“What rough beast, its hour come round yet again, slouches towards the multiplex to be reborn?” asks James Rocchi at Film.com. “It’s everyone’s old pal Godzilla—welcome back, buddy! First on-screen in 1954’s film of the same name, the title terror is back in a $150-million production directed by Gareth Edwards that tries to rescue everyone’s favorite giant lizard from decades of brand dilution, camp references and 1998′s disastrous Hollywood revision. The best thing about this new Godzilla is that it spares no expense or effort to deliver big, burly IMAX-ified action. Godzilla and diverse other radioactive giant creatures feud, flail at and fight each other and lay waste to huge cities as part of their combat here, and it’s all amazingly shot. The worst thing about this new Godzilla is how that’s the best thing about it.”
“Someone should tell Warner Bros. that when they’ve got a presence as big as Godzilla, they don’t need movie stars, because frankly, who remembers the characters in a rampaging-kaiju movie anyway?” Variety‘s Peter Debruge: “Still, just to be safe, the studio has stuffed Gareth Edwards’ deafening, effects-driven reboot with an Oscar winner (Juliette Binoche), three Oscar nominees (Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn), an Emmy winner (Bryan Cranston) and an Olsen sister, leaving scarcely enough screen time for the monster itself.”
“Even a movie critic is allowed to hope,” sighs Time‘s Richard Corliss. “This one dared dream that English director Gareth Edwards, whose only previous feature was the low-budget post-apocalyptic sci-fi film Monsters, might show the same ingenious savvy in updating the Godzilla brand that Rupert Wyatt, also from the Brit indie scene, displayed with the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes—a witty rethinking of, and improvement on, a venerable fantasy franchise…. Nope. Edwards’s Godzilla dawdles toward its Doomsday climax; the movie could win a prize for Least Stuff Happening in the First Two-Thirds of an Action Film.”
“At least they get the monster right,” grants Paul MacInnes in the Guardian. But “while many people might want to go to the cinema to see Godzilla, what they get instead is a load of homosapiens desperately trying to put a human face on the drama…. The story has been told so many times that you can call it with your eyes closed. America is living happily, America is in peril, America confidently thinks it can solve its problem with guns, America can’t, America panics, America is saved by a single bloke…. As well as draining the film of any true suspense, the dramatic premise of Godzilla is delivered entirely po-faced. There’s some kind of subtext about the abuse of nuclear power, perhaps an environmentalist thread too. It’s all a bit muddled. But whatever the message is, it’s delivered at the expense of humor.”
“It’s not that a Godzilla movie can’t be made with the utmost seriousness,” writes the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy. “[T]he original 1954 Gojira, seen today in its fully restored version now being distributed by Rialto, is beyond serious to the point of startling grimness in its forthright allegory of the nuclear age born in Japan just nine years earlier…. Generally, Edwards honors the trust invested in him, taking his responsibility seriously, delivering the action goods and bringing it all in at a well-paced two hours. Where the film lets down is in the interpersonal scenes with the younger characters, which engage virtually no interest.”
But for the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin, this is “a summer blockbuster that’s not just thrilling, but that orchestrates its thrills with such rare diligence, you want to yelp with glee.” And at Little White Lies, Adam Lee Davies argues that it’s “an atomic fucking bomb of a movie. Get yourself ready for a top-down cavalcade of sublime post-historic fury that melds the Darwinian majesty of Jaws to the feral, DNAtheistic chaos of Jurassic Park amid the painterly, mystic awe of Close Encounters.”
For Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, “Godzilla becomes the very movie it consciously avoids—a spectacle in which the people barely matter at all.” And the Playlist‘s Rodrigo Perez agrees that the film “demonstrates early on that it has an excellent grasp and understanding of character, emotional stakes and human value. Which is perhaps why [this] Godzilla—an initially character-rich movie about relatable ordinary humans in extraordinary circumstances—is ultimately so frustrating as the movie inadvertently turns its back on those core principles.”
More from Mark Adams (Screen), Drew McWeeney (HitFix), Kristopher Tapley (In Contention)—and Sam Adams is collecting more reviews at Criticwire.
Update, 5/12: “You expect a summer blockbuster to deliver some striking shots,” writes Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan, “and the new reboot of Godzilla has those in spades. But the most gobsmacking thing Godzilla throws at you isn’t what you can see onscreen—it’s what you don’t, thanks to the ballsiest cinematic cut of the year.” Spoilers follow.
Updates, 5/14: “Where the 1998 Godzilla borrowed heavily (and clumsily) from Jurassic Park, particularly in its middle act, Edwards occasionally looks back to the Spielberg of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with a particular fondness for slow camera movements that reveal first a little, then a lot of an awe-inspiring spectacle,” writes Keith Phipps at the Dissolve, where he lists a few other shared attributes. “Yet for all those worrisome similarities, this new Godzilla is an altogether more satisfying monster movie that delivers when it counts.”
More Spielberg comparisons from the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd: “Godzilla borrows the delayed gratification of Jaws, the towering menace of War of the Worlds, and a commingling of fear and awe familiar to any Jurassic Park fan. It is, if nothing else, a better and less slavish imitation of the master’s moves than Super 8.”
At Newcity Film, Ray Pride finds Godzilla to be “crisply and clearly told, elegantly described, and tense even after [Aaron] Taylor-Johnson’s character becomes the one man in the world who can save the world, akin to Brad Pitt’s character in World War Z.”
Robbie Collin talks with Edwards for the Telegraph.
Updates, 5/15: “Godzilla offers no shortage of awe-inspiring, state-of-the-art set pieces befitting a modern daikaiju,” writes Eric Henderson for Slant. “But they’re apportioned out in a steady, almost contemplative crescendo of destruction that, through Edwards’s sense of balance and controlled spectacle, strongly resembles the magnificently elongated arcs of seismic activity generated by the film’s colossal irradiated arthropods. In form, it’s no wham-bam VFX sizzle reel replete with sputtering, ejaculatory climaxes. It’s the magnificently sustained equivalent of Ravel’s ‘Bolero,’ with nuclear warheads in place of timpani rolls.”
“Pardon me for rolling out yet again the old Orson Welles kid-with-a-train-set comparison for what it’s like to make your first studio movie,” writes Jonathan Romney for Film Comment, “but that’s what Godzilla feels like: Edwards takes to his playroom’s fancy new upgrade with glee, and like many creative kids with snazzy toys, he’s more interested in smashing things up than he is in carefully constructing. And given the sort of movie this is, that’s fine.”
“America’s newest Godzilla is the feel-good movie of the year,” declares New York‘s David Edelstein. “True, until the last 20 minutes, it’s choppy and withholding (Can we see Godzilla for more than two seconds—pretty please????), but the climax: Cowabunga! … Downtown San Francisco goes down, baby. The final, exultant deathblow is indescribably satisfying. (‘Suck on this!’ it could be captioned.) Go, you crazy monster, go!”
But for the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek, “Godzilla is one of those generic, omnipresent blockbusters that’s undone by the very spectacle it strives to dazzle us with: Everything is so gargantuan, so momentous, that nothing has any weight. This Godzilla, no matter how cool his fire breath is, can’t live up to the monster of our dreams. That one we still call Gojira.”
And Time Out‘s Tom Huddleston warns that “those hoping this Godzilla might have brains as well as bulk will find themelves crushed.”
Tom Shone for the Guardian: “What makes Godzilla such a curious summer blockbuster is it rootedness in failure—specifically the feeling of stunned national impotence that gripped Japan in the aftermath of the second world war. Cultural studies professors like to peel back the keloid-scarred skin of the series to reveal the lurking atomic bomb subtext lurking underneath, but there’s no ‘subtext’ about it. That’s what Godzilla was about. It’s the text.”