Running Time: 123 minutes
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Aron Taylor Johnston, Elizabeth Olsen, Jen Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and Juliette Binoche.
(Movie House Dublin Road Preview 12/05/2014)
The world is beset by the appearance of monstrous creatures, but one of them may be the only one who can save humanity.
The king of the monsters returns to cinemas just in time to celebrate his 60th anniversary and thankfully Roland Emmerich is nowhere to be seen! This time round Gareth Edwards the man tasked by the producers of this Japanese/American co-production to bring Godzilla back to the big-screen.
The Welsh director seemed like an inspired choice after wowing critics and viewers alike with his low-budget creature-feature Monsters back in 2010. Reportedly made for around £500,000 Edwards wrote, shot and edited the feature himself and despite the limited funds that were at his disposal he created a film that boasted Hollywood style special effects.
His impressive CGI creations, used sparingly throughout the feature, acted as a stunning visual backdrop to the unfolding human drama onscreen. Working this time round with a considerably larger budget, roughly £150 million Edwards has brought those same guerrilla filmmaking techniques to this blockbuster and the result is a roaring success.
Even with all its big-budget glitz and glamour Edwards’ feature remains true to the mythology of Ishirō Honda’s 1954 original, much more so than Roland Emmerich’s ill-fated 1998 attempt ever was. Emmerich’s Godzilla was nothing more than a cliché laden Hollywood disaster movie with a central monster that didn’t even resemble the iconic monster!
Made only five years after Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park the film’s special effects looked terrible in comparison and the CGI gribblies lacked any real sense of genuine physicality.
Despite its schlocky B-Movie premise Honda’s original made only nine years after the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had a clear anti-nuclear message throughout its narrative. Made at a time when Japanese directors couldn’t discuss the consequences of the nuclear bombing, the irradiated levitation of Godzilla raging through the streets of Tokyo became a metaphor for a country still coming to terms with what happened that fateful August morning.
Edwards’ feature carries that same symbolism throughout its own narrative, less of a complete series reboot but more so a pseudo-sequel to Honda’s original. It carries on the franchise’s tradition of casting the central monster in the role of an anti-hero, over the course of his various cinematic appearances Godzilla has evolved from a marauding monster to humanity’s defender.
The plot see’s Godzilla facing off against two malevolent creatures unwittingly unleashed by scientists studying their effects on a desolate nuclear power station in Janjira. These monsters known as MUTO’s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) threaten humanity’s very existence and it’s up to this ‘alpha-hunter’ to restore nature’s natural balance by destroying them, even if mankind gets caught in the middle.
The film boasts an impressive ensemble cast that includes some of the hottest acting talent in Hollywood right now; Bryan Cranston, Aron Taylor Johnston, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins and Jen Watanabe are among some of the stars onscreen. There’s an equally talented crew involved behind the scenes, including Northern Irish cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, visual effects guru Jim Rygiel and French composer Alexandre Desplat.
The first hour is simply superb, with a stunning opening prologue that sets up the film’s story. Both Cranston and Watanabe steal the show in their respective roles, but sadly Cranston is only given very limited screen-time in his role as Joe Brody, a power plant supervisor determined to uncover the true cause of the disaster at Janjira. It’s a genuine shame because the Breaking Bad star is simply fantastic: “you’re hiding something out there and it’s going to send us back to the stone-age!”
Watanabe’s character Serizawa gets many of the film’s better lines, but overall isn‘t really given an awful lot to do throughout the film. Both Taylor-Johnson and Olsen’s characters felt terribly undeveloped as well, Johnson’s character lacked any real charisma in the film’s central role and Olsen just felt so criminally underused.
It’s a brave move by Edwards to show so little of the monster onscreen, it’s nearly an hour before appears but when he finally does viewers get a real sense of his gigantuous size and stature. McGarvey’s cinematography and Rygiel’s visual effects help give the feature an incredible sense of scale, with the HALO jump sequence near the film’s climax looking even more jaw-dropping on a big-screen.
For all it’s stunning visuals and solid performances, Edward’s film is let down by Max Borenstein’s weak screenplay. When a film aspires to be more than just a monster B-Movie there needs to be more going on throughout the narrative, but sadly it’s all a little simplistic and cheesy at times.
That still doesn’t mean it’s an unenjoyable viewing experience by any means, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim suffered similar issues with a lightweight screenplay but that didn’t make it any less watchable.
Overall Edwards has successfully managed to bring the franchise back to the big-screen and more importantly make it relevant to a modern audience again. The film isn’t perfect by any means, but its light-years ahead of Emmerich’s terrible 1998 attempt and evokes a wonderful sense of nostalgia for the 1954 original.