Review: Godzilla

Godzilla

Gareth Edwards is the latest in a long line of directors who have taken on the legendarily iconic building-bashing big-screen blockbuster beastie. Many will remember the God-awful Roland Emmerich version starring Ferris Bueller and wince that Hollywood has dared to have another go at the franchise. But, with Edwards, the British director of the amazing indie sci-fi/monster film, Monsters (2010), at the helm it seems like a sure bet. After all, he’s such a fan of the monster movie genre that he spent years on the visual effects for Monsters on a laptop in his room… for nothing.

This is evident from the start in this reincarnation as it feels a lot closer to the feel of the original, Japanese films. For a start, Godzilla and the MUTOs Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) are not created by man’s nuclear experiments but, rather, they feed on radiation and are throwbacks from the era of dinosaurs that have sat dormant for millions of years until the 1940s. This is shown during the opening sequence which re-writes what we know about nuclear bomb testing; instead of weapons tests the military was actually trying to destroy Godzilla in the unpopulated Bikini Atoll.

The point of Godzilla, that was totally lost in the Emmerich film, is that the giant lizard is actually a force for good, not a rampaging beast bent on destruction. Its role is to restore balance by despatching the true monsters, like the MUTOs, Ghidora or Mothra.

One of the best things that Edwards brings to this film is that he has given Godzilla a personality, in some films he has recognisable facial emotions, which was great to see. The design of the creature is classic as well, in that it almost looks like a man in a suit rather than an overly stylised creature design.

There are many things that are problematic about this film, largely the human characters and their acting. For a start, Aaron Taylor-Johnson doesn’t look like the father of a 5-year-old and Elizabeth Olsen, equally, doesn’t look like a mother either. Their relationship was pretty unbelievable and largely pointless for the most part. During the action sequences, Taylor-Johnson’s character is more believable. Ken Watanabe’s character serves just to tie the legend of Godzilla back to Japan, though he does bring some gravity to proceedings. The best acting comes from Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche, Taylor-Johnson’s parents, who worked at a nuclear power plant in Japan when it was destroyed in the 80s. Their chemistry was brilliant, even though their roles were quite short.

There are also some horiffically hackneyed bits of dialogue and even a dog that manages to escape from a tsunami wave, reminiscent of the dog in Independence Day.

People have also been complaining that the titular creature isn’t shown very much at all, which is curious as it appears quite a lot throughout the film. And, though you don’t see it in all its glory in every scene it’s in we get to see all of Godzilla for the majority of the final 20 minutes. Also, this is how directors build suspense for the big reveal: you get the spines down its back a few times, then a foot, then the whole side of the beast, then the head and finally you get to see it throwing MUTOs across San Fransisco and the pièce de résistance is the nuclear breath! It’s a master class where the monsters are nowhere near as vague as in other monster movies like Cloverfield, for example.

There are three amazing set pieces during the film, among many brilliant effect shots of secret mountain bases being ripped open, destroyed buildings and a simulated tsunami. The first is where a MUTO causes huge devastation at an airport, tossing airliners across runways and causing a chain reaction of exploding jumbo jets until Godzilla appears to chase it away.

The second involves a MUTO and the humans: The soldiers are delivering a nuclear payload by train across country and a thick fog has come down over a bridge, so soldiers have to go ahead and check that the bridge hasn’t been destroyed. Things go south when a MUTO shows up and it all goes to pot in a really tense and spectacular fashion.

The third, of course, is the final battle between both MUTOs and Godzilla which starts off with that halo jump we’ve all seen in the trailer and sees some breath-taking visuals mixed with some absolutely classic Godzilla-style fighting that looks like guys in suits fighting. There are easter eggs for both Godzilla and general monster movie fans, including a point where Godzilla tries to break the jaw of a MUTO in the same way King Kong kills a T-Rex in most incarnations of his story. the switch up here is that Godzilla holds the MUTO’s mouth open and breathes its atomic breath down the creature’s throat.

These encounters were thrilling and, better than that; you can tell what was going on, unlike a lot of other modern monster or action movies of late. This is what sets Godzilla apart. Gareth Edwards’ direction mixes the human and monster elements together with clear visuals and dialogue which has been his calling card thus far and why he has landed the directing role on one of the upcoming Star Wars spin-off movies.

It isn’t just the visuals that are amazing, the sound and soundtrack are equally interesting. Instead of the more common electronic soundtrack Godzilla‘s soundtrack uses a more standard orchestra and choir, choosing to use electronic elements for the sounds of the creatures. These creature sounds really do enhance the effects and add to a truly immersive experience. In some cases the background sound effects fade right out to indicate the fact that they are so loud that the character’s brain can’t process them or the onset of a fainting spell.

This is not your standard modern monster movie, in many ways it harks back to classic monster movies of the past with cutting edge visual effects with great characterisation (especially on the part of the creatures, less so some of the human cast who were a bit one dimensional) and imparts an eco-friendly message which has become the latest thing to hit the Hollywood blockbuster of late. It’s well worth a watch and you really need to see it on as big a screen as possible.

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2 Responses to “Review: Godzilla”

  1. Good review. Though I can see why many have a problem with this movie and what it does with Godzilla, I didn’t mind the build-up all that much. The characters weren’t great, but at least the cast tried here.

    • Thanks, man. Yeah, it was solid, not great. Though it was a damn sight better than the Roland Emmerich effort in the 90s. Couldn’t care less about the central characters, but brilliant action scenes involving the monsters.

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