After a sixteen year absence from western cinema, the King of Monsters has finally stomped his way back to the big screen. Helmed by relatively unknown director Gareth Edwards, the Godzilla of 2014 is undoubtedly a different beast from its cheesy 1998 counterpart. Best known for directing sleeper hit Monsters, on paper Edwards is the perfect choice to resurrect cinema’s most revered giant lizard – but does this reboot finally do the Japanese behemoth justice?
Taking inspiration from Spielberg, Edwards’ Godzilla opts for being a monster movie with a more human focus, interweaving a hit-and-miss tale of family tragedy with the apocalyptic destruction.
Our story starts in Japan, where power plant engineer Joe Brody (Cranston) finds himself caught in a horrific nuclear incident that tears his family apart. After detecting suspicious readings from the plant, Brody rejects the official report that the disaster was an accident and devotes the next fifteen years to uncovering the truth.
During these fifteen years, Brody’s son Ford has grown up, and in a plot device that becomes incredibly handy later on, has become a bomb disposal expert. Played by Aaron-Taylor-Johnson, Ford comes to resent his father for abandoning him and devoting his life to ‘paranoid’ conspiracy theories, but after Brody gets himself arrested, Ford reluctantly heads back to Japan to bail him out of trouble.
While Godzilla seems like a strange choice after Breaking Bad, Cranston is in his element as the obsessive scientist, and pulls off a brilliantly believable performance which really carries the film’s early segments. The first 45 minutes of the film are expertly paced and highly entertaining, with Edwards keeping you ensnared from the haunting locales of Japan’s nuclear contamination zones, right up to the monster’s show stopping first reveal. Sadly, this pacing starts to fall flat once the film leaves Japan. Once the M.U.T.O – Godzilla’s rival monsters – have appeared, the main characters seem to hop aimlessly from locale to locale, giving the viewer neither enough interesting action scenes or plot devices to make the mid section of the film entertaining.
After an engrossing opening, Edwards’ disappointingly relies on shots of wanton destruction and a fairly one dimensional supporting cast to progress the story. Ken Watanabe does the best with what he has, but neither his character’s motivations or back story are ever really explained – making him entirely forgettable and hard to relate to. In fact, it often feels like he’s just there to spout a few philosophical one-liners and to be the token Japanese actor that gives the film credibility – which given his talent, is a real shame. It’s not just Ken’s character who disappoints in this film however. Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife is a little more fleshed out, and fares better – but she doesn’t have a strong enough character to keep the mid section interesting either, and her ho-hum drama feels like a bit of a distraction from the film’s main event.
Yet where the supporting cast’s characterization fails, the film’s aesthetics prevail. Visually Godzilla is stunning throughout, and even when the dialogue bores, the convincing CG and well shot locales help to keep the film feeling just about unique enough to hold your attention.
Luckily, the film’s final act delivers, and helps you almost forget the tedium you endured at the half way mark. After being absent entirely from the film’s first hour, Godzilla takes centre stage in the finale and Edwards ends the film with one of the best action scenes of recent years. While Johnson is little more than a generic American action hero throughout, the brilliant HALO jump scene featured in the first trailer, along with Ford’s struggle through a crumbling San Francisco, make up for his otherwise bland performance and keep you entertained between the film’s explosive monster battles.
Godzilla is no classic, then, and like all highly anticipated releases it falls somewhat short of its lofty expectations. But while the film certainly has its problems, it is entertaining – Cranston’s scenes are brilliant, Godzilla looks good, and thankfully Matthew Broderick is nowhere in sight.
But most importantly, Godzilla’s spectacular finale will have you leaving the cinema with a smile on your face – and what more could you ask from a film about a giant radioactive lizard?
GOOD: The try-hard releases score 7/10; the releases that aim high but fall short despite their best efforts. A score of 7 indicates a good experience, in that it does what it set out to do but without much fanfare. Worth watching, worth owning, but maybe not worth queuing up for hours to see.
Review based on pre-release screening.