Film Review: Godzilla

Monday 4 August 2014 by

Godzilla, Film, Gareth Edwards

I’m not a Godzilla buff. Try me with X-Men, Battlestar Galactica, or even Doctor Who, and I’m your girl, but Godzilla is not something I know. Nonetheless, I was willing to give this latest reboot a chance. I’m aware that previous reboots (see Matthew Broderick in the 1998 attempt) have been met with often less-than-savoury responses from fans. The cult following that Godzilla engenders demands big things from the big monster.

So could director Gareth Edwards do any better in the latest Godzilla flick?

As a non-expert, I can’t really say how true-to-form this blockbusting, high-octane, Aaron Taylor-Johnson-wielding film actually is. It could be a precise clone of those iconic mid-20th Century Godzilla films, or it could be a complete mockery. But Godzilla was definitely familiar (though his fire breath seems to be more… laser-beamy than I remember), and there were certain nods to the old films (from what I have seen of them) – the wanton destruction of good monster vs. bad monster, and wary respect that the humans have for their giant protector, that’s all pretty familiar.

One thing I do remember from the Godzilla films: it’s generally the humans that mess up, and Godzilla who has to clean up. It’s no different here, with a nuclear plant in Japan becoming ground zero for monsters that rather enjoy feeding on its energy and then trying to breed. Or something.

There isn’t a whole lot to say on plot here – plot is very tenuous in comparison to the grand action scenes that they throw the monsters in to. The early appearance of Bryan Cranston is brilliant – he dictates each scene he is in with ease, and is probably the highlight of the whole thing, but (spoilers) his early exit means there is little to hold the rest of the film together.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as all-American hero is moderately entertaining, but the relationship with his family feels stilted and insubstantial, something even his charming good looks can’t hide. In honesty, the humans in the film feel a bit superfluous – only serving to make the explosions bigger and offer up some handy dialogue to explain what’s going on, in case you were baffled by the monster showdown. The showdowns themselves are suitably impressive (CGI proving how far we have come from actors-in-monster-costumes) and have that vast quality of magnitude and intensity that I remember from the classics. The odd one or two attempts to “humanise” Godzilla by emphasising what a Good Monster he is, and having him share meaningful looks with Aaron Taylor-Johnson (really!?) are quickly kicked under the carpet by these Special Effects Playtime Moments.

I enjoyed the nods to previous films too – the implication that Godzilla had been lying dormant between films, and certain plot ploys that even a Godzilla-noob would understand. But overall I was left a bit uncertain about this film. There is a lot to love, but I felt a lot of the “human” side of it fell wide of the mark and made it feel more panto than drama… admittedly, this is a Godzilla film and the humans aren’t really the point, but I would have liked to see some characters with more bite. Like those awkward moments in films where they very obviously shoe-horn in a line to make the rest of the film work, there are moments where you feel like the writers had backed themselves in to a corner and so relied on heavy-handed tropes to weasel their way out.

I guess you could argue that it was a hit, with Godzilla 2 in the works (the new monsters were revealed at Comic Con), and earning a healthy 73% rating from Rotten Tomatoes; and perhaps I missed one  of the key ingredients, but I felt it was more middle-ground than astounding. Even Aaron Taylor-Johnson with a fire-breathing Godzilla couldn’t stir me from my ennui.

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