After the disaster that was Roland Emmerich’s dreadful 1998 take on Godzilla you might have thought Hollywood would never touch the property again. However the massive monster has returned in a movie that sticks closer to the original Japanese Toho ideas than Emmerich’s efforts, and yet is still very much a modern blockbuster.
While working at a Japanese Nuclear Reactor in the late 1990s, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) lost his wife (Juliette Binoche) during a meltdown. However he’s never believed it was caused by an earthquake and has become obsessed with the idea that something is being hidden in the supposed disaster area. After recruiting his estranged son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), they venture into the hot zone and discover that not only is there no radiation, but that an organisation called Monarch is hiding a pupating monster.
When the creature, dubbed a MUTO, emerges, it’s clear that it could cause devastation and perhaps end human civilisation. As Ford tries to get back to his family in San Francisco, he is witness to just how dangerous the MUTO is, and when another one emerges he becomes part of a plan to use a nuclear weapon to stop them. However the only thing that might be able to restore the balance is another ancient creature that re-emerged on the Earth’s surface after mankind started playing with radiation in the 1950s – the 300ft tall apex predator Godzilla.
This new take on the classic franchise has plenty of good ideas and bringing in director Gareth Edwards was an incredibly smart idea, as his background in special effects ensures he knows how to create some truly impressive set-pieces. He’s particularly good at showing scale, something that’s often lost in big disaster epics and modern monster movies. It works particularly well here where humanity and all its efforts are shown as essentially ants running around pretending they still have control of something that is far greater both physically and metaphorically than they are.
It’s an entertaining movie and does a good job of creating tension, particularly with its old monster movie trick of ensuring that for a long time we only see glimpses of Godzilla himself, which again concentrates on showing his immense size compared to the tiny humans.
However it’s far from perfect. First off it creates a great central character in Bryan Cranston’s obsessive and damaged Joe, but after the first half hour it decides to shift the focus to the far less interesting Ford. Despite Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s best efforts, Ford is a pretty bland character and the script doesn’t exactly do a great job of hiding the fact that the only thing it’s really interested in about him is finding coincidences to get him to every key moment involving the monsters (indeed in this respect it’s not that different from a Roland Emmerich movie). Indeed it’s peculiar that the idea of 300ft tall monsters attacking cities seems more sensible than the plot machinations employed to ensure Ford is always around whenever they do anything memorable.
There’s an odd sense of Gareth Edwards trying to work against certain elements of the script and he actually does a very good job of creating something much bigger, more ominous and interesting than the sometimes connect-the-dots storyline suggests. And there’s no doubt that the film wouldn’t have gotten the reception it did at the cinema without the exceptionally good final battle in San Francisco, which manages to bring together all the best elements of a classic monster movie with modern special effects and some great moments.
To be honest though, no matter how much of a good time I had watching the film, it was difficult not to feel that it was all it a bit of a good overture and that I’m actually more interested in watching Godzilla 2 than rewatching the first one. Godzilla is a film that holds out a lot of promise for a franchise, even if it’s a bit of a mixed bag itself.
The Blu-ray also includes some pretty good extras, including a few very interesting ‘making of…’ featurettes. The best things though are ‘Monarch: Declassified’, which are films supposedly taken from top secret files showing the history of mankind’s interactions with Godzilla, our attempts to destroy him and also how we came across the monster that ends up in the Japanese reactor. Again like the movie, it makes you wonder what other creatures may be out there in a sequel.
Overall Verdict: Godzilla is a peculiar mixture of almost shamelessly generic Hollywood pap and surprisingly good ideas and set-pieces. Overall it works, but that’s more thanks to top drawer efforts from the cast and crew to paper over its more ridiculous tendencies, and remembering exactly what is best about the title character.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac