[This review contains minor SPOILERS, so if you want to go in completely unaware of anything in the movie I’d avoid this review until you’ve seen it. Then come back and have a read.]
Monsters director Gareth Edwards takes the reins to this sort of reboot/sort of sequel of arguably Japan’s most famous import and unleashes him upon the world. Many of the director’s hallmarks from his debut film (this is only his second film remember) appear here in a film which shows a real classic Spielberg-ian sensibility while also being a thoroughly modern monster mash.
When an accident at a nuclear power plant in Japan releases something onto the world, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), who suffered a personal tragedy during the accident, tries to uncover the truth behind the cover up. Fifteen years later, he enlists his estranged Marine son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) on the way, and in the ruined remains of their old home town they discover more than they bargained for when a giant creature is awoken and begins tearing up Japan, and soon sets its humongous eyes on the East Coast of the USA. Who can stop it? Well, Godzilla of course.
Not that you see the titular monster a lot in the first hour or so of the film, much like in Edwards’ Monsters. And on those occasions that you do see him he’s either far off in the distance or so close that you can only make out a tenth of his colossal size. Gareth Edwards teases the audience so much – at one point cheekily cutting away to a news report of a Godzilla/giant moth beast fight instead of showing you the fight itself – building up the mystique of it’s title character, showing you little snatches here and there, giving you only the tiniest hints of just how huge and powerful he is (a shot of a tail here, a glimpse of giant fins sticking out of the water there) that before you see him you’re practically screaming at the screen to show you Gojira in full. And then it does. Like the shark in Jaws and the alien in…uh, Alien, all the build up and delayed gratification has been worth it. It’s immensely satisfying when he’s revealed in all his glory and roars that distinctive roar. Not that the film scrimps on giant monster action; the aforementioned giant moth creature takes up most of the first hour, leaving destruction in its wake as the military try to bring it down.
The story is framed around a young family, Aaron Taylor Johnson’s Ford, his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olson) and their young son and we, the audience, only see Godzilla and the other monsters in relation to their struggles to remain alive. The comparisons to Spielberg are none more apparent than here, viewing a world altering event from the eyes on the ground in much the same way as Spielberg’s War of the Worlds successfully did. The focus is not on Godzilla, but how Godzilla et al affects the family. However the family unit aren’t really as well defined as you’d like, simply rendering them solely as eyes to view the monster carnage with and nothing more. Taylor-Johnson is mostly a blank slate and doesn’t really connect emotionally; Elizabeth Olson is stuck with the worried wife role, while Ken Watanabe as a Godzilla expert spouts cod-philosophical dialogue about nature. Only Bryan Cranston is able to elicit some emotion from proceedings, even if he’s only in a supporting role, while it becomes increasingly harder to care about the people we’re supposed to. And occasionally it seems as though Ford is suffering from the same affliction as Brad Pitt did in World War Z – everywhere he goes, monsters seem to follow without fail yet he miraculously survives every encounter when everyone else perishes.
Yet when it comes to the monster smackdown the film does not disappoint; unleashing Godzilla and watching three goliath monsters knocking seven bells out of each other in a way that feels more visceral and real than anything in Pacific Rim. Even if the waddling Godzilla looks a little silly at times, the power behind the fights is as exciting as they come. And Godzilla has a finisher that made me want to cheer in the cinema.
A hugely satisfying blockbuster that falters when it comes to the human story but gets everything right when it comes to the monster. More blockbusters should aspire be like this.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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