UK Release: May 15th 2014
Gareth Edwards (director of the acclaimed ‘Monsters’), second film is very much his first dip into Hollywood, with summer blockbuster ‘GODZILLA’. Reinventing the classic monster film (and yes it’s nothing to do with that horrible Roland Emmerich film from 1998), the film has Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Aaron Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen and Sally Hawkins in among its ranks. Going into this film I had a degree of trepidation as, while I really like ‘Monsters’, it has been known on record that if a director of a small independent film, second film is a step up of a big budgeted Hollywood blockbuster the transition hasn’t always been good, due to inexperience of communicating to producers, and generally keeping an eye on the cost. However I can report, this is a very much a successful attempt indeed.
Straight from its opening scene in Japan (yes very intercontinental flavouring here), it is evident Edwards has a true personal passion for monster movies, which is very rare for a summer blockbuster. While ‘Monsters’ was very much a love letter to the genre, ‘Godzilla’ feels like the ‘’real deal’’ in a sense that he has reigns on a (‘’the’’) proper monster movie property. This is a wise decision on Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures part, as what Edwards has created, is the same with what he did with ‘Monsters’, and made ‘Godzilla’ an actual living and breathing character, not just some catalyst to look cool and blow shit up with (like that of a Michael Bay Transformer). There is a true understanding of the character here, bring a real world up date to the mythic of the character (it celebrates the fact that the whole point of ‘Godzilla’ was to be an anagram and a mechanism for people effected by Fukushima and Nagasaki), with how the atomic bomb opens the film, and gives you the first glimpse of the character (his ‘birth’ on screen you could say). When Godzilla does arrive (and it does take time – but I will come to this later), you do have an animated character which you can understand what he thinking from his animalistic mannerisms, from the flick of his tale to his somewhat interaction with humans. There is also a mating scene in there between two creatures which is (along with the human interaction) is straight out of ‘Monsters’. In fact this is a film which might be better watching back-to-back with ‘Monsters’, as it sets up the mood for this a lot better. There is also an excellent job in homage to Godzilla’s somewhat B-Movie roots. You have Alexandre Desplat overall dramatic score when Godzilla stomps on to screen. Also watch out for the visual winks to ‘Close Encounters’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ in Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography as this certainly helps Edwards construct great action/suspense sequences (the plane dive is the standout moment) which at times reminds me of the heydays of Spielberg and Cameron, making this film a must see on the biggest, loudest possible screen.
There will be a portion of audience members who will not like the lack of Godzilla in the film. Personally I didn’t mind the sparing use of the title character as when he arrives the scene he is in is a cracker. However audiences will find it weird that there are more creature scenes of that of the MUTO enemy (stealth bomber- like) monsters then Godzilla himself. Again watching this with ‘Monsters’ might help get a feel of what is to come, as again this is a very personal (and full of identity) $160million summer blockbuster. There is a good argument also to the fact that the human characters aren’t as interesting of that of Godzilla himself. The central couple of Aaron Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen (very underused here), don’t have the same amount of flair as that of the central couple in ‘Monsters’, Johnson’s character (while it isn’t his fault – and more shortcomings in Max Borenstein’s script) could have been played by anyone. For the same audiences who might not like the fact that Godzilla is not in it as much as you would have thought, they might be miffed off a little about how Bryan Cranston isn’t the main actor here, this could be down to the illusion created from the film’s marketing. My personal big issue with this-whole-characters-not-as-interesting-as-Godzilla -thing, is that I like a monster movie when it happens to people, not just happens. An excellent example of this is ‘Jurassic Park’ and even ‘Monsters’. There is also a criminally underused Sally Hawkins as well (she seems to disappear for a large part of the second half of the film) and to nitpick the whole kids not dying in Hollywood films thing and the fact that Johnson and Olsen kid in this doesn’t have blue eyes (considering both Johnson and Olsen have them) did come to my attention.
Broadly speaking this is a successful update of a classic franchise, which brings fresh meaning back to the core concepts of who and what Godzilla is about and is. Also please make sure that when you are watching this – watch it on the largest and loudest screen possible. Also if you can watch ‘Monsters’ before hand as this will help you get a better understanding and appreciation to the labour of love and passion brought by Edwards here, which is very rare for a summer blockbuster. There is a lot to love here, and is something which I will like to go see in regards to a sequel.