Friday, 23 May 2014


There have been few better trailers for films coming out this year than the first official teaser for Godzilla, released back in December (see bottom of page). It’s unbearably tense, imaginatively shot, and offers enough tantalising glimpses of what looks like a terrifying and enormous version of the iconic monster to whet the appetite.

However, it turns out that the sequence depicted in the trailer – a team of frightened soldiers parachuting down onto a city being ravished by Godzilla - does not actually take place until the film’s final act. What feels like a scene to kick-start the action is preceded by a good 90 minutes worth of build up, by which point many viewers who have paid to see a good old fashioned monster movie starring the King of the Monsters himself will be frustrated by the film’s endless teasing and restraint.

It is evidently the intention of director Gareth Edwards to delay gratifying the viewers’ appetites. In one scene, just as Godzilla is about to embark on his first fight of the movie, Edwards opts to abruptly cut the scene to show a boy watching the events live on the TV news. The focus shifts to him and his Mum talking, and we’re left arching our necks trying to see what’s happening on the screen behind them.  

It’s a wry approach from Edwards, but one that ultimately fails due to one major flaw – there is little here of interest besides the spectacle of Godzilla causing chaos. Had there been a decent plot and engaging characters to hold our interest this would not have been a problem, and perhaps have made the pay-off all the more satisfying.

But, unfortunately, the story is prosaic and a little all over the place. It begins with two extended opening episodes: in the first scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) inspect a huge skeleton discovered in the Philippines, while in the second a fatal ‘earthquake’ in Japan disrupts the happy domestic life of nuclear plant workers Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and Sandra (Juliette Binoche). The film proper then starts when we skip forward fifteen years, with the Brodys’ son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) having just returned from Iraq to his own wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son Sam (Carlson Bolde).

Despite early scenes revolving around the suspicions of a conspiracy theory surrounding the incident in the Philippines explored by Joe, who Cranston injects as much range and bravado as you’d expect from an actor of his quality, it soon becomes clear that the film’s protagonist is in fact Ford. This is another of the film’s major misjudgements – rather than focus on one of the many talented actors on display the burden instead falls upon Taylor-Johnson, who, despite being great in Kick-Ass, here displays about as much charisma as a paper towel. He seems to have gone for the beefed-up stoical army guy with a good heart, but is frustratingly dull to watch compared with Cranston, not to mention the sky-scrapper dwarfing title character.

Typically, the actresses are all given criminally little to do. Talent like Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche and Elizabeth Olson deserve to feature centrally in any film they’re in, but here are sidelined respectively as exposition-giver, a cameo appearance and helpless girlfriend.

Ken Watanebe’s role, meanwhile, is revealing in how it underlies the film’s problematic tone. Every time his character opens his mouth we’re suddenly in the realms of B-movie, which sit uncomfortably with the tentative mentions of one of the oldest taboos in Hollywood, ‘Hirshomina’. In truth, given the lack of substance in a plot that lurches from one scene of exposition in Hawaii to another scene of exposition in San Fransisco, the film would have benefited from several more dollops of cheese. Such flavouring would certainly have made the preposterous ending feel far more appropriate and less out of place.

There may seem very little mention of Godzilla himself in this review of Godzilla, but that’s only reflecting his sparse presence in the film, which too leaves him out until the end. Even his inferior monster-antagonists, known as MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) are given more screen-time, but when the King of the Monsters does finally emerge from the deep, the spectacle is thrilling. All the benefits of CGI have been exploited to create a creature colossal in size and rich in detail, although perhaps more emphasis on motion capture a la Peter Jackson’s King Kong would have helped achieve the more organic look of the traditional man-in-a-rubber-suit approach. Still, when Godzilla finally gets to strut his stuff in the final moments, much of the earlier folly is forgiven. 



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