Godzilla [2014]

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 123 mins
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Country: USA, Japan

When a mining operation in the Philippines goes horribly wrong what it unearths is the most dangerous, destructive disturbance to mankind’s understanding of “natural order” we have ever forgotten.  As enormous pre-historic monster after enormous pre-historic monster take to the cities of our world to feed can we keep ourselves alive long enough to find a solution to our new spot on the food-chain?

Roland Emmerich’s 1998 movie of the same name has done more harm to our friend the king of the lizards than 1970’s celebrities have done to nostalgia.  Including all of the Versus outings and Godzilla 2000 –the Emmerich Godzilla is without doubt the worst movie featuring an enormous reptile there has ever been made.  So how far does Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla go to repairing the damage?  The answer in short is –incredibly far…almost unbelievably far.  There have been some negative reviews of Godzilla out there and it’s my belief that these were posted by sceptical killjoy non-lovers of the movies starring reptiles (excluding Jack Palance).  What Edwards’ Godzilla does is bring the film back to its origins in a way that’s delicate, intelligent and well considered.  Yes, it’s a while before we see the star of the show…Spielberg didn’t show us the Great White for a considerable amount of time and Jaws is still considered a classic.  The movie has pathos, timing, a delicate balance between characterisation, anticipation and vast amounts of property damage.  If this is your major issue with the film then some ADHD medication might be in order.

Max Borenstein’s script cleverly plays with what we think we know about the legend of Godzilla.  It skilfully tips the hat towards the original with a mention of Hiroshima, more than flirts with the much loved Mothra Vs. Godzilla and flat out ignores that abomenation from 1998.  The reworking of the origins of Godzilla, and for that the MUTO creatures is intelligent and highlights how –as a species, we’re almost hell-bent on our own destruction in the pursuit of self idolisation through modern technology.  It’s a screenplay that mixes natural history, modern warfare, theology and the instinctive evolutionary fears that are hard-wired into our very beings and does it with a level of subtly and ingenuity that simply must be applauded.  Where Borenstein’s screenplay leaves off, Edwards’ direction picks up.  Visually the film has the feel and sensibilities of a much older movie.  Gone is the crass must show all visual impatience of the MTV generation, replaced with a slow burn and even a counter-intuitive inclination to turn away during your big money moments.  There are several of these including a first combative encounter between Godzilla and Muto in which the camera tracks the ascension of the military aircraft past a mega-monster fight and up into the clouds.  Similarly during the Halo jump into the slumbering wreck that is San Francisco when Brody flies by the monsters and we’re invited to savour a close-up of Godzilla (at least for as long as gravity will allow it).  Obviously once the final third really kicks in everything lizard-based is on full display and the effects merit the wait as the monsters look great, earthy, and naturalistic.  There are some incredibly massive and complex set-pieces which Edwards juggles with a level of skill, composure and insight that’s truly mesmerising.

There are some extremely strong performances in Godzilla.  Bryan Cranston (as Joe Brody) gives two carefully considered performances, one in 1999 and another in 2014 that showcase the two ends of a life influx.  The emotional despair and heartbreak of ’99 is beautifully balanced with the single-minded mania  of the now as he searches for the trust.  It’s only really the first two gears of his ability but it’s like watching a car you know is unrivalled in horsepower cruise leisurely by your house –you can’t help but marvel.  Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa) anchors the film wonderfully.  His job is the exposition, the key to the origins of Godzilla and the jumping off point for the re-imagining of its mythology.  Like Cranston, Watanabe has so much more to offer and is never better than when he’s sharing the screen with David Strathairn (Admiral Stenz) even if it does feel a little as though we’re only catching thirty percent of what these two actors captured on film.  The biggest surprise was Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  Having not seen him in a while there were some question marks over whether he could carry such an enormous movie and do so playing it completely straight for the camera.  The answer is –yes.  He fills those military boots like they were made for him.  Gone are the scrawny arms and floppy curls of his Kick Ass days –replaced with forearms like thighs and a wideness that will almost certainly see him inherit many a cop who works alone getting results his way type of movie from the old guard of Willis, Schwarzenegger and Stallone.  ATJ manages to showcase a little of his acting ability also (which is a bonus).  There are genuine moments of desperation that bubble in his character just below the surface.  He’s never so blatant to underline them but they’re there and they give his quest to get home to his family a real integrity –something that was missing from the Emmerich flick.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news.  Godzilla is not without its problems and they’re problems that seem to be becoming more and more apparent in mainstream Hollywood.  In Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche and Elizabeth Olsen you have three amazing actors that cover three different decades –all of which are capable of inhabiting any skin required and carrying any size of film in their own right.  Yet her none of them are given much to do, especially Olsen who spends a lot of her time looking up, screaming and then crying.  Last year’s giant creatures which came from the sea movie Pacific Rim suffered from the same issues…and more.  The on-screen sausage fest that was the (almost) all male cast led to quite a few calls of “what exactly is going on?”.  It’s a valid question.  Women appear to be seriously under represented in action movies.  We hinted at a few issues regarding representation in Battle: Los Angeles and looked at the overall problem in The Ladies That Are More Knitty Gritty than Sex & The City yet it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon.  You might say “it’s a genre thing”.  Ok, well romantic comedies are considered a female genre (whatever that means) and yet men still make up a healthy proportion of the cast in these –and they’re given actual things to do.  Did Captain Hampton have to be male?  What about Sergeant Morales?  Would anything have been detracted from the movie by making them women?  More importantly would anything have been added?  Perhaps.  At least Olsen has Scarlet Witch in the Joss Whedon penned Avengers sequel to sink her teeth into.

These are small issues for Godzilla and signs of a bigger problem in cinema in general but don’t let them put you off of what is a well written, cleverly constructed, wonderfully paced delight of a blockbuster.




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