Godzilla Film Review
The announcement that Gareth Edwards was to direct a new reboot of Godzilla was met with much intrigue in 2011. On paper, it seems a natural fit: The hot new monster-making property moving on from a low budget monster movie to an extremely big budgeted one. But Edward’s successful debut in Monsters relied heavily on B-movie tricks and could never be accused of delusions of grandeur. A 355ft rampaging lizard and lo-fi movie making, however, are more chalk and cheese than Marmite and cheese (trust me, chaps – it works).
The film was never going to suffer from the too-soon syndrome that many associate with Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, for example. The last attempt was in 1998 – long enough to ignore and/or forget. Unlike many franchises that get ripped down and rebuilt, Godzilla 2014 also has the added luxury of a dire predecessor in Roland Emmerich’s camp creation. Nobody holds any true affection for it and if anything (well maybe the soundtrack), fans of Toho’s most iconic kaiju are overjoyed at the prospect of erasing Matthew Broderick and co from their memories. It’s a very rare case of a welcomed reboot.
Like many micro-budgeted creatures, Monsters had no choice but to favour the pull of human emotion and tension over the VFX money shots to please its audience – leaving the other worldly beasties to be hinted at, albeit expertly, through subtle CGI. The budget decided that. But would a reported budget of $150million tempt Edwards into abandoning his B-Movie roots and go all Transformers on us? Thankfully not.
The new Godzilla, never truly feels like a blockbuster and refuses to adhere to type, opting for raw storytelling and emotional pull despite all the destruction. And believe me, there is enough of that for you adrenaline junkies.
The film begins with a prologue set in the Philippines in 1999. We meet Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) who discovers a gigantic skeleton conspicuously similar to that of the title character. He then bares witness to the collapse of the Japanese power plant where he works and the town where he lives. Fifteen years later, his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has moved on, returning from service with the US Navy, while Brody Sr. still cannot shake the incidents of 1999 and the unnerving feeling something dangerous lurks behind the quarantined fence at the old power plant. Of course, something does lurk, and devastation ensues.
You can’t help but shake the feeling that the acting roster are compensating for a lackluster script at times. For a film that’s revealed almost fully through a human perspective, there’s oddly not too much for the stellar cast to act on. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who’s containing all the military bulk Captain America would need, plays a very straightforward character solidly, Ken Watanabe’s facial expression doesn’t steer far from ‘concern’ at any point and Elizabeth Olsen isn’t given enough time to play anything other than the good wife. Bryan Cranston does provide the kind of neurotic-ism you’d come to expect from Heisenberg, however. Edwards’ goal of realism ensures nobody strays out of the believable and into the Hollywood extreme.
It takes the film almost an hour to reveal it’s monster. While some may find this frustrating, the approach does mean that the tension rises to fever pitch and the pay offs are even more fruitful. The film plays on this tension expertly throughout. The CGI’d monster looks imposing and terrifying with his rock like outer shell, animalistic with his chunky forearms and thick snout yet still fluid in movement. The whole aesthetic pays respect to the original creature first seen in 1954 – an indicator that Edwards’ knows his audience.
Although the film is low-key in many ways, it is also grand in many. It spans continents and cities and is, of course, action packed. This is Godzilla after all. The set pieces (without giving away spoilers) are genuinely jaw-dropping, particularly in the film’s finale and you get a real sense of the destruction caused. Much of this is down to Edwards’ trademark of shooting from a POV perspective during the action. It also means you’re invested in every falling building.
There may not be performances to knock anyone’s socks off, the plot lacks nuance (baring a very interesting ending) and in more ways than may be expected, Godzilla himself is never truly the focus and could even be considered a part of the supporting cast. But this is a great piece of filmmaking and the intentions should be applauded. A legendary character that’s genuinely cared about and understood. And a film that offers something very new to his story. Godzilla chooses character over all the rampage while still delivering some stunning set-pieces. It’s never relentless but it always keeps you on edge. Tension is what makes it.
Godzilla 2014 Film Review: 4 Stars