FILM REVIEW: GODZILLA
Release Date: 16th May 2014 (Ireland)
Running Length: 123 minutes
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston.
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Screenplay by: Max Borenstein
Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
Studio: Legendary Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures
A satisfying, self-contained story that justifies viewing on the big screen.
If there’s one thing worse than finding yourself stuck in the middle of a gargantuan smackdown between a pair of 300 foot tall radioactive monsters, it’s getting stuck in the middle of three of them. Let me say from the outset that I am not overly familiar with the Taiju genre – my knowledge of Godzilla ended in 1980 with Hanna-Barbera’s camp Saturday morning cartoon (and no, Godzooki isn’t in this one). Normally the idea of watching two monsters knocking seven bells out of each other would be about as appealing as sitting through a prolonged bout of American wrestling, so expectations for this latest reboot of the Toho Studios franchise were not high. But in all fairness, Gareth Edwards has taken the monolithic budget afforded for his second feature and succeeded in delivering a hugely enjoyable summer blockbuster.
Godzilla opens with an effective reportage-style credits montage, which establishes a Darwinian link between the 1940s atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll and the evolution of the titular monster. The first act, set in 1999, introduces Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) examining a mysterious cavern which has caused the collapse of a mining site in the Philippines. Concurrently in Japan, Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche), are about to have a very bad day at work. The two nuclear scientists barely have time to address the potential effects of a series of abnormal seismic tremors before the Janjira nuclear plant goes into meltdown. The narrative then jumps to the present-day, where Brody’s adult son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Navy ordinance disposal expert, has finished a tour of duty and is reconnecting with his wife and young son in San Francisco. A phone call compels Ford back to Japan where his father, now perceived as a tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theorist, has been arrested for trespassing in the quarantined site of the former nuclear plant.
Rather than attempting to emulate the all surface, no feeling aesthetic of Roland Emmerich (who already had a shot at the franchise with the poorly-received Godzilla in 1998), Edwards has taken inspiration from Spielberg, the architect of the big-budget tent-pole movie. There are obvious nods to Jurassic Park, Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. His choice of showing the monsters through news footage, or from the perspective of bystanders, brings to mind a similar technique used by Spielberg’s spiritual successor, J.J. Abrams in Cloverfield. Max Borenstein’s screenplay is perfectly paced, not revealing too much too quickly, and the CGI serves the story rather than simply being used for spectacle. A genuine sense of peril – often sorely lacking in other movies of this genre – is heightened by an unpredictable attitude to the fate of some key players. The movie’s weak spot is undeniably the younger cast members. Elizabeth Olsen has a thankless role as Ford’s damsel in distress, and Taylor-Johnson’s blank beefcake performance could have been adequately filled by any number of musclebound jocks working in Hollywood today.
The overriding theme of Godzilla is mankind’s powerlessness in the face of nature’s insurmountable power. In the light of recent natural and man-made disasters, some sequences make for uncomfortable viewing. The many scenes of carnage wrought in the aftermath of battle are a little close to the bone. Godzilla’s landfall at Hawaii causes a tsunami that evokes images reminiscent of events in Thailand in 2004, and the Janjira meltdown is redolent of the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. However, in spite of its ludicrous premise, Godzilla admirably manages to maintain a serious tone throughout. Edwards has said that his hope was to deliver a movie that works as a stand-alone narrative, without worrying about setting up possible sequels. Godzilla is a satisfying, self-contained story that justifies viewing on the big screen.