REVIEW: Godzilla – on UK release from May 15th

Godzilla / http://www.godzillamovie.com/

Words by Jonathan Glen – follow @joffglen / Pics courtesy of Grapevine Digital

Director: Gareth Edwards
Writing Credits: Max Borenstein (Screenplay) & Dave Callaham (Story)
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe & Juliette Binoche

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Ever since Roland Emmerich’s much maligned (though secretly loved by many) attempt to bring Japan’s greatest monster into CGI life in 1998, Hollywood has been waiting for another crack at the franchise.

However this time around there is a feeling of respect for our dinosauresque anti-hero, as director Gareth Edwards is a devoted fan of the 1954 Toho original. This Godzilla is the right shape (after Emmerich’s oversized iguana), the roar is perfect, the radioactive fire breath has returned, and Edwards’ film is filled with enough nods and winks to keep fans of Ishiro Honda’s groundbreaking monster fairly happy.Godzilla / http://www.godzillamovie.com/

But fidelity to the source material is one thing, and unfortunately Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is far from a perfect revival.

Although writer Max Borenstein has reinvigorated the ambiguity s to whether or not Godzilla’s actions and intentions make him a hero or a villain, bringing with it the catharsis carried in the monster’s link to nuclear weaponry and natural disaster, most of the human characters do not inspire sympathy. Everyone seems constructed from the ‘How to Write Action Movie Characters for Dummies’ handbook. There is more pathos delivered in Godzilla’s iconic roar than most of the drivel uttered by an admittedly talented cast, served only with forgettable characters.

Godzilla / http://www.godzillamovie.com/And this could be more forgivable, if there were more quotable lines – Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe delivering the only two that will prove memorable (you’ll have to watch to find out). Plus the B-Movie style plot would be more understandable if this film even closely resembled a B-Movie. But with a gargantuan budget and major studio backing, Edwards’ Godzilla was constructed over months using state of the art CGI – a far cry from a stunt actor in a costume.

Although these weak spots help crown the glory of Edwards’ monster achievement. The patient, but never dull, build up leaves the arrival of this Godzilla all the more jaw-dropping. And though the film is split quite harshly into two halves, with most of the emotion removed along with a central character less than halfway through, the consistent tempo and tone mean Godzilla 2014 is never boring. There is an ever present sense of foreboding accompanying the arrival of forces the human race can hardly comprehend, i.e. the orders of nature and existence.Godzilla / http://www.godzillamovie.com/

And where this film gets everything right is with the visuals – from the Hitchcock style opening credits to the cunning ways Edwards manages to hide a 355 foot monster from the camera quite so well, Godzilla is a joy to behold. The moments in which Edwards takes Godzilla into top gear are truly spectacular.

And while it may not do this quite often enough be as respected as Jurassic Park, it is a bold attempt. Edwards paints a portrait of a gathering storm; the mysticism of the giant creature encapsulated as he emerges from smoke and dust with his fire like lighting, striking through the darkened sky.

Godzilla / http://www.godzillamovie.com/And it would, with another premise, be easy to let the origin’s story, no central (human) protagonist, and a lack of original or subtle dialogue ruin the film experience – but when Godzilla is good, it’s epic. The human characters may simply be devices to continue a plot (which results in brilliant monster action) but this can be forgiven when the quality of that end is as high as it is here. Godzilla’s tongue-in-cheek humour, though not as common as the 98’s comedy fest, is just right; this really is a monster movie.

Though there are issues to pick on with Godzilla, Edwards has done himself and the monster proud. Bringing such a character back, into a modern day world where The Dark Knight has ordained action movies must be interminably serious, was never going to work perfectly.

And you know what, that’s OK, Godzilla is not perfect. What radioactive monster ever is?

Godzilla / Extended trailer

GODZILLA

Godzilla is out in UK cinemas from May 15th. For more on Godzilla, visit http://www.godzillamovie.com/