DIRECTOR: Gareth Edwards
CAST: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston
CLASSIFICATION: 10-12pg v
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
MUCH MORE respect-ful of the Godzilla origins than Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version, this monster movie is more vanilla than wasabi.
Though it starts off concentrating on the human characters, once the monsters start to dominate screentime this reboot turns into Hollywood’s version of a daikaiju (giant monster) blockbuster.
Carefully crafted to appeal to the broadest possible audience, this is safe viewing because we get exactly what daikaiju promises – giant monsters destroying a city in spectacular fashion.
And oh boy, the special effects team deliver, and then some. Director Gareth Edwards and the screenwriters go for broke. There is more than just Godzilla romping across the screen – something the trailers have neatly hidden up to this point.
Once the multiple monsters really get stuck into each other in the San Francisco Bay area they hit overdrive, going into kill, frag, maim, destroy mode. It’s crashing buildings, fiery breath courtesy of Godzilla and oddly graceful wings on the Muto (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). “Crash” goes another building, “boom” goes the big monster, “aarrrgghh” go the people. Actually, the people clear out pretty quickly once the monsters get going.
At the beginning of the film we get a stab at characterisation and dramatic depth when we are introduced to Bryan Cranston as the scientist dad riven by the guilt of sending his wife to her death and the suspicion that there is a huge scientific cover-up happening under his nose.
Fifteen years after the opening sequence, Joe Brody (Cranston) finally persuades his son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) that he was on to something, but family reconciliation has to wait because there are Mutos about.
Ford tries to get back home, but being a soldier he also tries to help with “the fight” because that’s what you do. Unfortunately, Taylor-Johnson doesn’t really get to stretch any acting muscles here beyond falling off bridges and out of cars and basically keeping up with the other soldiers.
Watanabe is believable as a shell-shocked scientist, but Hawkins is criminally under-used as his assistant. She gives us the obligatory info-dump half-way through the story so we are left in no doubt that this tale makes sense.
So much time was spent on making sure the story is reasonably believable that the people are left floundering. Strathairn, Binoche and Olsen are all very capable actors, but noble intentions get you nowhere if you have nothing to work with.
Then again, this is a giant monster movie. It is supposed to be a vehicle for mayhem and destruction, so looking for a complex family drama or heavily dramatic character study in Godzilla is unfair. What is to be expected is delivered – monsters destroying a city.
But, the weight of the original metaphor – Godzilla representing the extreme end of nuclear power gone wrong, the destruction visited upon the world in the name of scientific progress and the arrogance of man in believing we can control nature – that is nowhere to be found.
Perhaps, though, this new Godzilla is still the ultimate metaphor for contemporary audiences lapping up monster movies – the medium is everything, there is no message, there’s darkness and destruction, but no purpose other than providing us a spectacle to gawk at.
Cue the sequel.
If you liked, Pacific Rim or Monsters, you will like this.
GODZILLA BY ANY OTHER NAME
Godzilla first appeared in Ishihiro Honda’s 1954 film of the same name. Since then he has appeared in 28 films produced
by the Japanese film, theatre production and distribution company Toho, plus two American reboots (1998 and 2014).
From the Americanised version of that first movie Godzilla got the nickname King of the Monsters.
While the monster was first conceived as a metaphor for nuclear weapons, the films have over the years portrayed him as hero and villain of the stories, sometimes even the defender of humanity by default. Godzilla is pretty much a chimera, a made-up creature. He is an amphibious reptilian monster based loosely on a dinosaur, with an erect posture, scaly skin, an anthropomorphic torso with muscular arms, spikes on his back and tail and, don’t forget, a furrowed brow.
Traditionally the monster used to be played by a latex suit-wearing actor (stomping through a to-scale miniature scene), but he has also been created using animatronics, stop-motion capture and computer-generated images. Although he is sometimes depicted as green in comic books or on posters, mostly the costumes have been charcoal grey with bone-white dorsal fins, until Godzilla 2000 that is.
His size has been inconsistent, changing from film to film. In the original he was scaled to be about 50m tall so he could peer over the largest buildings in Tokyo at the time.
More recently he has grown in size as the newer buildings in Tokyo are bigger. In the 1991 Godzilla vs King Ghidorah he destroyed the 242m Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. In the upcoming movie Godzilla is supposed to be 350m tall, which would be his biggest incarnation yet.