Godzilla was arguably the early blockbuster event of 2014, not only due to the talent in front of and behind the camera but also because many hoped this would finally expel the last misguided Hollywood attempt to bring Godzilla to the big screen, in Roland Emmerich‘s 1998 film Godzilla. However upon viewing what self-professed Godzilla fan Gareth Edwards (Monsters) has helmed, you may be left slightly polarised. This is never anything less than a fantastic blockbuster but we urge anyone who (and many have been) is disappointed to watch it again, for Godzilla is a far smarter film than it is being credited for. Edwards’ film draws from the already established Godzilla universe (this is now the 30th film in the franchise), making this more of a quasi-sequel in some senses than a reboot. Those coming in expecting a Destroy all Monsters-like 2 hour mash-up will leave bemused, but those open to an intelligent monster film that is thematically closer to Ishirō Honda’s 1954 original Gojira, will want to revisit this disaster epic again, and again, and again.
There is an early Spielbergian vibe to the feature and the influences of Jaws and Jurassic Park are apparent from the human-centric plot. Godzilla is a film that was always likely going to entertain but it is far more than that, it rewards patience and its pace may well prove divisive for some. The human element is not perfect but is impactful – after all this is called Godzilla, not Ford! Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody (note the last name) is believable and his story of getting back to his wife Elle, played well by Elizabeth Olsen, is realistic and grand in a globetrotting sense. In many ways this is World War G, a film that uses Godzilla as a metaphor for natural disaster and registers our reaction to it. Indeed, the film echoes modern disasters like Fukushima, the 2004 Tsunami, and 9/11.
The matter many may grumble at is Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston’s role in the film (and its length onscreen) but as Joe, he is exceptional and sets up the film’s emotional undercurrent (with an early poignant note). Monster films are not specifically known for their Citizen Kane-esque depth and so we can expect some to not shine as fully as others (Sally Hawkins and Juliette Binoche in particular), yet everyone has a place here. Particularly intriguing is Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, a character far more central to events than he seems. Then there are the monsters. Edwards is dedicated to giving them character and it works a treat. Godzilla is the ultimate apex predator and the anti-hero of sorts to his feature (after all Andy Serkis did play certain scenes to give him character) and the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) act as his villainous foil.
This film teases the audience, keeping the 350 ft (the largest ever Godzilla) monster hidden for much of the running time. We see a vast foot, a shuddering silhouette, huge spines penetrating from beneath the sea (one of many homages to Jaws). Until then it is up to other creatures to fill the screen next to the humans, however when all is revealed, it is truly joyous for lovers of kaiju cinema. Alexandre Desplat’s brilliant score grabs from the moment the fantastic opening credits hit and doesn’t let go for two hours. Max Borenstein’s screenplay, instead of focusing on monster bitch slaps, builds cunningly to its central spectacle. Godzilla is a massive piece of work, part bulldog, part lizard, all badass and this is very much the Godzilla film reflective of our age. There are obviously flaws in this approach and as soon as the climatic showdown commences, the monsters engulf the human story but this is to be expected.
Many will see a Team America style military PR job but that is far from the case, as Dr. Serizawa is proof of. True the film does not present a callous gun-toting nation (in fact that has become cliché) but a mostly well-planned (albeit bewildered) army response. Yet, just like in 1954, this film is about arrogance, arrogance that humanity owns the world and in our misplaced belief that we know the ins and outs of science. Once more Godzilla is one romping, stomping, metaphor for us being a part of the natural world and not the other way round. The size, scale and scope of this film are bigger than perhaps any other in the franchise’s 60 year history and the moral panic the media instigates (another social factor raised) is well captured in some classic shots within this beautifully directed carnage. However the world still awaits Godzooky’s triumphant return (curse ye cinema gods), but considering that sequels have already being approved, we truly have witnessed the return of the king. Godzilla is not a perfect picture but in the bounds of its genre is a work of depth, affection and excellence, in two feature films British Director Gareth Edwards has conquered indie and blockbuster sensibilities and (like Godzilla himself), the world awaits what he does next.