Godzilla (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: Warner Bros) Running Time: 123 min approx
If Hollywood has programmed us film fans in anyway over the past twenty years, is it to approach with caution every film which is a remake of a foreign language classic. For the rare occasion they get it right (Magnificent Seven) they get it stupendously and embarrassingly wrong (take your pick). Chief among these affronts to cinema was 1998’s take on the classic Japanese King Of Monsters Godzilla.
Thus it was with some trepidation and outward concern that the news Hollywood was to have another crack at making Godzilla – and on his 60th anniversary too – engendered among cineastes and monster movie fans alike. But this time, we were assured, it will be alright because British director Gareth Edwards, of low budget Monsters fame, will be directing it. So, crisis averted?
Well, Edwards has certainly tried at least to be respectful to the legacy and Japanese origins of Godzilla, opening the film with a montage of archive footage and faux recreations of the Bikini Atoll being devastated by a giant lizard. We then jump forward to 1999 where Japanese scientist Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his British colleague Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) investigate the skeleton of a giant creature in the Philippines believed to be Gojira/Godzilla which Serizawa suggests is unlikely.
Meanwhile in Japan the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant is struck by an unusual seismic tremor which causes its destruction. Fifteen years later former supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is arrested trying to find the truth behind the disaster which he believes the Japanese government is covering up. His son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a US navy bomb disposal officer who joins his father in Japan, where they meet up with Serizawa and Graham when a giant winged beast called a MUTO appears and creates havoc. At the same time a second MUTO arrives in the US, the two beasts in constant communication with each other. Also discovered to be on the trail of the MUTOs is a resurrected Godzilla but whose side is this mammoth radioactive beast on?
The first hour of the film is spent laying the foundations for the carnage to come and build up the human interest part of the story, ensuring our emotional investment is well and truly snared for when the body count starts piling up. The focus is on the remaining Brody clan, which is now Ford, his nurse wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son Sam (Carson Bolde), who after early tragedies become the totem of the good wholesome American family to suffer at the hands of these rampaging beasties.
Gareth Edwards says in Blu-ray extras that his version of Godzilla “isn’t your typical Hollywood movie”. Sorry Gareth but it IS exactly that. The film begins in Asia (where everyone speaks English and the native languages are not subtitled for us) then conveniently moves to the US where the lone Japanese expert speaks English. Granted, some notable US landmarks and cities get the Tokyo treatment from Godzilla and the MUTOs (which resemble the Gyaos from the 90’s Gamera films) but, again, it all boils down to America being posited as the centre of the planet during a “world crisis”.
At the risk of being overly cynical, this is my biggest complaint about the film – that despite being titled after the 300 foot radioactive lizard, the whole tone and suggestion is that this is actually about the brave and heroic US military doing their bit to protect mankind instead. To add insult to injury Serizawa and Graham are often ignored when trying to advise the military leaders about how to handle the MUTOs and Godzilla, usually until it’s too late. And this film was directed by a Brit!
One widely aired grievance about this film is the lack of screen time our skyscraping scaly star actually gets, which out of a two hour film is quite disappointing. That said in the very first film back in 1954 Gojira only made three appearances, but they were memorable and substantial. Edwards gleefully teases us with silhouettes and frequent spine and tail shots for a fair portion of the film then, when we do see Godzilla in all his glory, it is at night time and we cut away quickly to young Sam watching the action on TV! Later as one of the MUTOs challenges Godzilla to a fight, we get about two seconds of it before we switch to a point of view shot from behind a closing door quickly obscuring action.
Admittedly the film does look great, although considering the budget it bloody well ought to, and the effects team have done a great job in lovingly recreating the cityscape chaos of the later Godzilla films using modern techniques with great results. Edwards, to his credit, has been careful to ensure the pseudo-slapstick charm of the old films is present in the battles albeit executed a lot more smoothly and convincingly.
Being a big budget studio affair, the inevitable pressure to have a big name cast (just in case the most famous giant monster of all time wasn’t enough of a draw) and Edwards scored a couple of coups – even if they were killed off early on! The fabulous Juliette Binoche is wasted in a six minute turn as Joe’s wife Sandra, while Mr. Breaking Bad himself Bryan Cranston gets to capitalise on his new found fame with a slightly longer role. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is totally unrecognisable from his Kick-Ass notoriety while Ken Watanabe once again outshines everyone as Hollywood’s default go to Japanese actor.
As mega budget Hollywood blockbusters go Godzilla is a textbook example of the kind of visually sensational but emotionally flaccid popcorn flick they do best, but scores points over its ersatz predecessor by at least recognising its roots and sticking true to the core concerns of the 1954 original. It’s undeniably over the top fun but for some reason, it isn’t as endearing as when Godzilla was the guy in the rubber suit.
English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
German 7.1 Dolby Digital
Brazilian, Portuguese, Castilian Spanish and English Descriptive Audio Service 5.1
English, German, Portuguese and Spanish Subtitles
Godzilla: Force Of Nature
A Whole New Level Of Destruction
Into The Void: The H.A.L.O Jump
Ancient Enemy: The M.U.T.O.s
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black