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Godzilla - Review (2014)

Godzilla

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

BRITISH filmmaker Gareth Edwards worked wonders with a minuscule budget when he broke onto the scene with his stunning debut Monsters. His sophomore effort finds him stepping up to the big league in no-less impressive fashion.

Godzilla is a big movie in every sense of the word. It arrives amid massive expectation, it unfolds on an epic scale and its vision is such that it demands to be viewed best on the largest screen possible.

It isn’t without flaws but Edwards ensures that the imaginative nature of the spectacle and the clarity with which he delivers the stunning effects go some way to papering over the cracks.

A self-confessed Godzilla geek, Edwards has worked hard to retain the elements that made Toho and Ishirō Honda’s 1954 original so iconic, both in terms of the look of the creature and its serious take on global concerns. And it’s in these elements that his film thrives.

He also attempts, albeit less successfully, to maintain the intimacy that made his debut film so memorable (and different) but is letdown, in part, by the dictates of this bigger scale of movie and a somewhat passive leading man in Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who struggles to realise a lot of the film’s emotional potential.

Some may also lament the lack of screen-time afforded to Godzilla himself, but the decision to slowly reveal the film’s biggest draw proves wise (you can have too much of a good thing) and it’s not as if Edwards doesn’t throw plenty else at the screen.

Opening amid historical footage of nuclear testing in the 50s, the film then starts proper in 1999 as physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) fails to prevent a meltdown at a Japanese nuclear plant that also claims the life of his wife.

Fifteen years further down the line, Joe is still obsessively trying to expose the ensuing cover-up by officials, convinced that something more than a natural disaster contributed to the tragedy.

Enlisting the help of his sceptical son Ford (Taylor-Johnson), a bomb disposal expert with his own wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and child, Joe travels back into the quarantine zone just as another meltdown occurs and the true horror of what took place in 1999 is revealed by the emergence of both Godzilla and another malevolent creature.

Enlisting the help of a Godzilla expert (Ken Watanabe) and the US Navy (led by David Strathairn’s admiral), the race begins to save the planet from these creatures before a new world order can be created.

For those willing to avoid finding out too many spoilers, Edwards’ movie has a lot of surprises up its sleeve while posing some relevant observations on nuclear power and man vs nature.

It also plays on our subconscious knowledge of natural and man-made disasters with many of the scenes of destruction eerily reminiscent of recent world events (from tsunamis to 9/11). Hence, the film does play out with a realism that makes it all the more compelling, and less like a blockbuster.

That said, he still manages to combine this with the thrilling spectacle of what is also required and a Honolulu reveal of Godzilla and a climactic battle in San Francisco are but two breathtaking examples – as are several other sequences.

The one slight disappointment is that the human story at the centre of proceedings fails to be more affecting. Early on, Cranston puts in some strong work but as the focus shifts to his son, the emotional pull weakens with the relationship between him and his own family particularly weak.

Similarly, the likes of Watanabe and Sally Hawkins spend too much time gawping and not enough building memorable characters, a failing that would be all the more glaring were it not for the powerful and/or exhilarating nature of Edwards’ visuals (a couple of which he lifts from his own Monsters as much as Toho’r original and the subsequent genre it spawned).

In this regard, Godzilla has to rate as a rip-roaring success – a serious blockbuster that still manages to excite as well as inspire awe and respect.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 123mins
UK Release Date: May 15, 2014