15 years ago, an unexplained disaster hit Japan, wiping out a nuclear reactor and killing Joe Brody's wife Elle. Now, in 2014, his son Ford is called to Japan to claim him from police custody. Joe has convinced himself that he can prove the disaster was not an earthquake if he breaks into the quarantine zone surrounding the disabled reactor. Ford humors him, only to discover that scientists have known for years that Joe's theories about giant creatures and echolocation are correct. Godzilla, the fifth attempt to reboot the giant monster series from Japan for an American audience, thankfully succeeds as a Godzilla film. The focus is not placed on the monster himself but on the people from all walks of civilian, science, and military life trying to find a solution to the rampage of an inexplicable beast.
The villainous beast is not Godzilla, but a new creation for the film. The MUTO is an ant-like giant monster that feeds off of nuclear energy. It is quite unlike any other beast to appear in the expanded universe so far and takes some getting used to. Frankly, it looks like a rejected kaiju from Pacific Rim, but it gets the job done.
The acting is a mixed bag. Bryan Cranston (Joe) isn't given much to do but rant like a lunatic and take on quirks designed to make him seem mentally unstable. Juliette Binoche (Elle) is wasted in her role but does pull out some genuine emotion in the initial disaster. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford) is a serviceable, if uninspiring, leading man type with less character development than the MUTO. Ken Watanbe avails himself well in an old stock type for the Godzilla franchise, the scientist who fights military intervention against the monsters.
The screenplay did something I did not expect at all. There is a considerable amount of Japanese in the first half of the film and none of it is subtitled. The audience is meant to understand the situation by context and it works. It does add a sense of mystery to the first act of the film. It's also a great signifier for the increasingly diverse cast seen throughout the film. Godzilla attempts to be a film presenting a believable cross-section of life in Japan, Hawaii, California, and Nevada and it works largely because of the casting.
There is absolutely no reason for Godzilla to be a 3D film. The effects are not so impressive that they require the extra depth onscreen. Nothing is gratuitously tossed out a the audience, but random flying objects and maybe a Godzilla nuclear blast could have justified the added expense in some way. Even The Great Gatsby had enough going on in the background and used the depth of field as a metaphor for social interaction. Godzilla did nothing but charge extra for a diorama in shades of brown and gray.
Godzilla is finally a worthy entry in the series that did not originate in Japan. I'll take a Toho Company Godzilla picture over an imitator any day, but the 2014 reboot is at least playing in the same key as the original run of films.