Tuesday 13 May 2014

Godzilla review

Godzilla (12A/PG-13, 123 mins)
Director: Gareth Edwards
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Director Gareth Edwards caused something of a splash with his no-budget sci-fi from a few years back, Monsters, albeit as much because of its cost than it actually being especially good.

The film’s reception and Edwards’ way with, well, monsters, was instrumental in landing him the gig for this mega-budget updating of a series that’s been a fixture of Japanese moviemaking for 60 years now.

A ropey Hollywood effort from 1998 was as much an excuse for director Roland Emmerich to blow up bits of New York in the style of his Independence Day as it was a remotely successful Godzilla movie, and is best quietly forgotten. But just a year on from Pacific Rim, whether audiences have the appetite for another monster mash remains to be seen.

Tonally this is very sober stuff compared to the cheesiness of the 1998 version, but it remains true to the origins of Godzilla, an allegorical product of post-Hiroshima disquiet and the thirst for nuclear testing in the 1950s.

We kick off in the Philippines in 1999 where scientists played by Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins discover enormous fossils underground. Meanwhile in Japan, Joe (Bryan Cranston) is an engineer at a nuclear plant which is experiencing tremors. Everyone thinks earthquake, but as Joe’s wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) dies in the resulting meltdown, he believes something else is afoot.

Fifteen years on from this their son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is in the navy, and has just returned to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son in San Francisco. Joe is still in Japan, living like a crackpot and trying to expose the cover up and prove it wasn’t a natural disaster.

This is all part of a lengthy setup that ends up taking up more screen time than it merits because it never really pays off down the line. It’s just one of a checklist of flaws to be ticked off that explain why this is a movie with a debit column bigger than its credits. It offers a commendable centre but little momentum, but the upshot of all the preamble is the release of a pair of insect-like creatures called Muto that feed on radiation.

Like on Monsters, Edwards certainly has empathy for them, which is fine, but it does rather come at the expense of being interested in the humans. For all the effort to add poignancy and emotional depth, there are no interesting characters to speak of.

It also thoroughly wastes a very respectable cast. Watanabe and Hawkins disappear into the background after a while with nothing to do but deliver clunky exposition. Cranston just yells a lot and Olsen barely registers as a presence. We spend most of the time with Taylor-Johnson, as he and the military chase the Muto across the Pacific.

But then all that groundwork is abandoned anyway for monsters fighting, because obviously in a film called Godzilla, you need some Godzilla. The enormous dinosaur-like creature is awakened from the depths and could end up being mankind’s only hope against the Muto.

A blockbuster shouldn’t live and die by the special effects, but in many ways that’s often as much as Godzilla has going for it, alongside a number of exquisitely composed and atmospheric shots. The visuals are astonishing, whether it’s the creatures tearing down entire cities or a tsunami devastating Honolulu.

The first big sighting is just about worth the wait and the one thing Edwards certainly manages to get right are the reveals. As Godzilla or the Muto appear from out of smoke or out of the sky to maul each other or a skyscraper, he’s able to deliver a handful of truly jaw-dropping sequences. Godzilla is huge and really quite unsettling as a presence, and in one or two moments the film touches on being a proper horror, posing genuine danger from these massive Lovecraftian beasties.

And yet it’s often to be found skimping on the action, cutting out early from the scraps and only showing us the aftermath rather than the main event. As a result the first two-thirds consist of an awful lot of teasing, although it could be argued that an all-out assault would be exhausting in a Transformers sort of way.

A little lightness of touch might have worked wonders too. It’s an entirely humourless affair, which makes you question the point of having something as silly as two hours of monsters hitting each other when it doesn’t try to make you smile once.

Enjoy the thrill of the few times when Godzilla lets rip with all his might, but mayhem isn’t really enough if you're not having fun with it.


  1. eddie lydecker14 May 2014 at 18:11

    Paul, its absolutely ludicrous and absurd to say that the 1998 movie should be "quietly forgotton", that movie was quite magnificent and mind-bogglingly under-rated, it was also better by itself than literally ALL the Japanese made Godzilla movies put together ! ! !.

    1. It is obvious that you don't see movies very often. If you do then you would know that the 1998 version was a piece of crap. Stop embarrassing yourself and just go away.

    2. Do you have any clue what those Japanese films represented to it's people? To say a action testosterone intense film with little to no respect for it's origins is good, then fine. To say it's better than movies that were the only voices people knew what to make after such a catastrophic and murderous event is down right insulting.

  2. I find it humorous that everyone thinks the 1998 film was a flop when it made $379 MILLION at the box office. The strange thing as well, is it stayed true to the campiness of the originals while bringing the genre into modern times.

    The real sad thing is that everyone is praising this new version when all they did was mash the 1998 movie with "Godzilla vs Megaguirus".

    Even the opening sequence mimicked Emerich's opening sequence and opening musical score a tad too closely...

    Now, "Godzilla 2014" is a good movie...it's just not very memorable...you walk out wondering what you just spent 2 hours doing. The human element is laughably forgettable; and the knowledge base of the "military tech" advisors is very questionable regarding the effects of EMPs on modern military tech. And why didn't the MUTO attack the nuclear aircraft carrier as a food source?!?!?

    I know I'm giving away a lot, but these will be questions you'll be asking too...

  3. Godzilla was a fast paced no movie, that was a lot better than the 1988 take lo g him. From the first few seconds of Godzilla your heart would race and make you gasp at times. Gareth Edwards really knows how to make a movie, KEEP IT UP!