DIR: Gareth Edwards • WRI: Max Borenstein • PRO: Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull • DOP: Seamus McGarvey • ED: Bob Ducsay • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Richard Bullock • CAST: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
Godzilla, the most famous monster of them all, is unleashed on a modern-day San Francisco. Unfortunately, Godzilla is not the only monster to be awoken… Can the might of the US Navy, led by Admiral Stenz (Strathairn) and scientist Dr. Serizawa (Watanabe), stop the King of the Monsters before it’s too late?
Godzilla – originally created by Japanese film director Ishiro Honda and the Toho Co. Ltd. production company in the 1950s – is the most iconic movie monster in film history, whose filmic infamy remains unsurpassed (not even by King Kong) to this day.
Honda’s 1954 original spawned over a dozen sequels and has its fingerprints all over nearly every creature feature since. It still continues to inspire today’s contemporary directors such as J.J. Abrams (Cloverfield) and Guillermo Del Toro (Pacific Rim).
Bringing an up-to-date version of the story to an American audience was always going to happen sooner or later, but the less said about Roland Emmerich’s 1998 monstrous flop the better.
This time around the reins were handed to a relative newcomer, Gareth Edwards.
Edwards filmed his debut feature (Monsters, 2010) – about two people travelling across America six years after aliens invaded Earth – on a shoestring budget of just $800,000 with a minuscule crew of just seven people.
He had to be imaginative in the way he showed the dangers at hand by merely alluding to them, rather than explicitly revealing them. It was a technique Edwards used effectively in Monsters and it’s also one he’s migrated to the much bigger budget (an estimated $160 million) of Godzilla.
Instead of splurging the cash on extended action scenes early in the running time, Edwards instead gives us mere peripheral glimpses of the action through TV news coverage or unexpected cut-aways at the last moment. Thus Edwards deftly keeps the big reveal of Godzilla doing his thing relatively obscured until the third act.
As with all big-budget monster movies, the fortunes of the film live or die by the quality of the CGI. The effects on show here are near faultless. Edwards and his visual effects team (as well as the Irish director of photography, Seamus McGarvey) deserve high praise for the stunning visuals – not just for the computer-generated monsters, but also the battle-ravaged cities and landscapes. A scene showing a military parachute jump into the middle of Godzilla battling through San Francisco is a particularly impressive highlight (although its impact was somewhat diminished by its inclusion in the trailer).
Sound is also noticeably well used. Rather than a constant ear-bashing similar to a Transformers films, you get moments of desolate quiet, allowing Godzilla’s signature roar to pack an even mightier punch.
Clocking in at just over two hours, Godzilla is not a compact film and the plot takes some time to get into its stride. Getting the most from your (excellent) cast early on to flesh out the relevant back story and character development rather than jumping straight into the action was a smart move by Edwards but after half an hour you do find yourself ready for something big and loud to break something expensive.
It’s a bit of a surprise to find such a wealth of acting talent in a big-budget blockbuster such as this, but it’s an extremely welcome one. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as the army bomb disposal expert whom we follow through the story, proves an able body in the action stakes. Ken Watanabe has very little to do other than wear a look of perpetual shellshock throughout and Sally Hawkins is equally underused – providing nothing more than plot exposition. Bryan Cranston, meanwhile, is a joy to watch and steals every scene he’s in.
Honda’s original Godzilla was borne out of a nation still recovering from the nuclear devastation of World War II and came to be a representation of such. In Edwards’ update, similar contemporary parallels are noticeable by their absence. Threat of nuclear war is not as prevalent today as the 1950s, thereby making Edwards’ Godzilla a more diversionary spectacle rather than a contemporary social metaphor. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. With Godzilla, Edwards has produced an entertaining, engaging, superior blockbuster and a worthy addition to the King of the Monster’s canon of films.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Godzilla is released on 16th May 2014