehicles with her "cone (or was it sphere?) of influence." Both MUTOS are tooth and claw fighters and they both give Godzilla a run for his money in battle, especially when they team up against him. They do get more screentime than Godzilla but it's not by much. It's more to establish them as a threat and it works very well with the film.
The human characters in the film are smart and well thought out. As I stated earlier in the review, Ken Watanabe's Dr. Serizawa is a personal favorite of mine because he's the heart of the film. He genuinely wants to understand not only Godzilla but the MUTO's as well. The rest of the performances are very well done and I'd also like to give special mention to David Strathairn's Admiral Stenz character. The delivery in his dialogue is powerful yet reassuring. Special mention to Carson Bolde who, at is able to put on an impressive performance for someone so young. Carson's delivery is natural and not forced and I see a bright future for him.
The score of the film, although modern has touches of Akira Ifukube's influence throughout. The standout tracks like "The Last Shot" and "Godzilla's Victory" stand with the best cues in the series which also makes the soundtrack a day one purchase.
In closing, I'd like to say that not
only do Godzilla fans have a film to be very proud
of, but so do Warner Bros. and Legendary. I've followed
the developments of this film for close to 10 years
from when it was supposed to be a 40 minute IMAX film
and to see that it has been turned into a true work
of art is truly astonishing and that the directing
is that of a master film maker. For a while now, there's
been a phrase that has been used amongst fans: "In
Gareth We Trust". That trust has now been earned.