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Godzilla (2014) – film review

May 21, 2014

GODZILLA

The King of the Monsters makes a triumphant return.

Reviewed on Friday 16th May 2014

godzilla_2014_trailer_screenshot

Directed by Gareth Edwards. Screenplay by Max Bornstein, story by Dave Callahan. Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe. Running time: 123 mins.

With humanity under threat from giant prehistoric monsters, it is up to Godzilla to     take them out and restore balance to nature.

The original Godzilla – titled Gojira in Japan (and released in 1954) was made in response to the horrors of nuclear devastation suffered by the Japanese during the last days of World War II, as well as the threat of nuclear fallout from American H-bomb testing in the Pacific. And the resulting series boasts the highest number of sequels of any genre franchise (twenty-seven). This latest incarnation marks only the second time a Godzilla movie has been produced by an American studio specifically for the US market, following Roland Emmerich & Dean Devlin’s universally reviled ‘giant iguana’ version in 1998.

Gareth Edwards is an inspired (if daring) choice to helm this $160 million reboot of Godzilla – as it marks the British VFX artist turned director’s second only feature; following his micro-budget indie debut Monsters in 2010. And, as Edwards clearly shows here, he takes the enormous increase in budget and scope easily in his stride. As he demonstrated in Monsters, Edwards knows how to strike a balance between the sprawling and the intimate – and his own take on Godzilla continues this trend; in the way events are depicted from the human perspective (as POV shots from inside moving vehicles for example). And he is clearly riffing on the early films of Steven Spielberg as inspiration, especially in the way he stages his set-pieces; most notably Jaws and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind – and it’s so refreshing to see a digital-era filmmaker combining classical old-school story-telling techniques with state-of-the-art technology to create a truly immersive and visceral experience. And Edwards’ keen sense of detail and geography during the action sequences makes it easy for us to understand what is happening at all times. From the Philippines to Japan to Guam to Hawaii to ‘Frisco – the primarily Pacific-centric scope of the film     is enormous. And Edwards’ flare for verisimilitude (a major part of the appeal of Monsters) – is ramped-up here big-time. His attention to detail in the art direction is most evident during the incursion into the irradiated Japanese quarantine zone; where Ford and his father return to their family home, left abandoned fifteen years before. These abandoned locations have the sense of being real places – as do many of the locations seen throughout the film. And the shear scale of military hardware on display during the movie’s second half clearly shows there was an enormous amount of cooperation with the armed forces – which adds greatly to the overall sense of inherent realism in the piece.

The 350 foot-high Godzilla himself is beautifully realized, thanks to recent advances in CG mo-cap techniques – and much like last year’s Pacific Rim, the kaiju here really do feel weighty and gigantic; but not only huge in scale – but full of character too. We really do get the sense Godzilla is a thinking, feeling being with a personality and not just another mindless creature dishing out wanton destruction. There are many little character moments (particularly in the third act) which do well in drawing out our sympathies.

Naturally, this being a Godzilla movie, the human characters are not nearly as       well-drawn as they could be (although Edwards has revealed that much of their characterization ended up on the cutting room floor). While Aaaron Taylor-Johnson makes an appealing, if generic lead; as Explosive Ordnance Disposal expert, Leuitenant Ford Brody (his speciality is the disarming of nuclear weapons) and Bryan Cranston gives an astonishingly moving (if brief) performance as Ford’s grieving father, Elizabeth Olsen is pretty much wasted here; given little to do in the thankless role of Ford’s wife – beyond tending to patients (she’s a nurse). And Ken Watanabe appears to be little more than a token presence to appeal to Japanese auds.

But of course what really matters with Godzilla are the monster action set-pieces – and memorable moments here abound, including: the tsunami which inundates Honolulu when Godzilla comes ashore; the overhead view looking down on the     aircraft carrier USS Saratoga – as the gigantic shape of a submerged Godzilla     passes by underneath; the squadron of disabled F-18 fighter planes falling out of     the sky and the skydiving sequence, where Ford parachutes down past Godzilla into a burning San Francisco. The haunting use of György Ligeti’s ‘Requiem’ during this skydiving sequence is brazen; considering just how iconic this contempory classical piece of music is in connection with 2001: A Space Odyssey. The monster fights themselves are staged very much like they were in the Japanese originals – even to the extent of affectionately mimicking the ‘men in suits amidst miniatures’ action aesthetics for which these films are so loved (an astute decision on Gareth Edward’s part, I must say).

And I guess it’s this word ‘affection’ which is really at the heart of this movie, as, unusual for a big-budget summer release, there is a definite sense of a singular vision at work here – as opposed to a film made by commitee. Despite the fact there were an additional three uncredited writers involved in the development of the screenplay; the resulting film seems surprisingly cohesive in comparison to most big studio films of late. And so it is; this Godzilla is that rarest of tentpoles – a film clearly made with passion and respect and a great deal of love.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed in V-Max at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, May 15th 2014.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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4 Comments
  1. I’d agree with pretty much all of that, Greg. I found the lack of character play deeply disappointing (director’s cut anyone?) but Edwards’s intelligent and creative choices with choreography, art direction and general staging meant there was lots to like. I don’t think I’ve seen “gigantic scale” presented more beautifully – yet with laudable restraint. Not a home run, but a movie made with evident care.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Cheers, Graham. I’m amazed this film seems to have polarized auds as much as it has. For me – it pretty delivered what I was expecting. I look forward to the next two installments!

  2. Another film I really want to see! I rather enjoyed Edward’s earlier Monsters. I was a bit disappointed really that he seemed to jump so quickly onto the blockbuster circuit, would have liked him to make some more ‘small’ films first. Feared Godzilla would be another Elysium (promising director sells-out with disappointing blockbuster). Maybe its not that bad, then!

    • gregory moss permalink

      I know what you mean about wanting to see him do another ‘smaller’ film before tackling a mega-budget production. Perhaps he might swing between doing smaller films and bigger ones – although he has his slate pretty much full at the moment – what with his involvement with the STAR WARS spin-off and then GODZILLA 2.

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