Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
123 mins; Class PG; KRS
Considered by many the yardstick by which all monsters – and monster movies – are measured, Godzilla first left his destructive footprint in 1954 in Japan, a few years after World War II which left the country devastated.
The year 1998 gave us a much-trumpeted, yet ultimately lukewarm, version of the story. This year’s Godzilla, therefore, comes on a wave of much hype. Relative newcomer Gareth Edwards was an interesting choice and he certainly delivers the thrills and spills in spades, while taking precious time out for plot and character development. The film captures audience interest more than its predecessor, but the end result is not quite a cohesive whole.
The end result is not quite a cohesive whole
In an interesting twist on delivering exposition, the film’s stylish opening credits serve as origin story, keeping faithful to the nuclear incident that created the monster.
The prologue itself takes place 15 years ago, where we meet married scientists Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche), who work at a Japanese nuclear reactor in Japan.
A horrific accident claims many victims and provokes a massive evacuation… but the incident is covered up. Fast-forward to the present day, when Joe is still desperately looking for answers.
He reunites with his estranged son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who travels to Japan from his home in San Francisco to bail his father after he is arrested for trespassing at the abandoned nuclear site. From there on, things get rather hairy.
Once events move to the present day, however, the film suffers exposition overload and the plot threads unravel somewhat; the script by Max Borenstein veers off in one direction too many.
This is no fault of the cast, a solid mix of the veteran and the new. Bryan Cranston’s scientist channels his inner Walter White; Juliette Binoche adds poignancy in her small, but effective, role; Aaron Taylor Johnson combines gung-ho soldier and family man with ease.
Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins do a great job as the scientists at the centre of the story – and are bogged down with most of the expository jargon. Elizabeth Olsen and David Strathairn are a little underused as Ford’s imperilled wife and the admiral in charge of operation Stop Godzilla respectively.
The ensemble adds a certain amount of gravitas to the story, adding some much needed humanity to the monster behaviour on display, almost to a fault. There are moments when things become a little too earnest and some levity would have been welcome.
Thankfully, however, when things threaten to turn a little too sappy, a monster breaks loose and it’s time for some hard-wired action.
There is no denying the spectacle on show with Edwards creating some tense moments in the build-up to the first reveal of Godzilla. He also teases us mercilessly by first introducing the no-less impressive MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), a by-product of the research into Godzilla’s existence, if you will.
Our breath is swiftly and sharply taken away when the star of the show finally appears. There are more moments of breathlessness to be had, as the promised devastation begins. There are rolling and rumblings seas as the monster surfaces; bridges that collapse like matchsticks; buildings crumbling in a mound of crushed brick and shattered glass; terrified crowds fleeing the scene; submarines being swept from the sea onto jungle tree-tops, all their firepower ineffective.
The whole thing is visually effective and yet... there remains the niggling sense that we have seen this all before. Recent releases like Noah and Pompeii offered a plethora of astonishing special effects depicting disaster zones, yet the hype leading up to Godzilla led us to believe we were about to be treated to something exciting and new.
Exciting it certainly is, new not so much. It is difficult to read what Godzilla-philes will make of it – a disappointing rendition, or a solid delivery. Either way, expect gargantuan international box office, and a solid start to the summer blockbuster season.