Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe
Some films are just never going to be as good as you anticipated. Take Roland Emmerich’s 1998 reimagining of the King of Monsters, which dispensed with the Japanese source material and instead offered a generic tale of evil versus the American Military; replete with Hollywood stereotyping and hammy acting. Toho Studios, who created and continue to own Godzilla’s rights, were so enraged that they even went as far as stripping Emmerich’s redesigned beast of its godly title and then having it killed by their own Lizard King. Recreating the power and excitement of Toho’s original Gojira, while sidestepping the pitfalls of Emmerich’s reimagined one, was always going to a weighty task.
The tense and teasing trailers for Gareth Edwards’ reboot certainly suggested that the Godzilla of 2014 would be able to dispel the doubts of those still reeling from Emmerich’s monstrosity. It hinted at a story infused with intelligence, of action that would take your breath away, and of a monster worthy of his title. Perhaps it was inevitable that the finished result wouldn’t be able to live up to those dizzying expectations. While its intentions are honorable and its monster magnificent, Godzilla is a film struck down by its blockbuster conventions.
Brit director Gareth Edwards was given the reins of Legendary Pictures’ reboot having dazzled audiences with Monsters, a brave directorial debut that modestly subverted the genre it was rooted in. Clearly the hope was that he would be able to achieve the same thing here and as such, Dave Callaham’s story is one driven by a human element. The beating heart of Edwards’ Godzilla is the story of Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody, who’s trying to discover what caused a nuclear meltdown that killed his wife.
You have to hand it to Edwards; he is an assured director with astonishing vision. His enthralling opening, which details the aforementioned nuclear meltdown, is a rapid assault on the senses, effectively balanced in establishing the narrative and racking up the tension. Flash forward to the modern day however, and the film quickly starts to show signs of slowing. As we begin to trundle through various scenes of exposition, it soon becomes clear that Godzilla is not the dynamic blockbuster we had all hoped for.
While the human element that drove Edwards’ debut was slow-burning and subtle, here the characterisation feels like nothing more than stock summertime fodder. Particularly Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s American hero, a detached caricature that’s all muscle and no personality, drifting through various scenes of devastation with the same pained facial expression. His wife meanwhile, played by Elizabeth Olsen, is a damsel whose distress is simply to worry for her other half. It’s all played with a sombre tone, Edwards trying to balance Godzilla’s B-movie aesthetic with Nolan-esque seriousness. The result, much like the script, is muddled.
In an admirable attempt to moonlight Toho’s ’54 original, Edwards’ film attempts to raise some serious questions about the effects of man tampering with the natural order. Throughout the film’s overlong first act, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins’ scientists try and offer insight in to the subject. However, an eventual need to push the narrative forward means they fail to ever come close to actually addressing the issue. Instead, the whole exercise ends up feeling like an attempt to prolong the audience’s excitement before the eponymous monster is revealed.
When we do finally capture our first glimpse of the King of Monsters (and be assured that he takes his time), the film notably shifts up a few gears. With a grand budget and substantial effects department, Godzilla and the destruction left is his wake is spectacularly rendered. Seamus McGarvey’s sweeping cinematography effortlessly captures the grand scale of the Lizard King’s devastation. While the restrained editing allows for an adrenaline-fuelled finale that manages to actually let you experience the carnage of Godzilla’s battle with a striking foe. The decision to use motion-capture during said fight is a stroke of cinematic genius, instilling the film’s final third with a valiant salute towards Toho’s original films.
Within Godzilla is a brilliant film just waiting to burst forth. “The arrogance of man is in thinking nature is in our control, and not the other way round” says Ken Watanabe’s scientist before the mayhem ensues, highlighting the film’s lofty ideals of trying to be a blockbuster with brains. Unfortunately, this is a film that’s more brawny than intelligent, at its unashamed best when focused entirely on the King of Monsters himself.