19 May 2014

GODZILLA- Review

No, I'm not showing you what the big guy looks like, but this bit is fucking awesome.
Gareth Edwards (who is not to be confused with The Raid's Gareth Evans) made a splash with his ultra low-budget monster movie Monsters in 2010, which he says was intended to be a cross between War of the Worlds and Lost In Translation. While that film was a showcase of what can be achieved on a tiny budget, his second run at a monster movie shows what happens when you bring the sensibility of Monsters to a film with an absolutely massive budget.

Edwards is interested in the human angle in these films, which has led some to describe Godzilla as a misnomer, for a film that primarily focuses on the Brody family, who are bereaved in a tragic accident at a nuclear power plant in 1999. Once we get to the present day, the father of the family, Joe, has become convinced that there's a major cover-up going on about the cause of the accident. When he investigates, he and his son Ford become embroiled in the military's efforts to quell the unexpected return of massive prehistoric creatures, one of whom might just be able to help turn the tide and save the planet.

It's barely been nine months since Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim, a flawed but exhilarating cartoon of a film that pitted loads and loads of robots against loads and loads of kaiju. When that film came out, there was an irresistible urge to wonder how a film with fewer kaiju and no robots at all would measure up, but as it turns out, it's apples and oranges. While del Toro went for the unabashed Saturday morning adventure, Edwards has pulled off something far more difficult by taking the material seriously.

As someone who likes Christopher Nolan, but actively dislikes the Christopher Nolan-isation of blockbusters, I can't say how happy I am that they've got the balance right in this one. To say that Steven Spielberg is Edwards' reference point may seem a little bald, because it's tough to name any commercial director in history who has been more influential than Spielberg, but you'll understand what I mean when you see it. There's torchlight, helicopters, children at the centre of massive danger and, at several points, a hero shot to introduce characters for the first time.

But the success of this kind of homage is that it's not a craven or obvious aping of Spielberg's style and actually comes pretty damn close to simulating what we imagine the elder director's Godzilla movie would be like. It's been made with enough confidence that the editor didn't feel the need to cut to another shot every fifth of a second and there are money shots here which rival the best of Jurassic Park. The Spielbergian nuclear family is present and correct here too, with a few shades of his underrated War of the Worlds. Although Bryan Cranston has been the focus in the marketing campaign, those trailers haven't given much of the plot away, and so a first-act tipping point finds Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Ford taking over as the protagonist.

There's no two ways about how boring his character is and it's testament to how well the film works in so many other regards that Ford doesn't completely bog the film down with his broad all-Americanness and the implausible demand that he's under to save the world. Cranston is a highlight, but it might also have been nice to see more of Ken Watanabe's Dr Serizawa, who provides much of the context for the kaiju in the film, and especially for the big guy himself. Elsewhere, it's disconcerting that a film which so nimbly avoids the macho tactics of other large-scale disaster movies, also squanders actresses like Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins and Juliette Binoche so flagrantly.

The film, like this review, waits quite a while to address the title character himself, but when it does, it's refreshingly free of Man Of Steel style cringing about the history and demeanour of the character- nobody sniggers when David Strathairn's admiral talks about Godzilla and MUTOs, and neither is the city-wide destruction thrown out carelessly. Edwards' mind may be on the humans (and quite right too) but once Godzilla does show up, he soon proves to be the best character in the movie. He's teased through a number of scenes throughout the film before we see him in all his glory, and the anticipation only makes the ludicrously enjoyable climactic throwdown more delightful.

Not to keep referring back to my review of Monsters, but after that film, I concluded: "Edwards comes close enough to getting it right this time that I'm looking forward to whatever he does next." Four years later, all that's left to say is that Godzilla is just right. It's simultaneously a palate cleanser after a long succession of blockbusters that revel in destruction porn, and also gleeful and overawed when it ought to be. The human dimension is still somewhat lacking and I don't know that there's much more to say about the Brodys in the announced sequel, but given Edwards' penchant for delayed gratification, this is one where the build-up pays off in truly spectacular form.

Godzilla is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas and IMAX screens nationwide.
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If you've seen Godzilla, why not share your comments below? Maybe in Godzilla 2, we'll get the Giant Cranston vs Godzilla smackdown that we deserve...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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