Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen. Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Date: May 16th
It’s been 16 years and the scars have – just about – healed from director Roland Emmerich’s ill-conceived American remake of Godzilla. It was a noisy, witless destruction derby filled with unlikeable characters and obnoxious humour, and it sullied the good name of the titular monster for a long time after its release.
Catchy soundtrack though.
But now in 2014 director Gareth Edwards has bravely taken on the task of updating the iconic beast for a new generation, and armed with a great cast and large budget, he’s shown Godzilla the respect that was profoundly lacking in the previous attempt.
The story follows scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), who has become obsessed with uncovering the truth behind the meltdown of a Japanese power plant that resulted in the death of his wife. Officially labelled an earthquake, Brody suspects the truth is far more sinister, and he sneaks inside the “quarantine zone” with his estranged son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to investigate. Once inside they quickly uncover the true cause of the accident, a dark secret that will soon threaten the rest of the planet, and lead to the rise of a monster long since forgotten by nature.
If there’s one word that sums up Godzilla best, then its awe. The action will often take place from the POV of the human characters as they stand back, mouths agape, bearing witness to the apocalyptic destruction unfolding before them. Edward’s has an outstanding visual eye, and imagery such as an abandoned city being reclaimed by nature, or a military skydive lit by flares are sure to linger in the mind. But Edwards also has a keen sense of pacing, so while the action scenes are intense the film isn’t a relentless, desensitising orgy of destruction. And the reveal of the big man himself is smartly teased for as long as humanly possible. We see the trail of his destruction, we feel the vibrations of his steps, catch a glimpse through the smoke. And his final unveiling is probably one of the most goosebump-inducing scenes in a monster movie since the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.
Unfortunately Edwards seems to be more in love with the monsters and the visuals, as the human side of the film doesn’t fare quite as well. All the actors do good work, but the characters they play are off the shelf clichés. You get the bland soldier hero, the worried wife, the stern military guy and so on, and it’s hard to feel much concern for their safety one way or the other. Likewise the plotting is a little too “join the dots”, with Taylor-Johnson’s character becoming the protagonist by virtue of an almost comical run of bad luck. While not enough to ruin the film, it’s disappointing that more effort wasn’t put into crafting more compelling protagonists.
While Godzilla is much more of a visceral ride than an emotional one, it’s still an expertly crafted summer blockbuster. And he can now proudly reclaim his throne as the King of the Monsters.