Godzilla (2014) Review
Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
Gareth Edwards’ Monsters is something of a classic. A road trip movie with romance at the forefront and aliens consigned to the backcloth. Edwards deftly handled each aspect of his low-budget debut and the result was nothing short of a masterpiece. If you haven’t seen Monsters then do search it out, it’s quite excellent.
I anticipated Edwards’ follow-up, perhaps another science-fiction movie but with the human characters firmly grounded in reality? Godzilla fits this criterion. Like Monsters, Edwards makes his central players, the humans – headed up by personable bomb disposal whizz, Ford Brody (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – the focus of attention. This may not be music to the ears of the people who want the eponymous dinosaur-like creature to take the limelight and the film, after all, is called Godzilla.
For a good chunk of Godzilla’s considerate running time the behemoth is off screen, glimpsed rarely, its gnarled scaly back seen on occasion. When Godzilla finally appears he is still poorly shot and at times you wonder if Edwards has forgotten the sizable budget he has. Around ninety percent of the sequences Godzilla is involved in are set at night so even when you do see the creature many paid to see he’s gloomily lit. Teasing your audience in trailers is a great ploy, whetting their appetite for the violent treats in store but Godzilla felt like its very own trailer extended, darkly shot so as not to give anything away.
Everything gets under way in the late nineties when a nuclear power plant in Japan is felled by an alleged natural disaster. One of the workers, Joe Brody (played effortlessly by the wonderful Bryan Cranston), is deeply affected by the catastrophe and believes that it wasn’t an earthquake, rather, some kind of creature, hushed up by the Japanese government. Fifteen years later and still nobody believes Brody and he is branded a conspiracy crackpot. Even his son, Ford, does not believe his theories but a shock discovery has devastating consequences for the whole world.
The action swiftly moves east from Asia to San Francisco but the startlingly efficient – and calm – military are ready to deal with the situation. The smoothness of the US army here is very false, it’s almost like the America Godzilla is set in has lived through The Avengers and Man of Steel so they’re completely prepared for yet another large-scale attack.
Ken Watanabe does an excellent job as the dishevelled scientist, on par with Cranston’s Joe, while the brilliant Sally Hawkins is reduced to his mumbling assistant. Ford’s winsome wife, Elle, is supposed to be someone you can identify with but her all-American mommy appeal is lost on me, and she comes across as irritating; Elizabeth Olson is entirely wasted here. Juliette Binoche crops up as another member of the Brody clan and like Hawkins and Olson before her, her talents are squandered.
That’s not to say Godzilla is a complete flop. The special effects are exemplary and the red and black colour scheme is well done. Likewise, some of the shots – particularly one of a radiation-ridden metropolis, and a group free-falling through the air with smoky red flares, creating a beautiful crimson stream across the light sky – are eye-catching. The design of Godzilla itself is something to applaud, a pear-shaped lizard-cum-dinosaur with a roar that I’m sure will be many people’s text alert sound. On a similar note, Alexandre Desplat’s score is a thumping, booming delight, especially in the opening credits sequence showing grainy monochrome footage of Godzilla’s origins.
I’m always one for a monster movie and Godzilla is no exception but Gareth Edwards was not the right man to tackle this project. An A-list cast poorly handled (Taylor-Johnson’s Ford is a likeable enough lead but he has no attributes other than his devotion to his wife and cute-as-a-button son), the titular beast not used to its full potential, and dull characters mean Godzilla is a bit of a mess. That’s not to say it doesn’t have some enjoyable moments but, in retrospect, it just didn’t work. Edwards had the choice between two things – have a full-on disaster movie with Godzilla as a rampaging beast, haphazardly flattening cities or have an intense drama filled to the gunwales with interesting characters, Godzilla serving as a backdrop to the human events, much like Monsters. He chose the latter but because his creations were so completely boring the whole thing went badly indeed. Perhaps including Godzooky would have been a great idea.