Godzilla: Movie Review
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanbe, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins
Director: Gareth Edwards
It's time to do the Monster Smash again.
Set across three time periods, the 2014 Godzilla film starts with Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston's apparently crazy Joe Brody warning that a disaster is about to hit the nuclear plant he works in with his wife. Sustained seismic activity has lead to this potential problem - and soon, Brody loses his wife in the subsequent meltdown.
15 years later and Brody's son, Ford (Kick Ass's Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has now grown up and works as a bomb disposal expert. When his father's arrested in Japan for going back into the quarantine zone, Ford leaves his wife (a woefully underused The Avengers' Age of Ultron star Elizabeth Olsen) and son to go to pick him up - but soon finds himself caught up in an event which could signal the end of the world - and the return of Godzilla...
Unashamedly B-movie in its feel and story, but bang upto date in its execution, the creature feature Godzilla is a curious beast in many ways.
The director of low budget indie Monsters, Gareth Edwards, has brought the creature back to life in a film which embraces the history of Godzilla films and simultaneously updates the monster. In fact, the creatures in the 2014 Godzilla movie are perhaps rendered perfectly, with Godzilla himself almost bear-like in his reptilian appearance and true to his earlier celluloid incarnations.
Sadly, though the actual monster star of the movie appears to be sidelined in many ways - rejected in favour of a series of cliched and stereotyped characters, ripped directly from a pulpy trashy movie, with some cheese served up that's almost as large as Godzilla himself.
There's a crazed conspiracy crackpot scientist, whose warnings no-one pays heed to (a great Cranston), another scientist who spends a lot of the time aghast but who seems to mysteriously know how Godzilla works (Ken Watanbe), a stoic yet impassive soldier who finds himself in every appearance of the monster (Taylor-Johnson, relatively emotionless and unable to really centre the movie as it progresses after Cranston's searing turn) and a procession of kids and animals who are in danger.
It's these beats which pepper the relatively serious movie and which make it feel tonally a bit uneven, and crucially, add little to the overall narrative. A lack of emotional connection in among the impressive set pieces does little to connect you to the unfolding disaster. (Though the subtext is there - Ford deals with bombs in his life and yet is negligent of the human one ticking under his nose.)
That said, while the dialogue borders on the cliched and preposterous ("Nature has an order, a power to restore balance"), the restrained action more than delivers throughout as cities get smashed once again. It's the smaller moments which shine in this, the touches which embrace the creature's past heritage and the genuine chills that Edwards throws down your spine. Flourishes that recall Jurassic Park and small Godzilla easter eggs add to the feeling of a film that's occasionally derivative but respectfully willing to tread its own path.
Edwards has found a way to bring some new and intimately haunting visuals to the screen - from troops jumping out of a drop-ship skydiving into hell to jets plummeting out of the skies, the darkness haunts Godzilla the movie, with 24 hour news showing footage of creatures fighting (both an homage to old movies and a commentary on today's global eyes and ears) to great effect. The opening titles are impressive too, a mix of conspiracy theories, Hiroshima atomic bombs and censorship which set the murky tone right away.
But it's that dour feeling which ripples through Godzilla - Edwards has negotiated a cautious way through silly and sensible, but, in among the scale of it all and with the odd intimate (and occasionally over-used moments), he somehow manages to leave you with a feeling of wanting more carnage - after all, isn't that what Godzilla does?
All in all, Godzilla deserves to be commended for embracing the creature feature of olden days, and the legend of yore - certainly, monster fans will be impressed by what Edwards has committed to the screen - it's almost a love letter to the Godzilla movies you'd have watched growing up. It's just a shame that the human elements of the movie let the side down and leave this monster lurching a little when it really should be roaring.