– Summary –
Director : Gareth Edwards
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Richard T Jones, Carson Bolde.
Approx Running Time : 123 Minutes
Synopsis: When a giant radiation-powered monster escapes containment in Japan, another, equally powerful monster, arises to combat the threat.
What we think : While the human characters offer little depth or development, the suspense and action Godzilla’s 2014 iteration unleashes makes this a roller-coaster thrill-ride delivering destruction and monsters on a scale so massive it requires a bigger screen just to capture it all. Finally, the stench of ’97’s ‘Zilla is laid to rest, with Edwards making restitution for past hubris with a fantasy sci-fi opus that delivers the entertainment goods.
The king of the monsters has yet to be usurped.
Hard to believe it’s been nearly 20 years since the team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin all but eviscerated the Godzilla franchise with their loud, bombastic, utterly American take on the famous monster. That effort, a risible affair beset by terrible casting, horrid plot twists and a script carved from three forests, all but killed any chance the famous Japanese creature had from taking a mainstream foothold in the US, or anywhere else in the West for that matter. Thankfully, the passage of time (and an improvement in visual computer effects!) has allowed Hollywood to have one more go at getting the Big Z right: Godzilla, the 2014 edition, helmed by Monsters director Gareth Edwards, is big in budget, has a decent cast (although one shouldn’t expect much “character development” from a film where the star is a giant mutated lizard, right?) and by all accounts has done a markedly better job of delivering on its promise than the 1998 ‘Zilla ever did. Considering the legacy Godzilla has around the globe, from its foundational appearance in 1954 to today, Edwards and his team had to deliver a more truthful examination of the Giant Monster Movie than had been attempted to this point: is Godzilla’s 60th anniversary appearance worth the foot-stomping, battle-cry hue-and-din the trailers made us expect? Or is this second Hollywood go-round just another mediocre summer blockbuster, empty and worthless once the dust has cleared?
In 1999, a Japanese nuclear power plant is destroyed by an unknown earth tremor, uncovered by American supervisor Joe Brady (Bryan Cranston). His wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche) is killed in the destruction, leaving Joe to raise his young son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) alone. Fifteen years later, Joe is obsessed with the death of his wife, and returns to the exclusion zone of the former nuclear reactor to try and uncover the truth about the tremors, which have now returned and threaten to destroy millions. Ford, now an ordinance disposal technician for the US military, is married to Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and has a young son of his own, Sam (Carson Bolde). When Joe is arrested, Ford flies to Japan to have him released, only to learn that his father has been right about the causes of the frightening electrical disturbances and tremors all along. The Japanese Government, under Project Monarch, have been keeping the existence ot a giant pod secret -the pod has been feeding off the radiation from the reactor, but has now awoken. When it does, an enormous flying creature is unleashed – nicknamed MUTO by the military (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) – which proceeds to head towards Hawaii and the continental US. A second, larger creature is also located, named by Project Monarch leader Dr Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) as “Gojira”, a pre-prehistoric alpha predator that could very well stop the MUTO in its tracks. As the MUTO arrives in the US, a third creature is unleashed – a larger, more powerful MUTO erupts outside Las Vegas, destroying half the city on its trajectory towards San Francisco. The military, led by Rear Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn), is unable to stop any of the giant creatures conventionally, so they concoct a nuclear option to lead the trio out to see and blow them to smithereens.
2014’s Godzilla is, without question, a success. It isn’t without problems, but those problems don’t amount to much when the big G arrives on the scene to tear San Fran a new one. As an entertainment, there’s no denying Godzilla’s arrival on the big stage of Hollywood once more, an encore almost 20 years in the making, and one that simply had to wipe away the bitter aftertaste of Roland Emmerich’s ’98 version, is supremely magnificent; monster movies don’t come much better than this. Directed by Gareth Edwards, Godzilla spends a lot of its early time building a slow tension, skin-creeping terror at the giant beasts suddenly unleashed upon unsuspecting populations, and when the titanic clash between ‘Zilla and the two MUTO creatures kicks in (late in the film), the screen can barely contain the carnage. Honestly, this is the Godzilla movie we should have seen back in the 90’s, not the kitschy half-comedy rubbish we were served at the time.
The human cast Edwards has assembled try valiantly to bring some manner of emotional heft to the film, as Godzilla and the MUTO monsters tear up major American cities, and to a degree they succeed; Bryan Cranston, former star of Breaking Bad, elevates his role of bereaved family man in a way the film probably doesn’t deserve, he’s so good, but aside from him, the rest of the people in this film spend a large amount of time staring into the middle-distance (or at a green screen tennis ball!) as they gape and jabber at the destruction occurring around them. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is passably wooden as Ford, whose connection to his father is handled a little thinly by a script (written by Max Borenstein), and delivers a square-jawed performance in the face of Earthly Armageddon, but he seems ill-equipped to deliver the required enthusiasm for the part. The fact his character is pretty close to being a blank slate, with almost zero charisma, backstory or development, doesn’t help. His on-screen wife is played by Elizabeth Olsen, who isn’t what one might term a “bad” actress, but her role here is simplicity itself – to look concerned a lot, to look worried a lot, and to cry as the city crumbles around her. Then there’s poor Ken Watanabe, who becomes Mr Exposition early in this film as he explains the logistics and history of the giant creatures, and is forced to have a constant look of unresolved terror on his face throughout, as if he’s solely responsible for the events that transpire.
Okay, so you don’t come to Godzilla to see the humans, not really anyway. You come to see Godzilla, and plenty of large-scale destruction. And you get exactly that. However, Gareth Edwards wisely keeps his big reveal of Godzilla til quite late in the film, which has annoyed some and delighted many. The film’s slow-burn build up to Godzilla’s smackdown with the MUTO’s is layered in shadow, with a vast majority of the final half of the movie set during the evening/night; Godzilla is kept in the shadows a lot, something that I think works for the film’s style and tone, but equally something I can see annoying some viewers. It’s a stylistic choice that I admired, that monochrome Battle: LA-styled desaturation effect many military movies have these days, and although I think a hint of light might have been good somewhere within this thing, if they’ve left that for the sequel, then so be it. The creature design is solid, with the MUTO creatures in particular having an alien-esque, almost insectoid feel to them, that gave me the creeps. Almost like giant moths, they savaged the landscape wherever they stepped, with their stunning EMP blast powers rendering much of our technology useless against them. Godzilla himself is enormous, much larger than Emmerich’s beast; Edwards’ Zilla is taller than most skyscrapers, a roaring, elephantine lizard of bulk and muscle, an indestructible edifice of predator perfection (according to Wantanabe’s science dude character!) and the film even displays one of his most famous “powers” in a surprising, and welcome addition to the Hollywood entry.
Technically, there’s little to complain about with Godzilla. It’s a rip-roaring, frightening sci-fi opus that stands as tall as Pacific Rim did only a year or so ago. I admit to admiring Pacific Rim for taking the kaiju concept and absolutely nailing it, and was worried Godzilla would lack the same impact when he finally returned to the big screen, but I needn’t have feared. Not only has Gareth Edwards and his team crafted a film worthy of the big G, but worthy of the enormous legacy the franchise had developed over the last 60-odd years. It’s large-scale destruction and spectacle, wrapped in acceptable human drama and delivering enough vicarious escapism to enthrall any audience willing to go with it. While the underpinning history of the character within the film is flimsy, or at least thin enough to allow further sequels to develop in due course, on the whole I thoroughly enjoyed it. Finally, a Hollywood Gojira that absolutely rocks the house. As one character says during the film’s climactic finale: “Let them fight.” Indeed.