Directed by Gareth Edwards
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, CJ Adams, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, Richard T. Jones, Victor Rasuk, Carson Bolde, and Bryan Cranston.
The world’s most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.
Remember that teaser trailer for Roland Emmerich’s 1998 effort to bring Japan’s most famous monster back to the screen? Remember when it was about as exciting as the dying damp fish the titular mammoth fed on? If any movie of this size, scale and untapped gold mine of phenomenon deserved a redo, it’s Godzilla. In an age where superheroes reign supreme and CGI has reached new heights, surely the original towering god could get a great retelling? The answer, emphatically, is yes.
Utilising decades of stories and incarnations, Godzilla starts its action in Japan, as American scientist Joe Brody (Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Binoche) continue their work for the Janjira nuclear plant, whilst son Ford (CJ Adams) attends school close by. A seismic reaction, thought to be an earthquake, soon levels the plant, but Brody knows better. He believes something much more terrifying is afoot. Fast forward 15 years, and Brody is still searching for answers. Ford (Taylor-Johnson), now a military bomb disposer, and married to nurse Elle (Olsen), is alarmed at his father’s descent into apparent madness, but soon realises that he, as well as fellow scientists Serizawa (Watanabe) and Graham (Hawkins), may have been a little too quick to judge. Cue MONSTERS!!
Director Gareth Edwards, whose debut Monsters was a resounding success in 2010 on a miniscule budget, is given greater tools this time, both in size and in talent. But rather than utilise his first big Hollywood job throwing everything he can at the screen, he takes his time: slowly bringing the story to the fore before ushering in its climactic sequences, where as you can imagine, he goes to town. Helped by a sturdy screenplay by little known Max Borenstein, 21st century Godzilla is sharpens its teeth in story, before sinking them in in truly explosive style.
Acting across the board is strong, with Bryan Cranston, as you may have guessed, the standout. His sincere, earnest Brody Sr. again shows his class, and alongside the likes of Watanabe, Hawkins, Binoche and Strathairn, add effortless gravitas to proceedings, elevating the film from good to very good, without having to break too much of a sweat. Olsen too continues her meteoric rise up the Hollywood ladder with another excellent turn despite being the victim of the film’s slighter of characters. It’s just a shame that the team is only let down by the over-rated Taylor-Johnson, whose blank stare and vacant charm has all the allure of a wet mop.
The film’s biggest strength though, is it visuals, which are the most impressive of the year so far. Buildings fall, seas rise, planes plummet, cities collapse and everything else in between as the world stands on the brink. But what makes them stand out beyond the typical spectacle use of green screen is the reality at the heart of it.
Much like Christopher Nolan did in Gotham City, Edwards wants the heart beating at ground level, where Taylor-Johnston et al are struggling to survive. Realism, heightened anyway, is at its core, and as the pyrotechnics unfold around them, the panic, and in turn hope, feel real, even in those moments when the brain reminds you that yep, that’s a giant monster walking through Las Vegas as Elvis Presley echoes in the background.
It’s not perfect mind, and there are some dud beats: you could certainly trim a little off the middle for example and still have a taught enough story, and the sheer nature of the story borders on silly at times, both in plot (crazy science jargon, brainless military decision making, sequel bait) and in it’s final sequences (without spoiling anything, there is a moment or two where you not only remember the old Godzillas, but the Megazord sequences in Power Rangers. No, just me?)
Overall though, Godzilla does the job excellently. It isn’t Shakespeare, nor does it pretend to be, and anyone expecting a gritty, Nolan-esque version best steer clear, but this is the type of blockbuster we always want to see: a expertly executed, polished spectacle with some true star quality, delivering a spectacular, albeit at times silly, offering of summer entertainment. Isn’t that what summer’s all about?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★