Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe
Directed by: Gareth Edwards / Written by: Max Borenstein (story by Dave Callaham) / 123 minutes
What’s it about?
Fifteen years after a devastating nuclear incident at a Japanese power plant, the world’s most famous monster is awakened…
Arriving sixteen years after Hollywood’s last attempt at bringing Japan’s (arguably) most iconic creation to the global masses, 2014’s Godzilla thankfully avoids the many pitfalls of Roland Emmerich’s Jurassic Park cash-in.
This version is an exciting and often surprising interpretation that manages to stay firmly faithful (and respectful) to the history of the infamous monster. I say that it often surprises, mainly for the fact that Gareth Edward’s film may have the elements of a crowd-pleasing blockbuster yet to simply label it as such would do it a disservice. Indeed there is awesome spectacle and incredible special effects that bring the blockbuster moments to life (worthy of the extra cost of an IMAX ticket, although don’t expect any ground-breaking use of 3D), yet Godzilla is paced more slowly than you might have anticipated – teasing the reveal of cinema’s ‘King of the Monsters’ through glimpses of grainy historic footage and quick cuts to live news coverage. This slow-burn approach feels right and appropriate for what is clearly intended as an origin story and proof that handling a Hollywood production in such a manner can be just as effective as your average – often breakneck paced – franchise behemoth. Think more along the lines of Alien and Predator here than, say, Transformers.
As with Ishiro Honda’s 1954 film (and its many sequels), the story is largely told from a human perspective that provides a decent enough emotional core that’s not quite as satisfying as Super 8 (for example) but manages to hold interest between those monstrous large-scale set-pieces. Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston amazes in the role of grieving father/disgraced scientist, demanding the audience’s attention with every line felt as well as heard. Batman Begins and Inception star Ken Watanabe also delivers another believable character, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is less of a draw as Cranston’s son, yet via the film’s script delivers a refreshingly grounded take on the clichéd ‘military man’ (thankfully there’s no gung-ho Team America-esque characterisation here). Elizabeth Olsen is given little to do beyond standard doting wife/devoted mother fare but between herself and Johnson (as I’ve said) there is enough character depth and emotional resonance to carry things forward.
It’s worth noting that much as the original film was born out of Japan’s nuclear fears (and more pertinently the scars of World War II), the new Godzilla wisely upholds those fears whilst tapping into the post-9/11 zeitgeist with dashes of ecological commentary as the film’s characters deal with tsunamis and nuclear meltdowns.
With Monsters, Gareth Edwards proved more than adept with balancing story, character and spectacle and repeats that on a much larger scale with Godzilla without becoming overwhelmed amongst the film’s massive and destructive set-pieces, keeping the visuals fluid and steady.
Of course I couldn’t end this review without commenting on Godzilla himself. In another wise creative move that sets this film a world apart from the 1998 version is the creature design, which remains largely faithful to the original, iconic, rubber suit. In fact you could easily argue that this is the best looking Godzilla design ever, the intricacies of every tiny detail allowed by the use of big budget CGI simply cannot be rivalled.
The bottom line: With a healthy blend of grand visuals, some decent social commentary and emotional resonance, Godzilla is a monster of a hit that lays the path for a promising new iteration of the franchise.
Godzilla is in cinemas now.
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