“These puny humans are a bunch of idiots” is what I imagine the titular creature was saying to itself during Godzilla. And it’s hard not to agree. The food chain is reconfigured, the chaos of nature is in full motion and the foolishness of mankind trying to assert control is on show. Also, did I mention there are giant monsters beating the pulp out of each other? Director Gareth Edwards delivers a salacious monster mash, complete with a conscience; but this film has a pesky human problem.
Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche) are working at a Japanese nuclear power plant when an ‘earthquake’ causes the facility to collapse. Years later, their son Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a solider in the U.S Army, is called to Japan to claim Joe because he has become obsessed with uncovering the conspiracy of the quake. Soon after, ginormous beasts start stomping cities.
Edwards is a master of foreplay when it comes to the creatures and for a majority of the film they are merely glimpsed from the perspectives of the human characters caught in the crossfire. Most of the time your eyes will be rapidly examining the shadows like a parent looking for infant limbs in an ultrasound. While tails are whipping around corners, Edwards is increasing anticipation for the inevitable smack down, but also establishing scale. As Godzilla’s knee dwarfs skyscrapers and minuscule red flares illuminate the wall of reptilian flesh, you feel a sense of awe and curiosity, but Edwards cuts away as soon as you get a good look at anything. The ‘treat them mean keep them keen’ formula is deployed for a bulk of the film but when the curtain is finally lifted, and the brawling begins, it’s spectacular.
Visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel and his team of computer wizards bring Godzilla to life with all the primal ferocity of a creature that is worthy of the title of King of the Monsters. Godzilla’s rivals (known as MUTO) are sleek when compared with the ancient look of our destructive hero. The MUTO are a cross between a bat, a spider and a sports car, and are a good contrast against the natural reptilian appearance of Godzilla. The MUTO are a nuclear powered menace that defiantly have the mark of mankind’s meddling with the order of nature, and the rankings must be restored by the King (a clever tool to justify the conflict by screenwriter Max Borenstein).
Bolstering the life of these digital beasts is incredible sound design that gives Godzilla the distinctive roar that perfectly hits the nostalgia button that has made the character so iconic for 60 years in cinema. The MUTO whir with an electronic distortion that resonates with their nuclear charged DNA. The final masterstroke is classic monster movie score by composer, Alexandre Desplat, that’s big and bombastic with lots of horns trumpeting the arrival of the destructive behemoths.
Godzilla has a hefty amount of urban destruction with skyscrapers crushed as if they were paper cups but Edwards often pauses to reflect on the horror of the situation. Lifeless bodies are shown strewn amongst rubble, a tsunami sweeps a street clean with tourists in Hawaii, and during an airport attack scene a family is seen falling from a great height through a hole ripped in the side of a train. Edwards doesn’t turn a blind eye to the death toll like the recent run of explosive blockbusters Man of Steel and Star Trek Into Darkness. The people verses nature theme is never more poignant throughout the film than in these moments; Godzilla speaks for the Earth and we are but mere ants caught in the disorder.
Speaking of the human side of the film, the people to kaiju ratio is off balance. You can image the meeting where they decided to make a new Godzilla film and someone brought up the idea of making it more about the people and not the big scaly fella. Sure, this is good idea to ground the film, but Borenstein forgot to put compelling characters worth accompanying through the turmoil. Most of the actors serve as witnesses as opposed to compelling characters and the performances are mostly just bland reactions. Making matters worse is the horrid exposition laden script that has fantastic actors like Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Cranston and Binoche reduced to delivering plot detail like they’re reading a storybook to a toddler. The film is called Godzilla, not Boring People Conversations. There’s an overcompensation for the sake of someone saying ‘this isn’t about the creatures’, and that would be a valid argument if every character in the movie got a personality transplant.
Godzilla is a barnstormer when it’s in full monster movie mode and a sleeper when cut down to human size.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW