Review – Godzilla

The King of the Monsters may have rediscovered his rrrrroar after Roland Emmerich’s 1998 disaster (pun intended), but Gareth Edwards’ creature feature follow-up to his micro-budget debut doesn’t quite reach the giddy heights you’d hope it would.

Godzilla is almost a first-rate blockbuster, it just doesn't have the magic formula of great action and great characters to make it truly rrrroar-some

Godzilla is almost a first-rate blockbuster, it just doesn’t have the magic formula of great action and great characters to make it truly rrrroar-some

Trailers often fail to quicken the pulse, but the promos for Gojira’s latest big screen outing were a masterclass in wringing every last of drop of anticipation from an audience rubbing their hands at what the director of Monsters would bring to the table.

There are enough moments here to remind you of why Edwards is such an exciting talent. However, for a film that (correctly) chooses to spend so much of its time exploring the human story, it’s a shame too many of the characters fail to leap off the screen.

Nuclear physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and son Ford (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) go in search of the truth in Godzilla

Nuclear physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and son Ford (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) go in search of the truth in Godzilla

Godzilla‘s cracking opening credits sequence doffs its cap to Ishirō Honda’s 1954 Japanese original and runs with that film’s nuclear-inflected theme. Rather than a nuclear test, the hydrogen bomb dropped on Bikini Atoll by the US military was, we learn, aimed at destroying the gigantic ocean-dwelling Gojira.

All is quiet until 1999 when a Japanese nuclear power plant succumbs to what’s labelled a ‘natural disaster’, although plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is having none of it and believes something else is going on. Cut to 15 years later and Joe’s search for the truth lands him in hot water, forcing his estranged bomb disposal expert son Ford (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) to leave his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son behind in San Francisco to fly to Japan to bring him back to the US. Joe’s convinced the government is hiding something, although not even he can quite believe what it eventually turns out to be and soon enough all hell is breaking loose.

Scientists  Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) investigate in Godzilla

Scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) investigate in Godzilla

That Edwards’ Godzilla stomps all over Emmerich’s effort is pretty much a given (Ed Wood could have made a better film in all honesty). However, a cast full of stellar names are often reduced to delivering one-note performances that serve the story without adding any substance.

The strained father-son relationship between the Brody bunch is worthy of screen time and a driver of the film’s opening half, but Cranston and Taylor-Johnson never truly sell it to us.

The US military HALO jumps into the carnage in Godzilla

The US military HALO jumps into the carnage in Godzilla

Ken Watanabe spends almost the entire film as scientist Serizawa looking like he needs to go to the toilet, while the incredibly versatile Sally Hawkins never deviates from appearing ashen-faced as Seizawa’s colleague Graham. In fact, all the female roles are underwritten; with Juliette Binoche in a blink and you’ll miss it turn as Joe’s wife Sandra, while Olsen gets very little to do as Elle.

That being said, it’s admirable in this day and age for a blockbuster to even give a second’s thought to developing relationships and a narrative ahead of budget-sapping CGI. It’s an approach that worked well for Edwards in Monsters (although, with next-to-no funding it’s always easier to film talking heads rather than space creatures) and, with a little more finesse, will undoubtedly serve him well going forward.

A terrified Elle (Elizabeth Olson) and son hope for the safe return of husband Ford (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) in Godzilla

A terrified Elle (Elizabeth Olson) and son hope for the safe return of husband Ford (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) in Godzilla

Where Edwards really hits it out of the park is in the action scenes involving Godzilla and the massive unidentified terrestrial organisms (MUTOs) that are thrown into the mix. These aren’t just faceless CGI monsters; each of these creatures (Godzilla especially) are emotive forces of nature, whether it be the extended glance shared by ‘zilla and Ford or the moment of tenderness shared by the MUTOs amid the destruction. If this is indeed going to become a franchise (as looks likely) then it’s only right that you feel something for the King of the Monsters.

ROOOOAAARRR!!

ROOOOAAARRR!!

Other dramatic moments, including the Fukushima-inflected destruction of the Japanese nuclear power plant are deftly handled, while the film’s real highlight remains the awesome HALO jump sequence (a candidate for scene of the year), wherein Ford and a crack team of soldiers free-fall into a devastated San Francisco to the eerie strains of György Ligeti’s Requiem (a piece of music used to equally unnerving effect in 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Edwards’ love for Spielberg’s Jaws is evident throughout, from the name Brody, to the long delay in showing the monster in all its titanic glory and the boat which Ford clambers onto in the film’s final act. Let’s hope the sequels fare better than the follow-ups to that franchise.

Godzilla is almost a first-rate blockbuster, it just doesn’t have the magic formula of great action and great characters to make it truly rrrroar-some.

Here’s that awesome trailer…

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24 comments

  1. Popcorn Nights · May 24, 2014

    Nice work! Completely agree with you. It’s an almost…but still enjoyable.

    • Three Rows Back · May 24, 2014

      Yeah, it’s a bit of a shame. So close it being really great.

  2. CouchKurisu · May 24, 2014

    Nice review! I’ve been in two minds to see this or not I’m not sure I can be bothered with another almost. Maybe I’ll just go for it and make my own mind up! Would you say its worth seeing at the cinema rather than waiting for the DVD?

    • Three Rows Back · May 24, 2014

      Thanks man. If you’re going to see it make sure to do so at the cinema, absolutely.

  3. Brittani · May 24, 2014

    For some reason your caption of “roooooaarr!” under the picture of Godzilla made me laugh. I’m starting to think I like this one a lot more than most. It definitely had flaws, but it was such a good time at the theater.

  4. Joseph@thecinemamonster · May 24, 2014

    Totally agree, it’s entertaining but doesn’t mix drama and action well. Excellent post, bud :).

  5. Tim The Film Guy · May 24, 2014

    Great review. I liked the film and thought the majority of the film was good, which is a nice change from the 98 version which was mostly bad.

    The visuals and tone worked really well but the characters where lifeless, except Cranston.

    Still bring on MechaGodzilla! 😀

  6. Consumed by Film · May 25, 2014

    Still yet to see this but it’s unfortunate to read that the character side of things doesn’t quite step up to the mark for you. Hopefully it makes a better impression on me! Great write-up mate.

    Adam.

  7. ckckred · May 25, 2014

    Nice review. I agree the characters are pretty weak with the exception of Cranston but I still had a great time watching this. The visuals and fights were pretty stunning and this was far better than the horrible 1998 remake.

  8. Victor De Leon · May 25, 2014

    Great write up and your observations are pretty spot on even though I did enjoy it more than you did. The film does seems to have a flaw in combining and reconciling the human drama and the spectacle of the monsters and Godzilla. Taylor-Johnson was just too stoic and blase for me to get really emotionally invested in him.

    With the exception of Cranston and Watanabe, everyone else was kind of blah, imo. (though what you said about Ken was quite funny) I did enjoy Strathairn, though. I wish that the film would have spared Crantson and had him and Watanabe interact through-out. That would have been killer. But in the end, I found plenty to like in the movie despite the dramatic shortcomings.

    I can totally see where the movie feels just a hair’s breath from perfect for many. That HALO jump with Ligeti’s composition was definitely an epic high-light for me. And the last act was truly “rrrrroarsome” as well 😉 Nice work. This review was a fun read!

  9. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · May 26, 2014

    Top review sir! Not an awful amount of time for cinema-going right now so haven’t seen this yet. X-Men will take priority but if I get chance after that then I might give this one a whirl.

    • Three Rows Back · May 28, 2014

      X-Men was great (post to follow). If you get chance see this at the cinema; it won’t have the same impact on the small screen.

  10. Tom · May 28, 2014

    Wonderful review mark, I know for a fact that Joe Brody sold me. But I will agree that Ford wasn’t nearly as interesting. My view of the directing of the actors goes a little something like this: I think Edwards really was looking for some placeholder characters, not necessarily cardboard cut-outs, but people who are “generic” feeling — everyday men but on an A-list celeb kind of fashion. Which, I have to admit, doesn’t really work. I think it’ll work much less when sequels happen. As much as yours truly enjoyed his little self in this film, I don’t want a sequel because I”m sure the cracks will really start to show in the writing of each character.

    Not unless, of course, they decide to beef up the human drama quotient, too. We shall have to see!

    • Three Rows Back · May 28, 2014

      Always love reading your considered responses Tom! I would have liked to have seen more of Cranston; his departure came way too early. I worry for the supposed sequels. I mean, where can they take this apart from Godzilla vs Mothra etc?

  11. CinemaClown · May 28, 2014

    It was one of the most anticipated films but it failed to live up to its hype in the end. I liked it & hated it at the same time just as my review suggests 😀 …Nice review. Wonderfully balanced.

    • Three Rows Back · May 28, 2014

      Thank you! I never hated it; although I emerged a little disappointed. Will take a peek at your review 🙂

  12. mikeyb @ screenkicker · May 31, 2014

    You’re so right about Watanabe and Hawkins, surely the scientists should have been a major part of the flm instead of background characters

  13. Pingback: Review – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story | three rows back

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