Instantly recognisable, the gigantic monster that is Godzilla has stalked remakes of the original Ishiro Honda classic for 60 years now, and while results have varied, the tale remains a classic. Gojira was originally conceived as a response to the tragedies which devastated Hiroshima, Negasaki, and Bikini Atoll, serving as a metaphor for the destruction hydrogen bomb testing can result in. This deeper meaning hasn’t exactly been replicated in popular constructions of Godzilla, particularly by American directors.
Now we have yet another Western version of the classic, and it is thankfully much more respectful to the original tale than Roland Emmerich’s Jurassic Park/Godzilla mashing 1998 blockbuster. This one comes from Gareth Edwards who seems to have a more delicate approach to the good ol’ monster flick, as evidenced in his stylish Godzilla-inspired debut film Monsters.
As with most monster/apocalyptic films, the build-up is one of the most important elements if the chaos is to be truly felt. That feeling of dread you get, as key individuals (usually scientists of some type) mull over their ominous feelings, gives a lot of potential for great performances, great tension, and great story-telling. Building suspense is crucial to a film like this, and hence the choice to add Bryan Cranston (as Joe Brody) to the mix is one which pays off very well.
Undoubtedly enjoying a career-revival thanks to his stunning performance in AMC’s Breaking Bad, Cranston effectively portrays the desperation of a man who knows that something isn’t quite right. Typically, he is slapped with ‘crazy’ status and ignored until it’s too late. Cranton’s gruff, vulnerable voice carries his speeches about electro-magnetic waves and strange intercepted communications and really drives the urgency needed to get us all nice and excited for the action to kick in. Meanwhile, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who portrays Brody’s son) and the rest of the cast aren’t given much to work with, churning through the build-up tasked with the occasional expository line or two just to keep things moving along.
After his wife dies in a mysterious power station disaster, Joe Brody dedicates his life to finding out what happened on that fateful day, while his son – Ford Brody – moves on with his life in the confines of San Fransisco after serving as a bomb tech in the military. Years later, Joe notices patterns similar to the ones which occurred before his wife’s death and hence begins asking questions again. This leads to a nice scene where Joe and a sceptical Ford sneak back into the immediate area surrounding the off-limits power station only to discover that a bunch of scientists are harbouring what looks to be an egg of some sorts. From this, hatches a giant parasitic creature which makes for first of two “MUTOs,” the film’s true antagonists who go about causing much more urban damage than Godzilla. This male MUTO has wings, causes Joe’s death, and looks really evil; the design on this monster is similar to those aliens from Starship Troopers, except these bad guys are 100 times larger, and sport intense, orange-tinged eyes which glow in the darker scenes – truly terrifying.
Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey does a fantastic job at bringing the mass-scale destruction to the screen, effectively wrapping around skyscrapers as they implode and spray cities with millions of shards of glass. This is paired with extraordinary sound, placing Godzilla as the quintessential blockbuster cinema experience, and one which you’d be best served viewing on as large a screen as possible.
Ken Watanabe’s Dr Serizawa is the only likely ally that comes to believe that Joe/Ford can help make sense of the data they have on Godzilla so far, and while he isn’t really given much dialogue to work with, he manages to set us up for a sympathetic attachment to the visually-impressive Godzilla once the great monster appears from the depths of the ocean. Serizawa’s “let them fight” versus the military’ “blow them all up” attitude drives the human tension for the remainder of the film, but most of it is side-play as the real focus deservedly switches to Godzilla VS MUTOs.
While the shoddy dialogue and under-developed characters plague the middle of the film, pulling the quality down drastically, Godzilla is bookended by some very awesome cinema, using cutting-edge CGI perfectly to place the film as a highly satisfying result of years of anticipation.
The biggest star here comes via Edward’s ability to create atmospheres unique to his brand of monster mash; his love of fog and swirling mist adds a nice mystery and sense of danger while his constant suppression of action during the middle parts makes the ending sequences that much more sweeter. The adrenaline rush of the final fight – complete with actual crowd-cheering moments, and more chaos than you could fit into a cliché disaster movie – almost makes up for the hour-or-so of faffing that this film frustratingly delves into while Edwards is left to fill voids with his unquestionably unique style.
It may not be all as slick as we would have wanted it to be, but Godzilla delivers on its promise to redeem the franchise after so many remakes have left the tale reeling towards ‘dead horse’ status. For that, Gareth Edwards deserves his moment of glory.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Godzilla was viewed at IMAX Darling Harbour and is currently screening in cinemas around Australia. Session times and tickets for IMAX sessions can be found HERE