A Warner Bros. Film, Directed by Gareth Edwards
Released: 8th May 2014
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn and Bryan Cranston
Review: All-American heroes, clandestine organisations, strange romances and monster death matches. The latest outing from the king of monsters had it all. Having just sat down and watched the newly released Kaiju epic, I remain unsure about whether the film I just watched was an exciting and powerful film, or an awkward and slightly stupid disaster flick.
The film starts off with a flashback that speeds through the history of things related to Godzilla, from ancient cave drawings to its first human encounter in the 50’s. After that, the focus switches to follow the Brody family over a fifteen year period, as it becomes evident that Godzilla is not the only creature that has been living below the earth as disaster begins returning from the depths.
Exciting, sure, but it lead to a number of problems.
First off, the tone was hard to pin down; the film starts off following Bryan Cranston’s character Joseph Brody, in a raw, emotional story as he searches for the truth behind some ‘natural disasters’. In this section, Edwards directs the actors exceptionally well, making it hard to believe that this is only his second feature film. The characters are all moving and relatable, and as an audience, you want them to succeed in the face of the danger you know is edging slowly closer.
Unfortunately, the film then switches to follow Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and whilst I don’t agree with what some have been saying about Johnson giving a bland performance, I do believe that it seems as though less effort overall has been put in to the film at this stage. Johnson’s character Ford Brody is more interesting than others would have you believe; he’s heroic, devoted and caring, following the basis for all the classic American heroes. But even his devotion to his family isn’t enough to keep the film on track, as once again, the film seems to flip everything on it’s head once more.
With the reveal of these giant monsters now known to the general population, the film then becomes a race against time to defeat the creatures before they cause any more casualties. This is of course impossible, as the sheer destruction caused by them simply travelling from A to B is astronomical. There is also the problem that by this point, the audience is just clamouring to see Godzilla himself, something which has been withheld for most of the movie. At first, this may seem like a smart tactic, but when the full shot of Godzilla is revealed sooner than expected, only to be pushed back into the shadows once more, things start to get a little irritating.
From here on, the audience is given a series of events in which Godzilla arrives, prepares to engage his enemies, but then is thrown out of sight just before anything happens. Instead, the fights are seen in news clips or covered in smoke, all of which would have helped build excitement had the reveal not already been blown. Any tension that has been built up by Watanabe’s character describing Godzilla as a heroic god that will save mankind is thrown out the window, as without the air of mystery surrounding the creature, the denial of his full appearance becomes an irritant we are forced to deal with in our own way.
This is not helped by the soundtrack. At the start, the grandiose themes make the film seem like some sort of epic outlandish fantasy, before swapping between suspenseful, yet eerie horror type tunes, only to be replaced once more by the exaggerated overbearing tension-building songs, which as previously pointed out, have lost their appeal. In short, the whole ordeal with the soundtrack is rather off-putting.
Similarly, some of the actors share this sort of fluctuation in tone. Despite his stellar performance, some of Cranston’s lines seem out of place at times, and my personal favourite, Ken Watanabe, plays his wise scientist, full of belief that Godzilla will save the day, in a way that pushes on the boundaries of making the film seem overly melodramatic.
However, there are good points too. I think my problem, in all honesty, was that I set my expectations to high. After waiting months for its release, I was initially disappointed when I saw some poor early reviews, and having read them, became more aware of the flaws in the film. But the sheer immensity of the creatures is a highly redeeming quality of the film. Every time Godzilla roared, it would make me shiver with excitement. Overall, with some occasionally shaky yet impressively grounded performances and brief sparks of monster fights which build up to an epic pay-off, this is a film that once you give yourself to it, will not let you down.
Godzilla is back on the big screen, and although his story may falter at times, he looks magnificent.