Director: Gareth Edwards Writer: Max Borenstein, Dave Callaham Starring: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche Running Time: 123 Minutes Year: 2014
Gareth Edwards feature debut, Monsters, served as proof this man knows what to show, and what to leave to the nerdy recesses of your imagination. A modest flick it presented an intimate approach to monster invasion, the antithesis to Roland Emmerich’s bumbling brawl back in 1998. Choosing the Brit to helm the next big screen outing of Japan’s spikiest export, Godzilla, was no wild stab in the dark.
Things kick off with a pulse-racing catastrophic event in 1999, where two American engineers at a nuclear facility bish that seismic activity might emanate from an unknown, monstrous origin. The film skips forward to present day where the ramshackle Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is the sole citizen of the world attempting to get to the bottom of the event. Roping in his disbelieving son, Lt. Ford Brody (Kick-Ass’ Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to venture into the radioactive quarantine zone, the story stomps forward without looking back.
What’s unique in Max Borenstein’s script is the brave (new) world-building – this latest entry into the kaiju canon makes its mark by breathing new life into an exhausted premise. Unlike previous Godzilla titles, the arrival of this beast is unexpected by humans, leaving a wide space for cultivating neat twists. Such as, why has he all of a sudden appeared? The prompt for which is itself a huge spectacle – one of the film’s first truly awe-inducing set-pieces firmly planting it into B-movie monster territory, forcing a dynamic alliance with ‘Zilla and the human population.
Where last year’s fromagey robo-monster flick, Pacific Rim, happily catered to the masses by constructing characters from hokey racist stereotypes, and building the story around elaborate fight scenes, Godzilla unravels slowly, never betraying Edwards’ rule of content matching style. Plot developments while not unheard of, approach situations (“Holy shit – there’s a giant monster tearing apart densely-populated areas!”) without resorting to cliched dialogue and silly human behaviour.
Possibly because the human presence in Godzilla is incidental – fuelling a point made by Ken Watanabe’s constantly-perplexed Dr. Serizawa; “The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around.” It’s a clever point to potentially back up the film’s weakest point: the shallowness of its characters. That’s not to say the cast aren’t on top form; Elizabeth Olsen makes the best of what she’s given, which amounts to little more than constant snivelling, Bryan Cranston powerhouses his way through his role and Watanabe and sidekick Sally Hawkins all take relish in the high stake situation without derision. Its lead Aaron Taylor-Johnson who unhinges the believability of his circumstance; a wobbling lip showing the extent of his emotional reach. It’s safe to say, Godzilla displayed a wider emotional range.
And the beastie is a joy to witness. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And Edwards loves Godzilla, constructing a monster with a steady beating heart, opting for a bulging, larger-than-life character over mere flashy CGI showcase. While the story steps carefully for the first hour, taunting you with the fact a behemoth is just around the corner, he’s worth the wait. A ha-yuge creation, his towering, tubby stature appears time and time again in a stream of cleverly shot reveals as he battles against his opponent. It’s as if Edwards is equally in awe of his creation, shining a spotlight and giving him a spectacular entrance every time he’s to appear in a scene. His highlight landing towards the film’s finale – the glorious, haunting score yanking emotional resonance from every punch and every collapsed building. It’s one of cinema’s best monster showdowns that’ll give you chills.
Godzilla. An exciting, considered disaster flick that’s bulging with set pieces to have you shaking, monstrous smackdowns to make you shout at the screen, and a lot of mouth-gaping surprises.
Make no mistake, you’ve seen him before, but you ain’t seen Godzilla like this.
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