Godzilla stomped the competition at the box office, pulling in over $90 million during its debut weekend, though Neighbors had an admirable second week with $25 million. Godzilla earned favorable reviews from most mainstream critics, though most reviews mentioned, in some capacity, the film’s emphasis on monster spectacle and suspense and not the human story. (David Ehrlich of The Dissolve wrote a piece defending Godzilla as a “post-human blockbuster,” which has been well-received.)
Compared to Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla film starring Matthew Broderick, Gareth Edwards’ film is like Citizen Kane. (Emmerich’s film is unlovingly referred to as Zilla by the Toho gang, who don’t accept it as canon.)
“Director Gareth Edwards (a visual effects artist who made his directorial debut with the well-regarded 2010 indie Monsters) can compose a nice shot, edit an action sequence with something like causal logic, and even pull off the occasional mildly winking joke — all of which makes Godzilla’s two-hour running time bump along more agreeably than it might have.”
It’s a bracing tonic for the bored palate of the mainstream moviegoer, and one of the most intriguing big-budget breakthrough films since Steven Spielberg made Jaws. (Edwards’ only previous feature is the 2010 low-budget indie Monsters.) This is a movie of tremendous visual daring, magnificent special-effects work and surprising moral gravity. Its magic lies in the big things — like, the really big things, which take their time showing up but are totally worth it — and the small ones.
The sheer filmmaking craft on display here shames almost any comparably budgeted superhero picture you can name. The movie borrows from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and War of the Worlds, as well as from earlier popcorn classics that shaped Spielberg. (The Cranston/Binoche/Taylor-Johnson family has the surname Brody, like the family in Jaws, and Cranston’s traumatized seeker is basically Roy Neary from Close Encounters.) Godzilla doesn’t just show, it unveils. It builds sequences gradually, withholding important information until the end of a scene or sequence.
I was impressed by the film’s idea that the nuclear tests in the Pacific in the nineteen-fifties were not tests at all but attempts to destroy what lurked beneath the oceans. The emotional crux of the movie, however, after all the international to-and-fro, turns out to be the safety and togetherness of one middle-class family on the West Coast. The leading man of Monsters, gazing from the Zone toward a walled frontier, murmurs, “It’s different looking at America from the outside in,” but the new film never risks such an audacious thought. Instead, it takes refuge on the inside, and girds itself against the enemies from beyond.
Finally, The Atlantic‘s Christopher Orr said that Godzilla was turned into a supporting character in his own film, which isn’t really true, but that’s okay.