[This is a repost of our 2014 review]
After what seems like a lifetime of waiting and an unenviable weight of expectations, Gareth Edwards’ take on the classic monster that is Godzilla has finally arrived. It’s been 60 years since Gojira hit Japanese screens and 10 years since Roland Emmerich royally hurt the Kaiju’s cinematic rep. So, does this new interpretation reach the same heights as its titular creature? It certainly puts in a decent effort, but it doesn’t quite measure up.
While the original 1954 film was filmed with metaphors and symbolism relating to nuclear weapons and the effect of radiation, this Godzilla serves as a modernised update. There are anti-war messages scattered throughout, but they’re certainly not as prevalent. What we have here is a decent monster film, one that manages to tick off most of the boxes in a blockbuster’s to-do list.
The film revolves around Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an explosive ordnance disposal technician who leaves his wife and toddler to bail his father, Joe (Bryan Cranston), out of a jail in Japan. Joe has been obsessed with finding out the real reason behind his wife’s death ten years earlier, when strange seismic events surrounding his nuclear plant led to a disaster. Ford is drawn into his father’s search for the truth, a truth that involves some giant monsters.
In terms of plot, that’s about it, even if the film tries to convince you otherwise. The film begins with what appears to be a focus on its characters, but you soon realise that the quick moments of characterisation you received was to be it for the entire film. Cranston arguably has the most to work with here, putting in an exhausting performance as a stressed out man with one thing on his mind. Ford, the film’s lead persona, ultimately doesn’t really have much to do – apart from being in the right place at the right time. Speaking of which, it’s understandable that our main characters will be hanging around while some big moments occur, but some of these “coincidences” really stretch credibility. The rest of the cast, while no doubt impressive actors in their own right, simply fills in the usual monster film stereotypes. These people seem to be placed to drive home a forced level of empathy, but they really don’t.
Okay, so the Homo sapiens don’t exactly bring much to the table, but we didn’t come to see them. Bring on the monsters. In this respect, Godzilla … mostly delivers. The film seems to tease out the titular creation in the same way that the trailers have been, with slight reveals showcasing a little more as the film progresses. When Godzilla is finally shown, almost around the halfway mark, it almost feels worth the wait. The creature is beautifully realised, wonderfully rendered by the giant visual effects team working under director Gareth Edwards. If there is a qualm to be had with the film’s monsters, it’s that Godzilla itself seems to be too precious an entity. It’s almost as though Edwards is scared to give it too much screen-time, less we lose interest or are suddenly unimpressed.
Over the years, Godzilla has been depicted as both villain and hero, with the series’ progression seeing Godzilla save mankind from a variety of different kaiju. It’s this Godzilla that we get here. It’s no secret that there are more creatures on display in the film, and they’re equally as impressive. While it does seem that we’re getting much more of these other kaiju than the one we initially came to see, they are nicely imagined and realistically depicted. When Godzilla finally gets into some ass-kicking action, you’ll nearly forgive the film’s shortcomings.
The action is big, impressive and designed to take advantage of the big-screen. An IMAX screening should be seriously considered, with the film’s focus on scale standing as a high priority. A lot of the action is shot from the P.O.V. of the humans, looking up as these jaw-dropping creatures duke it out. Yes, you get the “you are there” feeling, but it’s also a bit frustrating how often your view becomes obstructed. A few more clearer wide-shots would have worked wonders. Also, there is a Pacific Rim-style dilemma going on here. Why have so much of the major battles play out at night? It may make work a little easier for the visual effects team, but you’ll be straining for detail when creatures are fighting in the dead of night in the midst of a smoke-filled city.
Gareth Edwards, whose only previous film was the character driven Monsters, doesn’t quite have a handle on balancing the human elements with the genre moments. Like Monsters, character is often the focus, which would be fine if they were as nicely realised as every inch on Godzilla’s body. Still, Edwards knows how to direct. There are sequences so wonderfully structured and executed, they bring to mind some of Spielberg’s finest work. The dark tone is well established and the film’s Nolan-esque seriousness, occasionally a bit much, hits home.
For all the cons discussed, there are a number of pros that manage to make Godzilla a decent popcorn flick. The visuals are momentous and exciting, and the sound design ensures that your seat shakes with every stomp. Alexandre Desplat’s old-fashioned score sometimes overplays moments, loudly emphasising every action when it may be better to pull back, but it’s an ambitious and adrenaline-pumping soundtrack.
Godzilla makes for fun and often intense viewing, and fans of the creature should be mostly happy with his latest cinematic outing. Scrutiny doesn’t do the film many favours, but this is altogether robust filmmaking, a bass-shaking creature flick that will have you cheering for one of cinema’s most beloved monsters.