A King Will Rise, A Race Will Fall
Godzilla is a very divisive subject among filmmakers and film fans. Unlike other monster classics (King Kong to say the least), it is the very embodiment of a cult film on the rampage. Technically speaking, the original was a bit of a clunky mess (even for its time) but there’s something endearing about the silliness that people either get on-board with or abandon. Then there were the countless sequels and Vs films, all of which displayed a distinctly more tongue-in-cheek attitude and again audiences were divided between people who nostalgically enjoyed the nonsense and people who critiqued them properly.1998 rolls around and Roland Emmerich takes a stab at the flick and gets slated for his interpretation and STILL there are those who say it’s not awful. Sixty years after the original and another big-budget epic comes stomping onto the scene, this time directed by Gareth Edwards. To my mind, this movie replicates the spirit of the original so perfectly that it actually sabotages its own success.
The film opens in 1999 with the accidental discovery of two ancient chrysalis pods, one of which tunnels to the nearest radiation source: a nuclear plant outside Tokyo. This tunnelling triggers an earthquake that ruptures the plant and the whole building collapses, taking with it the wife of nuclear engineer Joe Brody [Cranston]. Fifteen years later, Joe’s son Ford [Taylor-Johnson] is a lieutenant in the US Navy, specialising in bomb disposal. Returning home after a long tour of duty, Ford receives word that his father has been arrested for trespassing in the fallout area where the plant once stood. Moved by his father’s obsession (I guess), Ford agrees to follow Joe into the restricted zone, where they discover a massive cover-up operation. For the last fifteen years, a conglomerate of united nations, Monarch, have been studying a dormant pod nestled at the heart of the destroyed nuclear plant. Joe and Ford are discovered and taken into custody, where the head of the operation, Dr Serizawa [Watanabe], learns that Joe’s reading from a decade and a half ago match those the pod is giving off presently. To the horror of all involved, the pod hatches and a giant insect-like creature (dubbed MUTO) is unleashed wreaking havoc on the populace. The military track the creature’s movements and Dr Serizawa details the existence of an apex predator, a hunter, the restorer of natural balance and possibly man’s only hope or its greatest threat. DUN DUN DUUUUN!
Before we continue, I should mention, I really enjoyed this film. I also really enjoy a lot of stupid kaiju movies and I even hold a place in my heart for the big lizard romping through New York, whom we all call Godzilla but we totally know wasn’t. Take from that what you will. The 2014 version adopts the Jaws/Close Encounters Of The Third Kind structure, revealing the damage and devastation with hints of the assailant but saving the payoff until the film’s climax – not a model contemporary audiences hold dear. Now, depending on the type of monster movie you like, this will be the first point that frustrates or exhilarates the audience. I believe the slow pacing at the start, building to the first monster reveal – which isn’t even the title character – was a great choice. Annoyingly it means you’re stuck with the flat human characters but I’ll get back to that shortly. In truth, Godzilla is an unapologetic technical wonder. The CGI elements are exceptional and the monster designs and mannerisms are extremely impressive. But the key point to note is the sound design. Often I glaze over highlighting sound effects as the majority of large films tend to simply recycle heavily from a standard catalogue but every element felt unique and fresh. Granted, this may be down to the fact that I saw this movie in IMAX and you’re kind of forced to listen to the immense, overpowering audio but either way, it was inordinately noticeable, immersive and enjoyable. Similarly, Alexandre Desplat’s score was pretty spot on, utilising heavy brass and drum elements while revelling in the ridiculousness – at one point having Godzilla stand triumphantly among the ruins while the score belts out a few, rather absurd TA-DAs!
I will admit, there were plenty of problems. Again, if you’re emulating something which is inherently flawed, you’re going to create something that will thrill a niche and alienate everyone else. But even then, you’d still hope for a modicum of expression which stems away from the nonsensical. Unfortunately, Godzilla manages to deploy just about every single cliché and movie trope available. In other words, this movie is cheesy as sin. The warning signs actually appear quite early on. During the flashback of the reactor under siege, the second Juliette Binoche saw a menacing nuclear cloud stampeding through the corridor and allowed herself to whisper “Oh my God” I knew exactly what kind of film I was watching. Suspension of disbelief is one thing but there is literally NOTHING plausible about this film. From the character motivation to the ridiculous Man Of Steel fight logic (ensuring characters are inexplicably exactly where the action is happening) it’s all a bit silly. One of my favourite examples is while San Francisco is being evacuated: both the MUTOs and Godzilla have arrived and are about to battle it out and we cut to the interior of an office block with people working at computers as the flying monster swoops by. So, the entire city is being evacuated, the power is almost completely knocked out by EMP bursts and these fuckers are just casually carrying on with their paperwork? It’s brilliant. I mean, it’s fucking awful but it’s brilliant! That’s exactly the kind of crud that the Beastie Boys nailed in their Intergalactic music video. But, I will acknowledge that if that took place in any other film, I would be slating the hell out of it. As stated, once you realise that this movie is not only dumb but doesn’t care that you know it’s dumb, it becomes fun. Or at least, it does for people who are fans of this type of monster movie.
**Huge spoiler that might ruin the film for you. Move onto the final paragraph if you have yet to see the film**
And yet, despite the potent combination of absurdity and astonishing CGI, my biggest complaint is to do with the final shots. Godzilla the saviour? No. He’s Godzilla the punisher. He is the personification of the atom bomb, the personification of nature’s wrath unleashed upon the arrogance of man! He didn’t do us a fucking favour! He’s meant to be the angry god, the unstoppable punishment we deserve. Yes the script could have been improved and yes the characters could have had some semblance of a soul but to me, one of the biggest crimes is that the beast itself isn’t portrayed as a warning. The original was openly criticised when it was first released for cashing in on the tragedy of nuclear weapons but by illustrating mankind sitting in the ashen ruins the severity of its message was clear: imagine if the atom bomb was a creature, were we responsible for its creation and how could we stop it? This movie completely abandons that, shrugs its shoulders and says, “Monsters, man. Ah well, not our problem. COMMENCE THE FRACKING!” I openly expected the film to cut to some dickhead saluting as Godzilla traipsed back into the sea. People shouldn’t be happy, they should be terrified of it happening again! Stupid humans.
So in summation, is Godzilla a good film? Fuck no. Is it a good Godzilla film? Without a doubt. Is that a good thing? Not sure. As you can probably tell from my review, I’m a fan of these types of movies and I would openly contend there is a HUGE difference between a release of this calibre and something that the SciFi Channel would churn out. I don’t necessarily believe the monster movie is a genre unto itself (in truth, genres don’t exist but that’s a conversation for another time) but it’s like showing a western to someone who hates westerns, some people simply aren’t going to get along with formula – not the premise but the formula of how this movie was paced, structured and ultimately delivered. Time will tell which side of the fence the majority of audience members and critics sit.
16th May 2014
The Scene To Look Out For:
Radioactive breath? No, that’s too easy. I actually think the entire Hawaii sequence was pretty grand. The military are desperately searching for the MUTO and believe they may have discovered something on the small Pacific island. Upon locating it the giant insect unleashes hell on its attackers. At the same time, a tsunami wave crashes through the city streets and into the fore steps the mighty behemoth, Godzilla. It’s a wonderful fan dance. The camera refuses to settle on Godzilla for more than a second or two, encapsulating the sheer impossible scale of the beast but also teasing the audience out of a big reveal. The actual battle itself is so brief and witnessed through news reports and partially obscured perspectives that it’s over before you even realise what’s happened. Wholly reminded me of that opening night time attack on Odo Island in the original.
Outside of Bryan Cranston, the acting is pretty dire. But this is hardly the fault of the cast, most of whom are stellar craftsman. Instead they are failed by a script that is simply not on the same level as the individuals cast. Which is a pity. I’m a fan of Mr. Taylor-Johnson but having him survive almost every scenario and haphazardly finding himself in exactly the right place at the right time is often infuriating. Especially as he has one job and he’s pretty terrible at it.
“Let them fight”
In A Few Words:
“Drawing on the darker themes of the 1954 original, this is a fitting tribute to a threat greater than ourselves.. in the form of a big lizard”
Total Score: 4/5